Managing Up: How Effective Followership Helps Leaders

A current buzz-phrase at AlphaSights is the idea of “managing up.” At first, I was unsure what the idea of managing up entailed for an intern, but over time I’ve seen how followers can influence situations with a leader through open communication. My trainer, manager, and professional development resources encourage AlphaSights interns to manage up in every situation when someone in a leadership position delegates work; essentially, managing up entails asking thorough follow up questions to a leader when he or she delegates an assignment to ensure the follower understands their leader’s expectations and can best complete an assignment. Managing up helps individuals understand deadlines, a project’s urgency, the leader’s vision for the final result, and why the project is important. Through gaining additional context about project work, followers can manage their leader and understand expectations to help their leader succeed and in turn increase their standing within a team.

The more I interact with Client Protection’s Global VP, Chloe, the more I understand the importance of managing up. The fast-paced nature of AlphaSights combined with the intense workloads facing VPs and the company’s focus on leadership development means company leaders are not only incredibly busy, but they are also primed to delegate project work to associates and interns who prove their capability and eagerness. Company leaders trust followers whose work meets their expectations, meaning followers who manage up are more likely to be viewed as having leadership potential. In situations where interns and associates manage their managers and VPs, followers become leaders by taking control over their work and working to better understand their leader’s needs.

Last week, my manager was in London for a client meeting, so Chloe was responsible for both my manager’s workload and her own. She was busy, stressed, and needed help, so I asked her how I could lighten her project load. She responded by delegating three small projects to me, but in the moment she moved on and did not clarify what exactly she needed me to do, and when she needed the projects by. My trainer encouraged me to manage up to set deadlines with Chloe and ask her clarifying questions about the work to make sure I not only understood her assignments, but also that I could exceed expectations by going above and beyond what she specifically asked of me. Managing up helped me succeed in my projects and showed Chloe I was both happy and able to help her during a busy week.

Followers can also manage their teammates in group projects. Through clarifying the important project details with a partner, both individuals understand their responsibilities and can be held accountable to follow through on their assignments. When both team members are aware of their role in a project, they can be leaders to one another and with their manager or VP. Understanding how to set and guide expectations and establishing open and strong communication within a team and a leader helps everyone succeed because every group involved in a task is clear on their role and can trust others to carry out their part. Ultimately, managing up builds trust between leaders, followers, and teams, and helps combat poor communication from busy leaders. Managing up allows interns to lead their leader when they are overwhelmed and helps followers understand more about what their leader experiences on a daily basis to become more prepared for future leadership opportunities.

One thought on “Managing Up: How Effective Followership Helps Leaders

  • ksoderlu

    Again, very thorough, thoughtful reflection. This is a really critical piece of insight to gain, managing up (as Alpha Sights defines it). Seeking context so you understand how a piece of a project contributes to the whole often answers many questions one might have. Asking follow-up questions to understand the urgency, expectations, etc. – all good practices. Even if an organization does not espouse this practice or posit itself as a company that focuses on leadership development, if you do this (managing up) you will be more successful, you will likely reduce the frequency with which you need to go back and check-in/ask for further clarification, etc. Sounds like you are really making a mark there and making sound contributions.

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