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 | By Dan Cellucci

Who’s the Boss?

Why managing up can be a ministry, not just a burden

Recently, a colleague pejoratively used the phrase “managing up.” It had an inauthentic and nefariously political connotation: “playing the game” with the boss, simply to advance or survive. As a CEO, it stung a bit. What I heard was a portrait of leaders who are unaware or looking to be served. I know this is true sometimes and perhaps most times, but I couldn’t help but wonder if, as disciples, we have an opportunity to see “managing up” as a ministry instead of simply a necessary evil. While it may not be in our job descriptions to care for our bosses, it is in our role as disciples to accompany anyone God puts in our path toward fullness of life in him.

There are three ways a person of faith can both manage up and authentically accompany those they lead.


Ask about the manager’s constraints or pressures

Often, leaders feel as though they are caught between a rock and a hard place with competing demands coming from multiple angles. Offering a listening ear and displaying genuine curiosity about their most pressing concerns and pressure points will acknowledge the supervisor as a person more than simply a receptacle of issues to be solved. It may also give the manager some helpful context to prioritize projects and tasks in their own role.

Clarify before condemning

The natural result of communication is misunderstanding. A supervisor must often communicate the same message to multiple people, each with their own perspective, history and priorities. Every leader needs to be highly intentional so they are communicating that message in the mode of the receiver. We can all equally work on our ability to be good receivers. If something your supervisor says strikes you the wrong way, ask them to repeat it, say it a different way, or use an open-ended question such as, “Could you tell me more about that?” If the supervisor’s words really caused you to twinge, try reflecting back what you heard and why it concerned you with an assumption that the person didn’t mean to offend. In this fast-paced, reactive world, giving leaders a chance to explain themselves is not only a valued gift to a manager, but it also demonstrates your openness to the gifts of counsel and understanding from the Holy Spirit.

Catch them doing something right

So often, “feedback” is solely focused on the “do differently” comments. To cultivate a true culture of feedback, it’s essential that everyone, especially supervisors, solicit and give feedback on not only what went wrong, but also what went right. The “no news is good news” approach is never helpful for an employee, nor is it helpful for a supervisor. Offering a specific affirmation (when warranted) not only provides encouragement to a manager, it may also help fill a gap in feedback from their manager. Finally, offering helpful critiques can contribute to a feedback culture that can enhance future encounters.

While not exhaustive, these suggestions for “managing up” as a ministry begin with seeing one another as fellow disciples on the way, and recognizing the calling each of us has to lead and accompany in whatever role or context in which God has placed us.

Dan Cellucci is the CEO of the Catholic Leadership Institute.

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