ICs Managing Upward to a VP

Brian Keith

Engineering Leader at Cisco



I was working as an individual contributor when a new vice president joined our organization. I saw that the VP was very well respected not only in the company but outside of it as well and I wanted to learn from him. I thought that because I had worked for the company for ten years at that point that he and I could build a relationship that would be mutually beneficial to us both. As a new VP he became responsible for a team of 350 people, yet, I was just one of those many people. I had to figure out a way to stand out so that I could get on his radar and build an enduring work-related relationship. I needed to manage upward.

Actions taken

When I was in meetings with the VP, I made sure that I was highly focused and present in discussion. I paid close attention to the conversations, brought a notebook and took detailed notes on his vision, goals and areas of interest and concern for the team. This showed that I was interested in his goals and that those things were important enough for me to be engaged. I wanted him to know that I was taking him seriously and wanted to be a part of bringing the vision he was casting and setting and for the team to reality. In one of the VPs presentations he revealed a challenge to some of the long time employees. He shared that he needed additional help welcoming and onboarding new team members as they were brought into the organization. As an IC I was in the process of trying to exhibit my leadership capabilities through influence, rather than title or authority, and I found that this was a great opportunity to do so. I decided to accept his challenge, as if it were directed solely at me, and began working on a presentation to orient new team members and welcome and acclimate them into the team during their first week. I would also seek out new hires in our department and take them out to lunch to get to know them better and to help them understand our department's mission, vision and goals for the year. I also volunteered for a number of extra assignments. I had realized that my work bandwidth was a little bit low and that I had some extra capacity. I knew that my direct manager was the go-to man between the VP and myself and that my manager, too, was trying to make a good impression with the VP. Thus, I approached my manager, who then spoke with the VP about my extra availability and the possibility of plugging me in or handing me extra work. By doing this, I was able to show that I was willing to go the extra mile and help the VP solve some of the problems that we was looking to solve as he came in and took over a brand new team. I stepped up my efforts and focus in ways that allowed me to deliver a number of strategic projects on-time, on-budget, and with high-quality and that was when the upward relationship really began to build and take hold. The beneficial gains were mutual as I was able to establish rapport and credibility. I was justifiably handed more responsibilities and given more authority and autonomy in my career. My intentional focus and renewed application gave me more overall exposure to the company and to leadership roles.

Lessons learned

  • If you want to manage up you have to take action. This can be as simple as saying hello or goodbye. People in management and leadership positions can have very busy scheduled and appreciate it you to come to them to show initiative; for you to establish and build a relationship. They are waiting for your development to be important to you first so they understand how best to support you.
  • Study the person that you are wanting to manage up to. Try to understand what is important to them, what they want to accomplish, and what goals they need to achieve. The people that you mare managing up to have a lot of different problems and challenges at any given moment. Consider how you can relieve some of these difficulties, be a part of their plan for their vision and goals of the organization, and bring their ideas to fruition. They are happy to have someone alongside them to assist with the solution to problems and the dealings of the day-to-day work.
  • Be true to yourself. Your motivation for development should be pure, come from a place of trying to assist, and a love for solving problems. People that you are managing up to are going to want to qualify your sincerity and validate your intentions. Be honest and trustworthy so that you can build and maintain those work relationships.

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Brian Keith

Engineering Leader at Cisco

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