Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship with Those above Youby Rosanne Badowski
Everyone has a boss. And anyone who has aspired to move up the corporate ladder knows that their relationship with those they report to is crucial. In Managing Up Rosanne Badowski offers a straightforward, entertaining, no-holds-barred account of what it takes to make your relationship with your boss work to your advantage, no matter where you stand in the corporate hierarchy.
Told through rich, colorful anecdotes about her years spent working with one of the smartest, most demanding and dynamic business leaders of the twentieth century, legendary GE CEO Jack Welch, Badowski reveals the secrets to career success she has gleaned over the years. At heart, it’s about working with the person above you to create a productive and effective partnership.
Everyone is a manager, in one way or another, Badowski points out. She discusses first-hand what it’s like to have to be a mind reader, to anticipate the future, to plan for the unexpected, and to perform the impossible. With refreshing candor and a hint of attitude, Badowski’s advice is unlike any other. She advises us that “Impatience is a virtue,” to “Have no shame,” and to “Beware the too-quiet office.” Having worked in one of the most challenging, high-profile corporate environments anywhere, no one knows more about prioritizing, about making decisions on behalf of your boss, about sifting through a daily barrage of data and information, about multitasking at warp speed, and exhibiting grace under fire. Ultimately, Badowski says, excelling at what you do is about a shared passion for the job.
Managing Up is an invaluable guide for managing your career and juggling responsibilities with finesse and confidence. It should become a management bible for anyone hoping to get ahead in their profession.
From the Hardcover edition.
While Rosanne Badowski was the executive assistant to Jack Welch at General Electric for 13 years, she learned many intense lessons about managing her manager. She did such a good job with her boss, a man whom Fortune magazine named as one of the top 10 toughest bosses in America, that he took her with him as his principal lieutenant and chief of staff at his private consulting firm when he retired in 2001.
While at GE for more than 25 years, Badowski learned many crucial techniques for solving problems, developing opportunities, and navigating successfully through the work week. Throughout her book, Managing Up, she offers many ways managers can build effective working partnerships, and uses straightforward language and colorful examples of how they worked for her.
Maintain Energy And Maximize Efficiency
Some of the issues Badowski covers in her book include maintaining energy through a rough day, making the right decision with fairness, admitting and forgiving mistakes, limiting impatience, and even creating time where there is never enough. The helpful tips and techniques she offers in Managing Up explore the most important aspects of working with a boss to help him or her maximize efficiency and prepare for the important questions and situations that an executive faces while driving an organization.
Although she started as a secretary and continued to perform many of the same functions - answering the phone, placing calls, taking shorthand and typing -while working for Welch at GE, she also excelled as the quintessential executive assistant who served as a project manager, coordinator, communicator and troubleshooter. She writes that we are all managers as well as secretaries, and we should all act in a secretarial fashion at times, "rolling up our sleeves and doing the mundane tasks that make grand business strategies work."
The Basic Principles of Managing Up
Some of the basic principles Badowski addresses in Managing Up include:
- Managing is not the exclusive property of MBA graduates.
- At times we are all managers, and we are all support staff.
- Those who manage up have to think - and act -like managers.
- A good manager is a student of cause and effect.
- It's not good enough to be aware of what's happening around you; you must also know why it is happening.
- If you are not helping, you are hindering.
- Ask yourself: Did the work I performed today help achieve a goal?
The Importance of Chemistry
While she addresses these issues and many smaller facets of managing up, she also explores the importance of chemistry. When she filled the job of the executive assistant to the CEO, the personal chemistry between her and Welch was crucial for both of them to achieve their personal and mutual goals.
Describing why her first interview with Welch was so successful, she offers this piece of wisdom: "Being fully effective springs from building a reputation for being a team player, demonstrating a willingness to accept responsibility, bringing new ideas to the job, and being productive." The real-life experiences she shares provide many lessons about resolving conflicts and effective communication.
While expounding on the fundamental principles of managing up, she also professes some important points that have guided her along the way to success as an effective executive assistant. These points appear throughout every chapter, as stand-alones that speak volumes in a few simple words. Some of these include such gems as, "Make life easier for the person above you," and "Treating all employees equally is unfair to your star performers."
