Coaching Your Boss

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By John Baldoni.

Some of managing up involves coaching. While coaching is typically given from manager to employee, the reverse can occur. Just as you strive to manage expectations, you can strive to manage feedback. Bosses deserve feedback from employees too. Many bosses may not realize this, but a self-motivated, leadership-oriented employee can advise them. The first rule in giving feedback is trust. Managers must make it safe for their employees; that is, they cannot exact repercussions for telling the truth. This is easier said than done, but if you have built a level of trust with your boss, and you do this by doing your job and performing well, you have earned the right to give feedback.

Feedback is an essential first step in coaching. Your honesty will be invaluable. So many leaders complain that they do not know what is going on in their organization because people do not tell them. Well, the blame lies partly with the leader for not asking, but it also is up to employees to be forthcoming. Upward coaching is seldom formal; it is usually in the form of a conversation. Here are some things to observe:

  • Open with a positive. Compliment the boss on what she is doing well. For example, discuss how the boss is managing a project or interacting with employees. Create a foundation for the discussion to proceed on a constructive basis.
  • Give honest feedback from peers. Be straight and tell the boss how he is doing. Do not sugarcoat. You can be diplomatic, but play it straight. If the boss is letting deadlines slip, tell him. If the boss is too hard on an employee without cause, say something. If the boss is overlooking issues, raise those issues. As an employee you also can tell the boss how he is relating to your peers. Every manager needs to know this; getting the work done depends upon the relationship between boss and employee. Your insight into this aspect of management is vital.
  • Offer assistance. Your candor lays the groundwork for your support. If there are issues, provide your help. Volunteer for an assignment. Offer to be a team leader. Serve as a liaison between the boss and your team, but be careful not to be a mediator. You cannot solve issues between boss and employees, you can only advise. If you get sucked into such situations, back off. On the other hand, as an honest broker between boss and employee, you can provide insight to both sides.

Coaching your boss is a leadership behavior. It demonstrates that you believe in yourself and are motivated to make a positive difference. Such coaching emerges from your relationship with the boss that is founded upon performance. You cannot coach if you do not deliver. Therefore, the key to managing upward is understanding the boss, followed by action. Get to know what needs doing, and then do it, and make yourself available to do more. Do not become overextended. Pick your spots; that is, volunteer for activities that make a positive difference and add value to the enterprise. This means you must ration your time and energy. This, too, is a good thing; it emerges from your personal discipline and your motivation to excel.

© 2010 John Baldoni. Excerpted by permission of the publisher, from 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead by John Baldoni. Published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association

About the Author(s)

John Baldoni is president of Baldoni Consulting, LLC, and is the author of eight books on leadership, including 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead, from which this article is excerpted.