The 5 Directions of Management

Jan 12, 2021

For many people, Michael Scott is the archetype of management. Maybe a bit lovable but definitely unqualified. Lacking in self-awareness, often disconnected and sometimes even dictatorial.

We know Michael Scott isn’t real, and yet we can imagine that there are a whole lot of managers like him. After all, they are the ones in charge, like it or not.

Whether management is a role to which you aspire, a part of your current job description, or a group of individuals that you loathe, there is a clear distinction in most minds between “the managers” and “the managed.” There is a clear, one-way direction. Top to Bottom. Superiors to subordinates.

In reality, though, management is a much more complex and pervasive aspect of our work lives. It is not simply a station or function for those lucky few to reach their career milestones, but rather an exercise in five directions at any one time:

  • Up – Managing superiors, investors, board of directors
  • Down – Managing any individuals who work under your stewardship, including traditional W2 employees, contract labor, and volunteers
  • Out – Managing customers, suppliers, competitors
  • Across – Managing peers and partners
  • Within – Managing self

What is implied with each direction?

This may seem a bit counterintuitive. After all, aren’t these people supposed to be managing you? In reality, however, this is one of the most important and difficult directions of management.

  • How are you managing the expectations of those above you? If their goals and visions are not realistic, you and your team won’t succeed.
  • How do you manage the pipeline of information between you and your boss? Do they see everything, or just the vital elements? What about bad news? Are they reactionary or rational? Do they need context or just the bullet points?
  • How do you manage conflict between you and those leading you?
  • What if your boss is not that helpful?

Despite the fact that this direction of management gets the lion’s share of our focus, it remains a constant struggle for many.

  • Am I doing everything I can to place those under my leadership in a position to succeed?
  • Am I clear, inspirational, and fair?
  • Am I delegating well? Or, am I just dumping work that I don’t want?
  • Am I being a good steward of their time, resources, and effort?

Peter Drucker said, “So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.” Don’t do that. Strive to be a great manager.

While individuals outside of your organization are clearly not directly under your guidance, these are still some of the most crucial relationships to be managed.

  • How are you managing the expectations of customers? Do you know how and when to push back against unreasonable requests?
  • Are your relationships with your suppliers strong? Poor management here can have a domino effect that will eventually reach your customer.
  • What about competitors? Is there a relationship that encourages healthy competition, or one that breeds underhanded, cutthroat tactics?

Again, these individuals are not directly under your leadership, and likely have an organizational position similar to your own. This is often the most challenging direction of management for high performers in particular. They are fine with their boss and their subordinates. But their peers? That is another issue.

  • Are you working with these individuals to build the overall organizational value?
  • Have you helped create a culture that encourages generosity and discourages overly individualistic attitudes? (In a 2013 book, Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant proposes that generosity within the workplace is an important factor in both personal and organizational success.)
  • Are you a good teammate?

This refers to self-management, which is often the most neglected direction of ambitious leaders. As more and more items clamor for our attention, it becomes easier and easier to allow our own life to get out of balance and eventually become something we hardly recognize. We often find ourselves leading everyone and managing everything but ourselves. Because of this, I’ve used a simple tool for years to help me keep myself on track. I explore this tool in greater detail in my book Managing Me, but it is essentially a series of six gauges. In my experience, if I maintain health in each of these areas, I will also maintain overall health.

  1. Establishing Strategic Clarity—a life that takes care of what really matters
  2. Making Your Contribution to the World—a life that is engaged in meaningful, productive, and fulfilling work
  3. Keeping Life in Balance—a life that successfully juggles the multiple opportunities and responsibilities of your personal and professional worlds
  4. Nurturing Quality Relationships—a life that is blessed with a handful of heart-level connections that can last a lifetime
  5. Pursuing Spiritual Vitality—a life that is infused with a relationship with God
  6. Stewarding Your Finances—a life that makes wise use of money—for yourself and for others

Multi-Directional Management
Sustained success in any arena hinges on our ability to effectively manage relationships and variables in multiple directions. Like a quarterback who manages not only his own knowledge of the playbook, but also the relationships with his teammates, the media, his coaches, and even the fan base, all leaders must be multi-directional leaders. As our careers progress and demands in each direction become more pronounced, this becomes increasingly true. We must be proficient at facing all five directions.

A talented five-direction manager will always have inner fulfillment, always have people wanting to work with you, and always find work.

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