Managing Up

Jim Luebe, Collegiate Director

“I wanted to be in ministry full time by now, but I’m still only at 35% of my support, I’m almost out of contacts, and my supervisor rarely calls. I feel stuck.”—Steve Staff

“I want to help my staff succeed in ministry and funding, but I have so much on my plate, and I constantly feel overwhelmed. I just don’t feel like I have the time, energy, or ideas to lead them.”—Sam Supervisor

What should Steve and Sam do?

In the river of leadership, water can flow both directions: leaders can ask their staff to chart their own course by suggesting plans, work activity, and goals; and staff can help their leader lead them by taking initiative and responsibility for their progress. I call this concept managing up.

It’s true that supervisors can feel overwhelmed when staff wait passively to be told what to do next. And it’s unhealthy for staff to neglect taking personal responsibility for their situation and progress. For all to be successful in their role, supervisors and staff need to help each other, and managing up is an effective way for everyone to “win.”

 Managing up means helping your manager manage and lead you.

 What does managing up look like in MPD?

-You and your supervisor discuss managing up and agree to implement it in your relationship. The water now can flow both directions in your relationship.
-Rather than waiting for your supervisor to develop your MPD plan or determine your next steps, you make a plan, present your ideas, and ask for input. Your supervisor shapes and improves your plan based on team goals and his/her experience and wisdom.
-If you agree to a weekly funding accountability call, take the initiative to call your supervisor. Don’t wait for him/her to call you, since you are responsible for your progress.
-Occasionally write a self-assessment of your progress and send it to your supervisor. Ask if he/she sees your progress as you see it.

You and your supervisor can modify the managing up concept to suit your needs, but that is the basic idea. And I’d like to include a word of caution: managing up can come with a few pitfalls, if you’re not careful.

A word to supervisors: 

-Clearly define expectations with your staff and ask them to take initiative with their funding. State, too, that they need to ask for feedback and help.
-Talk very specifically about funding appointments and progress.
-Encourage, coach, shepherd, and pray with your staff regarding funding.
-Assure staff of your commitment and availability to them.  Even though your staff are taking more responsibility for themselves, they still need to feel like you are “with” them.

A word to staff:

-Take responsibility for your funding, but don’t become a “Lone Ranger.” Check all plans with your supervisor. Receive input and feedback to ensure your plans align with your supervisor’s goals. And take into counsel revisions to your plan he/she may suggest.  

For example, one Collegiate person I coached told me he was going to speak during the “missions moment” of a church one Sunday then set up a table in the back afterward with his brochures and commitment cards. That was a good partial plan. I suggested he call the church’s missions pastor to ask for names of individuals from the church to set up 10 face-to-face appointments during the weekend he was going to speak. While the staff person’s initiative was good, together we made his plan more effective.
-Move forward only when you have approval.
-Ask your supervisor occasionally how you can help him/her lead you and your team.

Over the years, I’ve seen and experienced how effective managing up can be. If you’re a supervisor, I encourage you to ask your staff if they’d be willing to give this a try. If you’re a staff person, surprise your supervisor by offering to “step up” more in your relationship. Managing up helps everyone succeed!

Contact Jim Luebe via email at

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