Why Soundview Likes This Book
Managing Up is a primer for any manager who wants to make working with a boss more efficient, productive and satisfying. Along with her experienced words of wisdom that can be applied to most working situations and relationships, Badowski also delivers a behind-the-scenes storybook about the business tactics and skills of Jack Welch as seen by somebody who knows him so well that she remains an indispensable part of his business dealings to this day. Her personal experiences with Welch, as well as his business interactions with others, make this a compelling book that is filled with informative lessons that have been tried and tested over many years with the epitome of the effective boss - who succeeded, at least in part, from the benefits of being managed up. Copyright (c) 2003 Soundview Executive Book Summaries
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Read an Excerpt
“WHEN THE GODS . . . punish us, they answer our prayers,” wrote Oscar Wilde. In other words, be careful what you wish for.
In the fall of 1988, I had no interest in becoming executive assistant to John F. Welch, the Chairman and CEO of GE. In fact, from my job as administrative assistant in GE’s Corporate Human Resources department, I was praying to get a promotion to an entry-level management position that had just opened up in GE Supply. In retrospect, perhaps my prayers conveyed mixed messages. On one hand, I wanted to move up the ladder, but on the other, I liked my boss, my colleagues, and the work I was doing. The two wishes may have canceled each other out.
At the time, I had been at GE for more than twelve years in a variety of administrative assignments. Corporate Human Resources was one of the better gigs, with lots of responsibility and opportunities to deal with senior executives and some of the company’s hottest businesses. One of the advantages of being in HR was that it let you get involved in many different areas instead of being stuck doing the same old thing. I know HR can be dumped on for being too “back-ofﬁce” or “touchy-feely,” but that’s a bad rap. A good HR department goes beyond handing out beneﬁt booklets and is the driver of successful employee development.
The broad experience I gained in HR is what gave me a shot at the posted open management position. That job entailed managing a group of regional sales facilities for products distributed by GE Supply. I actively campaigned for the job and overcame most of the personnel hurdles. Jack Peiffer (senior vice president of Corporate Human Resources and my manager at the time) agreed to the move. He was a wonderful boss with a down-to-earth demeanor, and his blessing on my candidacy was important not only politically but personally. Nonetheless, I was having trouble bringing the ﬁnal offer to closure, so I went to him to ask what was going on. Instead of giving me a straight answer, his usual approach, he tap-danced around, ﬁnally saying that on further reﬂection he didn’t think the position was right for me. I was shocked and angry, and left his ofﬁce determined to get the promotion or quit. Being single and not having children, I had—and still have—the luxury of independence and a few rash acts. I was happy working at GE, but I was not going to be stiﬂed and held back. I wanted out. A few days later, Mr. Peiffer took me aside and explained what was going on: Jack Welch’s executive assistant, Helga Keller, was leaving to get married. My name had been tossed into the hat as a possible candidate, and I was on the short list.
I brieﬂy considered taking my name off the list, but I didn’t want to embarrass those who had obviously been singing my praises. I was also curious to see what the hiring process was like at the CEO-level of a company as enormous as GE. Maybe I’d learn something new. I agreed to be screened and, if I made it that far, interviewed by Jack Welch. It may seem like a pretty ﬂimsy rationale for not pursuing the management slot, but at the time it made sense to me. But I’ve never kidded myself into thinking that Mr. Peiffer and the company got out the scales and carefully weighed the beneﬁts of Rosanne the manager against Rosanne the executive assistant. HR had a paramount goal: ﬁll the position in the CEO’s ofﬁce with someone who had a reasonable track record and was likely to stick it out for a while. Jack Peiffer was enough of an HR veteran to know how tricky it is to match a senior executive with an assistant and how costly a mistake can be in terms of wasted time, aggravation, and lost productivity. A successful match also comes from pure personal chemistry. Filling the position of the executive assistant to the CEO was a more crucial task for HR than ﬁlling an entry-level management position at GE Supply. It was easier for the HR team to disappoint me temporarily. Looking back, if I had been in Jack Peiffer’s shoes, I would have made the same decision that he did. Besides, I wasn’t disappointed for long.
Ms. Curiosity and Miscalculation
At the time, I didn’t think there was a chance I would get the job.
Because I really didn’t want it. But I realize in retrospect that my “not a chance” mind-set gave me a tremendous advantage over the other candidates. I wasn’t afraid, and I didn’t overprepare or oversell myself in my one-hour interview with Jack Welch at a subsequent lunch several days later.
Also, the Jack Welch “cult” was only in its infancy, or more accurately, adolescence. After seven years as CEO, he’d had his share of media attention, much of it critical, or at least tough and skeptical. At the time, the Welch cost-cutting, downsizing, and deal-making style was fodder for columnists and commentators, but at GE headquarters he was simply the CEO rather than a legend or icon. Jack Peiffer and the other department heads, whom I dealt with day in and day out, were far more immediate and real to me. Jack Welch was a blip on someone else’s radar screen.
