Manage up to improve conditions onboard

May 1, 2014 by Alene Keenan

The following is one of my favorite quotes from Peter Drucker, management consultant, educator, and author: “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”


Managers come in all shapes and sizes and with all possible levels of skills and effectiveness, whether they are the department head, the captain, the management company, or the owner. Not everyone does a great job managing others. Some managers are just plain bad, so crew have to learn to effectively deal with the situations they create.


In effect, we have to learn how to manage our own relationships with our superiors to have a successful career in yachting.


Have you ever heard the phrase “managing up”? Simply put, managing up means taking the responsibility for doing a great job, whether you agree with your manager’s style or not. It means being a good follower.


The more accomplished your department head is at being a manager, the less managing up there is to do. But everyone should do at least a little bit in order to be pro-active and help, not hinder, your boss.


When you manage up, you anticipate needs. This comes easily in the interior department because this is what we do with our guests every day. To manage up, you think ahead to make sure you have completed all of the tasks on your checklists, and plan for any situations that may develop.


By staying a step ahead, you are in a position to assist your team with unexpected developments and schedule changes. If your manager is struggling, ask yourself what you can do to help, what you can do to be proactive and to be a better follower.


Relationships are based on trust. The first step in managing up is to build a positive relationship with your boss by showing that you are responsible and accountable. There is lot you can do to be proactive without overstepping your boundaries. Show up on time (and that means fully dressed and ready to begin work), finish your work in the time you are expected to, and do as you are told to do to the level and standard that is expected of you. Keep your boss informed about your work and interactions with the rest of the guests and crew as needed.


There are some common complaints from stews about the people who manage them. In order to improve these situations, we have to learn how to manage up. Avoid complaining endlessly or going behind your superior’s back. Follow the chain of command when addressing a difficult management concern.


Here are some suggestions for dealing with these common issues.


• A hands-off manager may not provide any direction or feedback. He or she may think they are empowering you by not being involved in your progress, but most mid-level stews want someone to oversee their work at least occasionally. Let your chief know what you need in terms of direction, feedback and support. Be polite and focus on your needs without criticizing.


• At the other extreme, if you’re working for a micromanager with a million pet peeves, you’re always trying to avoid the next incident. This kind of direction can be insulting to a competent, self-directed crew member. But you can take some responsibilities for the successful outcome here. Ask for clarification of the task at hand. Pay attention and work to match the boss’s goals and priorities.


• Maybe your manager lacks the training to remain supportive when they get overwhelmed with the workload. If you can see a way to pitch in, offer to do so. Think in terms of the overall success of your department and vessel. It is easy to lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel when the pressure is on.


• Perhaps he/she has been promoted too quickly and does not have the skills to handle all of the responsibilities that go with the job. We are all human and we are all responding to the same stress and fatigue in the heat of battle. Instead of being critical of a situation, ask what you can do to help. What are the hot issues of the day, and how can your contribution reduce these concerns?


• You may have different values and priorities. If your values are out of sync with those of your boss, you may have a problem. Figure out the boss’s work style. Identify what she considers important in an employee.


• Everyone has areas of weaknesses and feels challenged in some areas. No matter what the issues are, you have to work together. Your chief stew or captain has information that you need to succeed, yet at the same time he or she can’t do her job or accomplish goals without your help. Your team won’t succeed without the information, perspective, experience, and support of proper management.


• Whatever your issues are, remember that you can’t change others; you can only control your own responses. You can be more proactive about the way you respond.


Here are some guidelines for managing up.


• Be direct with people when you need to discuss things. In other words, don’t beat around the bush. When done with care, you build a relationship with everyone.


• If you’ve made an error or something was broken or used up, tell your chief or the captain. It’s better to hear it directly from you than to have the captain confront you later in response to a complaint from the owners or guests. Attempts to mitigate or mislead always result in more stress for you as you worry about getting “caught” or somehow slipping up in the consistency of your story.


• Treat each other with respect. Remember that you and your own feelings are not always the center of the universe.


• Focus on the good. Just about every person has both good points and bad. When you’re negative about your boss, the tendency is to focus on their worst traits and failings. This does not have a good effect on the situation. Compliment your boss on something they do well. Everyone needs positive reinforcement and everyone wants to be a success. You would expect the same consideration for yourself, so go ahead and reach out to someone who may really need and value your support.


• Learn from your boss. Although some days it may not feel like it, your boss has much to teach you. The personality you are dealing with at work every day has taken years and years to form. Apparently something is working, or they wouldn’t be your boss today. Appreciate that he/she was promoted because your organization found aspects of her work, actions and/or management style worthwhile.


All of us have made unfair judgments of at least one management decision by someone above us. It sucks when you are the one being criticized. Believe me, I remember how challenging my first few weeks as a new chief stew were. I was learning a new boat, new owners, and new crew over the course of a five-week trip.


I relied on the guidance of my killer second stew to help me out. There were definitely times when I felt like I was doing more harm than good. She could have been critical of me and not volunteered information I needed, but she wasn’t. Without her generous decision to help me by managing up, I would have been lost and the trip would not have been a success.


Being in service for long periods of time is tough. One of the best rewards for sticking it out is the team camaraderie we feel. “The conventional definition of management is getting work done through people, but real management is developing people through work,” said Agha Hasan Abedi, a Pakistani philanthropist.


Managing up is challenging and requires some personal sacrifice, but ultimately, it develops your team and is well worth your time.


Alene Keenan has been a megayacht stew for more than 20 years. She teaches at MPT in Ft. Lauderdale and offers interior crew training through her company, Yacht Stew Solutions ( Download her book, The Yacht Service Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht, on her site or Comments on this column are welcome at [email protected].


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

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