Managing Up in a Way that Honors God

Having a healthy, positive relationship with your boss is critical to enjoying your work, and being effective at your job. But often times, the particular manager you have makes it difficult to have such a relationship. Some managers are stressful to work for, some are obnoxious to you, some are even oppressive to be around, and others just seem to have no idea how to lead a team and get the job done.

When that difficult relationship tends to be more common than not in the marketplace, how do you navigate “managing up” in situations like that? More specifically, how do you manage up in a way that honors God, your boss, and yourself? Jesus provided a critical insight into how to manage up in an honoring way when he taught his disciples how to engage the Pharisees.

Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 10:16, “Look! I am sending you out just like sheep among wolves. So be as wise as snakes and as gentle as doves.” He was preparing the disciples to “manage up” with the religious leaders who ran the synagogues after he was  crucified. While your situation in the marketplace might look different, the crucial conversations that you need to have with your boss are remarkably similar.

  1. Don’t Worry About the Message or the Method. I love the first sentence of this verse. Jesus understands your situation. He knows how difficult your relationship with your manager can be. He knows that the situation you are in is often confusing. And his grace meets you there. He told his disciples that when their time came to manage up, they did not have to worry about what to say or even how to say it. They would be given what to say and the Holy Spirit would be speaking through them (Matthew 10:19-20). The same promise extends to you as well. When the time comes, don’t worry. You have help. God promises to give you the message and the method to communicate what you need to communicate when you need to communicate it. All you have to do is prayerfully connect your heart with God’s heart. Praying about the situation softens your perspective and allows you to see your boss the way God sees him or her: as an image-bearer who has infinite worth in God’s eyes. When what you say and how you say it comes from this place, you are imparting God’s wisdom and love toward your boss.
  2. Be Wise as Snakes. That’s a weird image at first glance. But notice how a snake pursues its prey. It doesn’t launch out and chase. It sits and waits. It learns how its prey ticks. The snake anticipates its next move; it strategizes and plans. And then it acts. To be effective at managing, you must learn what makes your boss tick, what makes him or her upset, happy, receptive to ideas, and when your boss operates at his or her best. You must also  anticipate what your boss will need. This is possible when you understand your boss’ job and how it supports the vision and strategies of your company. Then you will know what you can do in any situation to help alleviate stress and advance your boss’s objectives. I suggest asking your boss the following questions to help you learn how to serve him or her:
  • What are your most important objectives, and how can I help you realize them? (What do you need from me?)
  • On the basis of what outcomes will your performance be considered a success or failure — and by when?
  • What criteria do you use to assess whether my contribution to your work has been successful?

Once you ask these questions, retreat and reflect. Make a list of ways you can anticipate your boss’ needs and work to meet those needs in the coming week.

  1. Be Gentle as Doves. Jesus knew that the disciples were going to have to navigate disagreement with the religious elite. He told them to do so being  gentle as doves. When you disagree, do it with genuine respect and in a productive way. Check your motives when you are in disagreement. Is it because your boss is on your last nerve and you are trying to take over? Or is it because you want to create value for your boss and your company and do your job well? Motive is everything. If the motive is right, the right execution will follow. If the motive is wrong, no amount of sucking up or smooth talking will fix the situation. So next time you are tempted to speak up, ask yourself, “What’s my motive? Am I trying to create value for my boss? Am I speaking out of frustration or fear, or genuine love and desire to serve?”

To manage up in an honoring way, trust that God will give you the right message and method through prayer, be a student of your boss, and check your motive before you act.

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