I’m probably going to regret these comments. But please don’t misread me. Jack Welch was deﬁnitely shaking up GE. Yet at the time he was not held in awe by most GE headquarters employees any more than Reg Jones, his predecessor, had been. The glory years of GE’s being the largest and most valuable company in the world were still to come.
While I didn’t do anything special to prepare for the interview, I wasn’t as lackadaisical as I sound. At that level and with such a large company, there are literally thousands of issues and functions involved. I could have crammed for weeks without scratching the surface—and probably wouldn’t have really lighted on anything even resembling a surface, for that matter. Putting aside my underlying belief that there was no way I would be offered the job, it would have been crazy to try to bluff my way into it.
CEOs may not always inspire awe, but they don’t rise to the top without being able to spot phonies. I’m not saying that being prepared is the same thing as faking it. Not at all. But the most impressive preparation is the kind that comes from being fully effective in your present job. It doesn’t come from drills, dry runs, or dress rehearsals prior to an interview. Being fully effective springs from building a reputation for being a team player, demonstrating a willingness to accept responsibility, bringing new ideas to the job, and being productive. Knowing today what was at stake and how much I would have missed out on if I hadn’t gotten the job, I might have done a bit more homework if I were to do it all over again. But even today I’d have to say it’s easy to overdo it. There were several times that I’ve kidded around, small-talked, and tried to calm the jitters in otherwise well-qualiﬁed men and women who came in to interview with Jack Welch. What I couldn’t come out and say was, “This guy knows your record and résumé as well as you do. Now he wants to know who you are. Just go in there and be yourself.”
I know—easier said than done. In my case, despite not wearing a lucky bracelet or pulling an all-nighter, I did have the jitters. Worrying that I didn’t prepare enough would have made them worse. I didn’t shake or stammer; I blushed. When I realized what I was doing, I blushed even more. The red cheeks made a nice contrast to the blue dress I was wearing.
The interview took less than an hour. Then and now, the substance of it is pretty much a blur. He was in the side chair in the sitting area of his ofﬁce, and I was on the couch facing a ﬂoor-to-ceiling window that bathed the room in bright morning light. Half of my brain was thinking, Wow, I can’t believe I’m sitting in this lovely ofﬁce being interviewed by The Man. The other half was saying, Settle down and pay attention to the questions so that you can at least come up with a few mildly intelligent answers. What surprised me was that he didn’t grill me in that machine-gun style that I had heard about, which was a good thing because rapid-ﬁre interrogation is indeed one of his hallmarks. It takes years of getting used to. A Jack Welch business meeting or brieﬁng is best measured not by elapsed time but by QPM—questions per minute.
I’m thankful we clocked up a low QPM rate that day. Most of what he asked was aimed at measuring what kind of commitment I was willing to make to the job. He was obviously trying to ﬁnd someone who could match—or come reasonably close to—his own commitment, which is basically expressed in today’s lingo by two numbers: 24 and 7. I’m a hard worker and believe in being totally involved in what I do, but I didn’t really understand commitment à la Jack Welch.
I do now, though.
During the interview, I was more than a little confused as to what he was driving at, and I told him so. I asked if he was suggesting that we do a trial run to see if we were a good ﬁt. He dismissed that out of hand. He was not interested in trials. I was in it from day one—and so was he—or we could go our separate ways.
Then he dropped on me what seemed like the ultimate interview-killer:
“You remind me of my ex-wife,” he said.
I was stunned into silence.
The best response I could come back with was “Doesn’t sound too good for my chances of getting this job.”
We both laughed. Looking back, I think what he meant was that he perceived streaks of independence that were characteristic of Carolyn. They had divorced the year before after twenty-eight years of marriage.
The way we left it was that at his suggestion I would spend some time thinking about whether this would work and if I was willing to make the commitment.
I didn’t need to do too much thinking. I was hooked. Totally. I had expected a gruff executive barking tough questions that I couldn’t answer. Instead I had found myself in a friendly, informal, wide-ranging conversation with a guy who, while being all business, wasn’t afraid to laugh and speak frankly. I liked him and his obvious sense of purpose. Rather than scaring me off by pressuring me for a commitment, he energized me and pulled me into his orbit.
A week or so later, on December 2, I was invited to lunch in his private dining room. When I arrived, Helga told me that the menu of the day was spareribs with barbecue sauce, and the kitchen had run out of napkins. And then she wished me bon appétit!
