Sometimes, no matter what you do or how prepared you are, there are times on the job when you will need to respond on the spot and in the moment. Such instances require you to be ready and focused, especially when the person asking questions is your boss.
The skill of “managing up in the moment” is a core requirement for success in modern organizations. Not only do you have to perform in the moment, but you also are held accountable for decisions and taking action. Developing the savvy of moment-to-moment mental preparedness isn’t easy. If you can learn to master how to turn a situation around from being caught off guard to being seen as on task and on point, your personal success and credibility will skyrocket.
To be successful in managing up in the moment, you need to follow two concrete courses of action: managing yourself better and learning how to communicate and connect successfully from a point of view different than your own. For the former, we turn to the Navy Seals for help, and for the latter, we turn to the work from two books - Dan Pink’s To Sell is Human, and Theory U written by Otto Scharmer.
First, we look at how to manage yourself better. The Navy Seals had a very low graduation rate 10 years ago – only 38% – and that was after the heavy vetting required to get into the program. The Seals needed a higher percentage of people to graduate and successfully handle increased pressure in a world of growing conflict.
Using vast amounts of research, with much of it coming from emerging neuroscience, the Seals developed a simple but highly effective four-step process that increased their graduation rate to 48% over a four-year period. This process can also be applied by business leaders to increase their ability to focus in the moment and stay calm under pressure. Here is a simple breakdown of the Navy Seal process:
- Focus on your breath. Put your attention just below your navel and watch your breath go in and out. Your attention might wander, but keep your attention on your breathing until you feel yourself slowing down and getting more centered.
- Clarify your goal(s) for an upcoming situation or event just as you would for a regular business meeting.
- Visualize what the other person/people might say or show that would let you know that you had achieved your goal. It could be something like a smile or handshake.
- Identify the positive self-talk you need to help you successfully address the situation. Some phrases that people typically use include, “I am calm, composed, self-confident or “I can handle this.” Find the words that work for you.
Let’s shift now to improving your ability to respond in the moment. Pink believes that we are all involved in selling and influencing and that it is a critical part of everyone’s job. Pink’s model contains three components:
Pink believes that to be more effective you need to tune into others and observe what is really going on. You need to step into their shoes and see the world the way they see it. Then, you need to learn to be more flexible and resilient and respond to what is needed in the moment and vary your approach. Finally, you need to learn to be clear with others when you make a suggestion: test for their understanding, then provide a clear path forward that leads to action. Scharmer uses different language but says essentially the same thing:
- Be present inside yourself. Tune into yourself and get calm and focused. Then observe. What is really going on with the other person?
- Assess what the business reality is that we need to pay attention to. What is important to the other person? What is he or she valuing?
- Be creative or innovative. What can you imagine is possible given what you have seen and observed? What are the possibilities?
- Make suggestions for increased clarity by being thoughtful and strategic.
- Ask, “What is our purpose? What is my purpose?”
Once we combine the pieces of managing self and connecting and communicating from a different point of view, we can apply the learning framework to how you can successfully manage up in the moment.
- Tune in and know your audience. Every senior leader has his or her hot spots and areas of interest. Do your homework so you know ahead of time what that they might be “digging for” or testing you for. Know what is important to them, what they value and what their organization values. Understanding this in advance goes a long way to eliminating feeling flustered on the spot.
- When you get surprised in a meeting or in the hallway, take a moment and calm yourself down using the Navy Seals process. If you have practiced enough it can be done quickly and quietly and can appear to others that you are just organizing your thoughts to offer a response that is thoughtful versus haphazard. Not being reactive is seen as essential leadership behavior.
- Use your emotional intelligence to observe what you can see physically. What are the body messages that are being communicated? What is not being said? This helps keep you grounded and able to think and move from a place of strength and clarity.
- Be curious and ask informed questions. Get clear about what others are looking for – are they having an emotional reaction that you need to assist them with or do they need specific data? If they are taking you off course with their reactions or statements, say so politely, and request that you continue. Don’t be afraid to push back if you are challenged.
- If you don’t know, then say so, but make certain that you understand what other(s) want and let them know when you will get back to them with an informed answer.
- If you do know, say so, answer and begin to craft options and possibilities with your answer. Help others to imagine new possibilities based on facts and data. This approach helps to energize others as it connects both their minds and how they feel about things.
- State clearly and simply your recommendations. Check for understanding and buy-in. This may take several rounds. Senior leaders welcome clarity that is derived from debate and based on facts and business reality.
- Finally, offer a path forward or a path to action, if necessary. Check again for understanding and buy-in.
If you get to this place safely and soundly you have managed up well and will have improved your standing with boss and senior management.