It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss – Here’s How for Fundraising Professionals

Bruce Tulgan says that his mission in writing It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss was to “improve the working relationships between hard-working people and the people who lead them.” According to Tulgan, workplaces all over America are suffering from an epidemic of "undermanagement."

An epidemic of undermanagment


At first this term is off-putting…do you need to spend more time in management meetings or have another boss or two? No! But once you understand what Tulgan means by “undermanagement,” you’ll see it all around you. It’s as much a phenomenon in nonprofit settings as it is in the corporate sector. Maybe more.

Who is responsible for all of this undermanagement? “Unfortunately,” Tulgan writes, “too many leaders, managers and supervisors are failing to lead, manage and supervise…They fail to spell out expectations every step of the way, ensure that necessary resources are in place, track performance, correct failure, and reward success.”

There are lots of legitimate reasons for this —leaders and managers are under lots of pressure and their jobs are far from easy—but you don’t want your career to languish as a result.

Undermanagement in nonprofits

What popped into my head when reading this book was the CEO-Development Director relationship. Has your CEO ever handed you a new project with scant details and meager guidance, (e.g., “Take a crack at it and show it to me when you’ve gotten as far as you can.”)? This type of communication constitutes “gross negligence,” according to Tulgan, and smacks of undermanagement. Yikes!

So what’s the solution? In short, Tulgan’s book is all about shifting how you think about relationships with your boss to realize that your boss is only half of your management relationship. You are the other half and you need to own your piece!

Start managing up!

Take charge of your share of the communications, project planning and performance tracking. Come to meetings with a list of proactive steps you’re taking in these areas. In other words, start managing up. Do this consistently and Tulgan says you’ll start seeing results in 6 weeks.

I loved the author’s acknowledgement that these days very few of us have just one boss. For development folks, this is certainly true. You have your CEO and/or other senior staff, but you also have your board of directors—perhaps the trickiest bunch of bosses to manage…ever.

Tulgan is up front about the fact that managing your boss(es) is hard work, and time consuming.

7 steps to manage your boss(es) as per Tulgan:

  1. The first person you have to manage every day is yourself.

  2. Get in the habit of managing your boss every day.

  3. Take it one boss at a time.

  4. Make sure you understand what is expected of you.

  5. Assess and plan for the resources you need.

  6. Track your performance every step of the way.

  7. To earn greater credit and rewards, go the extra mile.

Your customizing lens

Another of Tulgan’s key takeways is his “customizing lens,” or 6 questions you should ask yourself about each of your bosses, to understand them better and develop just the right management approach:

  1. Who is this boss at work?

  2. Why do I need to manage this boss?

  3. What do I need to talk about with this boss?

  4. How should I communicate with this boss?

  5. Where should I talk with this boss?

  6. When should I talk with this boss?

I’ve found these questions particularly helpful for board members. You may have a strategy for “managing up” to your board as a whole, but you also work with board members individually.

Instead of waiting to passively learn about a board member’s motivations and foibles, take a few quiet minutes to proactively think through these questions for the people with whom you work most closely. It’s amazing how this short intentional exercise can re-set your concept of a “boss” and help you organize a profile of useful information.

What are your tips for fundraisers who want to manage up? Please share them in the Comments box below.

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