Very funny. I ordered a small plate of cut fruit and cottage cheese. My advice to any job seeker at an interview lunch is that if you have to wrestle with it, pick it up in your hands, or slurp it, at best it’s a distraction and at worst a disaster waiting to happen.
Our lunch turned out to be just a get-acquainted session to gauge personal chemistry. Six days later, I was summoned back to his ofﬁce. Helga and Sue Baye, who was Helga’s backup and processed the CEO’s mail, were all smiles.
“Just go in,” Helga said.
Jack Welch was standing beside his desk. “I guess you know why you’re here,” he said.
At the time I thought I did, but I soon found out I didn’t have a clue about what lay ahead.
“Can you start on Monday?” he asked.
There’s not much more to relate. He said I’d get a hefty raise, and that he was thrilled to be working with me. That’s about it.
Oddly, one of the hardest things for me was to tell Jack Peiffer that I was leaving his operation. I immediately went downstairs and broke the news. He congratulated me with genuine sincerity. But I think he was nervous that I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. I cut it short, ducked into an empty ofﬁce next to his, shut the door, and broke into tears. A few days later, at the department Christmas party, my friends in HR gave me a nice farewell tribute and presented me with a lovely gift. I sat at the table and cried again.
For Crying Out Loud
I promised to share my workplace survival skills with you, and what have I offered up so far?
•Go unprepared into a job interview that has the potential to radically alter your life.
•Don’t wipe your greasy ﬁngers on the tablecloth at lunch.
•Casually toss around terms like cult in connection with your boss.
•And when the going gets tough, have a good cry.
These are all great words of wisdom, but I probably need to expand on the crying thing, since the other pieces of advice are all perfectly sensible and stand on their own. Dealing with stress is a major challenge in any job that matters to you, and on that issue I’m not kidding. On occasion, a tearful moment was my way of handling circumstances that brought on an overwhelming level of stress. It didn’t happen that often, but when it did, I’ve used it to get things out of my system.
I have read just enough about the way the brain is supposed to function to know that tears release neural chemicals that help to sooth raw emotions and restore balance. Well—it’s a theory, anyway.
After all, what are the options? Anger and aggressiveness? Passivity and sullenness? Obstruction and revenge? No, thanks. Find what works best for you to provide that momentary respite that lets you gather strength to ﬁnish the job at hand.
My way tells me that I still care and that I haven’t been totally numbed into emotional nothingness by aggravations and disappointments. The capacity to care is a valuable gift. Business as usual—what a dreadful term—is the enemy of caring. It doesn’t take long for the wrong kind of corporate culture to shrink caring that’s the size of a quilt into a handkerchief.
There are other effective measuring devices, however. Jack Welch’s preferred means of checking out the length and breadth of his and others’ capacity to care was done verbally. He vented, ranted, badgered, and cajoled. And all of it was a sign of how deeply and passionately he cared.
The Welch style was totally infectious. If nothing else, as GE chairman and CEO, Jack Welch was an open invitation to care big time. He cared about people, about the customer, about GE doing its best and being the best company it could possibly be. And he continues to care. The commitment he spoke about during our ﬁrst interview in 1988 was in a large sense a commitment to caring. It meant being willing to show up at the ofﬁce each day ready to do whatever it took to make a difference.
It took a full year to get totally comfortable and up to speed in my new position. Much of the schedule was taken up by recurring commitments such as the shareholders’ meetings, budget reviews, board meetings, and the like. My ﬁrst year was spent learning how to go about dealing with these routine events. But because there were so many unpredictable occurrences, I would say it was difﬁcult to master the job.
To step back a moment, it’s probably worth noting that I was working for the world’s most impatient man, and yet he was willing to tolerate a full year of having an executive assistant who was operating at less than 100 percent. Why was that? Jack Welch may be impatient, but he is realistic. It took that long because it takes that long. Sure, some are born with innate talent and instinctive smarts. The rest of us, though, need time to accomplish things through experience.
I had to personally go through a full year’s cycle so that when the events and responsibilities came around again, I had been there and done that—and could skillfully do it again and, I hoped, do it better. Both sides of an effective working partnership, whenever you are in a company—whether you’re a manager or an assistant, executive VP or CEO—should expect a learning curve at the beginning of the relationship no matter how smart and seasoned each of you happens to be. There is so much to learn, and things are mastered on the run.
