Coaching Your Boss

December 24, 2014

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 (

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About The Author

John Baldoni, chair of leadership development at N2Growth, is an internationally recognized leadership educator, executive coach and speaks throughout North America, Europe and the Middle East. John is the author of more than a dozen books, including MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership, Lead with Purpose, Lead Your Boss, and The Leader’s Pocket Guide. John’s books have been translated into 10 languages. In 2015 Trust Across America named him to its list of top 100 most trustworthy business experts for the second consecutive year. In 2014 listed John as a Top 50 leadership expert and Top 100 leadership speaker. Also in 2014, Global Gurus ranked John No. 11 on its list of global leadership experts. John has authored more than 500 leadership columns for a variety of online publications including Forbes, Harvard Business Review and Bloomberg Businessweek. John’s leadership resource website is

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