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How Do You Manage Managers?

This article was based on episode 154 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get the full episode guide when you become a member at Purchase any full episode guide at

As a senior manager, you’ve likely moved from a mix of managing individual contributors and doing some of the work, to a role that is predominantly managing others. Depending on your interests and skills, this transition can be a welcomed change or a difficult adjustment. For individuals who enjoy building relationships and cultivating people, as well as doing ‘thinking work’ and collaborating through meetings, becoming a senior manager may feel like a natural evolution. Yet for those who truly enjoy getting their hands in the work, this shift can feel like a loss. Unfortunately, this leads some senior managers to hold onto task responsibilities or micromanage. Instead, senior managers need to recognize that your role is now shaping the big picture, developing strategy, setting goals, and sharing your wisdom.

While the majority of your management responsibilities will remain the same, there are three primary areas where your new title will be different from a manager’s role and these are: driving towards results, cultivating the manager’s management capability, and clarifying guidelines.


This role will be familiar to you because, as managers, we are always driving towards results. But, now, as a senior manager, your view is from a higher perch. Whereas before you were focused on the 5,000 feet goal, when looking from 50,000 feet, you see how the various goals and initiatives flow together towards the overall success of the organization.

To effectively drive towards results, you need to establish clear visions and goals with your managers. Work with them to define what success looks like and identify any constraints. The more clarity you bring at the start, the easier everyone’s jobs will be going forward.

For ongoing management conversations, think of yourself as a sounding board, mentor, and advisor, as well as accountability partner. Consider it your responsibility to enhance what your managers come up with rather than giving them the answers. Do this by bringing a whole system's lens, connecting dots and pollinating ideas and information across workstreams, identifying risks, and asking questions that help strengthen the thinking. Try not to get into the weeds and instead, provide plenty of autonomy so your managers can flesh out and manage the details with their direct reports.


A good rule of thumb is that, as a senior manager, you should spend just as much time investing in your people as you do the work. In fact, in many ways, your role is similar to being an executive coach. You’re responsible for helping managers figure out how to motivate, grow, and support their people. Often this entails acting as a sounding board and advisor for navigating messy interpersonal conflicts or sharing important but sensitive news.

To do this well, it helps to know each of your manager’s direct reports. While it is beneficial to build direct relationships, it’s important to be mindful of boundaries. Remember that you are their boss’s boss, and not their direct manager.

To get to know these individuals, consider holding skip-level meetings during which you meet one-on-one with each of your manager’s team members. These skip-level meetings are an opportunity for you to hear from team members about how they think their manager is doing, what their career aspirations are, and what work opportunities they are looking for. These meetings can occur as often as once per month or as infrequently as twice per year.

Use what you’re learning to develop your managers as well as advise them on ways to help their team members grow and advance. Regularly ask what they are doing to cultivate each person on their team. Serve as a trusted partner when they run into a challenge. For example, help them discover an approach to helping a team member who is struggling or develop a plan to address conflict while minimizing damage.


Just as all managers set boundaries and then provide autonomy to their team members, as senior manager, it is your responsibility to establish clear guidelines. It’s important for your direct reports to know what is within their sphere of control. When does a decision require your input? How much information would you like, in what format and frequency, as part of your regular updates? While we can’t predict every situation or every decision that needs to be made, we can create the processes and guidelines so that our managers know when to loop us in and when they have the authority to go ahead without us.


One of the most important ways you can fulfill your role as a senior manager is to role model. As upper management, you have a direct impact on what happens in the company simply by how you conduct yourself. If you haven’t invested in building culture, spent time talking about values, or elevated the importance of upholding desired behaviors, it's unlikely that your managers will either.

In addition to role modeling behaviors in front of your managers, it’s also important to do the same with their direct reports. Use opportunities like department-wide meetings, project meetings where you attend as the sponsor, or even company-sponsored social events, to praise the manager, ask for their input, and engage them like a peer. When you, as senior manager, show that you trust and appreciate the manager, their team will be more likely to show them that same respect.


You may be familiar with the saying, “people don’t leave their job, they leave their manager.” Managers play an outsized role in how engaged people are at work. That's true across all levels of management. To retain great people and accomplish big things, it’s important to strengthen your entire organization or department. Focus on developing strong relationships with your managers. As their partner, you can cultivate them to be great managers for their people. And that’s what matters most.

Get the full episode guide when you become a member at Purchase any full episode guide at to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.

This article was based on episode 154 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.




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