One of the requirements they forgot to list on the job description was the need to be bilingual. My ﬁrst real day on the job, I had to deal with the need to translate a “foreign tongue” into English. Jack was out of the ofﬁce for the holidays and off-site meetings when I started the job. When he ﬁnally appeared back at GE’s corporate headquarters in Fairﬁeld in early January 1989, it was like encountering a human tornado. He came through the door of the third-ﬂoor suite so engrossed with a deal he was trying to consummate that he totally forgot I had zero miles on the odometer.
When he called me in to take a letter, I discovered that I needed not only Gregg shorthand but an immersion class at Berlitz. I couldn’t understand his thick Boston accent. I sat there with my pen ﬂying and thought, Oh, no! I’m in trouble. What’s he saying? I’ll never be able to transcribe this!
Meanwhile, he was doing several things at once—dictating a letter, telephoning, issuing orders, reading his mail, and scribbling out handwritten notes. In all my years of working, I’d never encountered anyone who could do ﬁve or six things at once and not miss a beat on any of them—I was amazed. Within a day or two, I knew that operating at warp speed for me was merely cruising for Jack Welch. Fortunately, I am one of the almost-extinct dinosaurs who still take shorthand. I had been the shorthand champ when I was working on my degree in secretarial sciences at Sacred Heart University, and it helped save me on my ﬁrst day on this job. I could just about keep up with his breakneck speed. And I found I had gotten close enough phonetically to the right words that I could go back and piece together an accurate rendering with Sue’s help. She had been in Welch’s ofﬁce since 1981.
I am sure most people feel like that upon starting a new job—excited and terriﬁed. Questioning whether or not we can adequately do the job is a normal reaction. What it really reveals is how much we care about what we do. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help wondering: Maybe they’ll give me my old job back.
As I was swept away by the human tornado, I remember thinking, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”1
•Be bilingual—understand and be able to use the language of staff above and below you.
•Good managers can spot phonies a mile away. Being a phony is a sure path to failure.
•Start building your reputation from day one.
•There is a learning curve for every new job. Expect it of yourself, and those under and over you.
•Work hard at being extraordinarily good at what you do.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
ROSANNE BADOWSKI has worked with former GE CEO Jack Welch for thirteen years. Prior to becoming Welch’s executive assistant, she spent twelve years in administrative positions in international human resources, executive management, and organization planning at GE. She lives in Easton, Connecticut.
From the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Thank goodness that Rosanne has finally put into words how EA's contribute to the workplace! My hat is off to her and I've gleaned some new tips!
This is the reminiscence of a famous CEO¿s secretary, but it is better than you might expect. Jack Welch¿s former executive assistant and now author Rosanne Badowski spins anecdotes nicely. She also provides some possibly inadvertent grains of salt to season everything else you may have read about her boss. However, the idea that her warmly chatty observations can generate a respectable book is a tribute to the power of his legend - and her entertaining recollections. The image of a CEO whose secretary has to go through his trash to keep track of what he¿s been doing is very revealing. So is the idea of a secretary going behind her super-boss like Mommy behind a toddler, turning off faucets he can¿t be bothered to shut for himself. Welch acknowledges in the forewordthat he was a difficult, sometimes aggravating boss. He says Badowski, 'lived and breathed work,' and he praises her 'loyalty, discretion and forgiveness' and well as her long hours, the care she took with confidential information and her talent for dealing with those who seek it. Badowski pulls few punches, so you may well agree with Welch¿s self-assessment after you read her book. However, Welch was also, on occasion, a brilliant manager, and Badowski became a strong one, too. We find that her up-close viewpoint includes some useful managerial insights and just enough gossip to keep your batteries charged.
I am new to the Executive Assistant level of Administrative Assistants. I found Ms. Badowski's book very informative for someone who is just getting started. It was enjoyable read. She used very relatable examples and used humor to help move the book along.
Rosanne Badowski's enlightened and insightful explanation of managing demonstrates her sixth sense capacity to spot the real and phony. During her interviews with Jack Welch, she focused on him having a capacity to spot a phony. She did not mention her own ability. I make this statement from direct experience. She redirected material that I sent to Welch to Steve Kerr, Vice President, Leadership Development. It led to a worthwhile exchange of ideas and deeper insights into a part of Jack Welch's management style that has not been covered by the media or in books by, or about, him. I am certain that she would not have taken the position of being the CEO's assistant at Enron.
I have been an executive assistant for 29 years and I found very little of value or interest in this book.
This book is a quick read albeit not a very interesting one. The primary message I got from this book is that the author was completely enamored with Jack Welch and had totally devoted a good majority of her life to serving him while apparently sacrificing all her personal time. What she described as her sense of humor was a little offbeat and certainly not professional. The potential for a good story is there, it just never hits the mark.