How Good Are You At Managing Upwards?

 In Collaboration, Leadership

Did you know that 50% of CEOs report their role is “not what I expected beforehand”, and that managing upwards and outwards is accounting for 50% of their time and energy? Just yesterday I had lunch with a CEO who was promoted from within, thinking she knew what she was in for … and was still surprised!

The same study finds dealing with board members takes up half of that ‘managing upwards and outwards’ time as they may not fully understand the key issues and opportunities.

If your success hinges on managing upwards, I’ve drawn on collaborative methods to help you save time and energy.

1. Strive for Alignment

Managing upwards is an alignment challenge for CEOs, getting board members on the same page to improve the efficiency of governance and strategy formation processes.

Listening is your number one weapon in working out how well they’re tuned in, what their key concerns are and what motivates them.

For true alignment, there’s no harm in collectively examining the alignment of your strategy with your mission, key stakeholders and customer needs. You’ll benefit from an ability to create compelling narratives when change is needed.

2. Investing in Relationships

Daniel Goleman identifies motivation, empathy and social skills as three of the five emotional intelligence (EQ) features for effective leadership. Carefully targeted investments in relationship building pay off because familiarity reduces uncertainty. The challenge is proactively making these investments well in advance of calling on the ‘social capital’ embedded in them.

The board is a micro ‘community’, so strong relationships pay off. A sense of shared success permits creativity, invites innovation and spurs on people to contribute more than they normally do.

3. Building Trust

What is meant by ‘trust’? From my own experience, I see trust in teams when everyone is visibly contributing, acting with transparency and exhibiting consistency in their behaviour. Leaders are accountable for stated goals and have appropriate measurement systems in place.

It’s not enough to be trustworthy. You have to make it easy for people to know and feel your trustworthiness, reinforcing the need for empathy, social skills and smart communications.

Priorities Pay Off

The three factors above can’t be bought – they are earned through investments that you make. By unpacking them here, I hope it helps your prioritisation process.

In any collaborative challenge, technical elements must be balanced by the human side of the process. If your management priorities are right, managing upwards saves time and energy, and turns into dollars.

As always, I look forward to hearing your views.


Phil Preston supports executives and leaders in their collaborative challenges. You can make contact with him or visit his website.

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