Managing upwards by building trust

Culture and values
Phil Purver
By Phil Purver | 15th June 2020

Chief Executive of The Working Manager, Managing Director of iRIS Health Solutions Ltd.

It goes without saying that whatever your career stage, level of seniority or industry, building a good relationship with your boss, your boss’s boss, and perhaps even their boss too, can be a powerful career move.

But one study suggests it goes even further than that. Having a boss that makes your heart sink is literally bad for the heart. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2009 found that men who reported that they didn’t respect their boss were 60% more likely to suffer a heart attack or another life-threatening cardiac condition. *

Letting this important relationship slide, or even just weathering it, is dangerous on many levels. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The upsides of a positive dynamic can be just as powerful. What’s not to like about an increase in current job satisfaction, immediate career prospects, and long-term progression?

But how to nurture this unique relationship? Don’t worry. You don’t have to be best buddies with your boss. You don’t even have to like them very much, but you do need to heed their needs, concerns, sensitivities and preferences. By doing so, mutual respect and collaboration are within everyone’s reach. And who doesn’t need an ally in the current climate?

Listening to a recent CareerBurst webinar entitled “Managing Upwards by Building Trust” helped me reflect on what I value in team members.


Knowing I can rely on a colleague to get the job done is great. Feeling sure they’ll represent me, the team and our organisation well, both internally and externally, is invaluable. But trust is about loyalty, too. In testing times, knowing a colleague will keep the faith, have my back, and be straightforward, honest and collaborative is as good as it gets.


When a colleague can see things from my perspective, that of the team and the organisation as a whole, I know I’m onto a good thing. Working as a team means making allowances for differing expectations, pressures, priorities and goals. This doesn’t mean forfeiting individual concerns or being a martyr. It just means acting with understanding and consideration. In the webinar Mel shared a quote from Dr Pete Stebbins who comments  "Managing Upwards is about having empathy – the ability to 'walk a mile' in your boss’s shoes and based on this empathy to act both with integrity and strategy in how you communicate with them."


I operate an open-door policy and don’t believe in keeping secrets, worrying in isolation or blame culture. I hope all colleagues feel they can come to me with issues, feedback and problems. But please, come with a can-do attitude and practical suggestions too. What I value most is when the people around me are pro-active, feel empowered and communicate well. At both TWM and iRIS Health Solutions this is just part of the DNA.

Having spent over 40 years in business, I can remember the burning desire to stretch myself and progress. I can also recall the frustration of being micro-managed and having ideas and energy met with a fixed mindset or cynicism.

It stands to reason that trust, empathy and problem-solving cut both ways. It’s my responsibility to lead by example: to show my team I trust them to do a good job, to delegate opportunities, advocate for them and to provide constructive feedback when helpful. By encouraging my team to manage up, not only will I be a better leader, I’ll empower the next generation of leaders too.

Over the years, like most of us, I have had good and bad managers. I have been lucky enough to live in Australia and France as well as the UK. I’ve worked with many distributors and offices all over the world. So, having different cultures overlaid has provided an even wider perspective.

Yet when it comes to ‘managing up’ and being managed up, this quote by Ralph Nader sums it up for me: ‘The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.’

The recording of the CareerBurst webinar ‘Managing Upwards By Building Trust’ is available here.


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