- Stephen Blandino
I recently had a conversation with a young leader who is fairly new to his organization. He is full of vision and ideas, but he also recognizes that he’s the new kid on the block, and his influence is limited. His question was simple: “How do I lead up?”This is a common question, and frustration, among young leaders and new employees. While it takes time, I believe there are practical steps emerging leaders can take to speed up the process. Here are 10 suggestions for leading up.
1. Responsibility: Do what you were hired to do.The first thing your leader wants to know is whether or not you’re getting the job done that he hired you to do. Nothing else matters if you’re not taking care of the basics. Some young leaders are anxious to take on additional assignments, but if you’re not responsible with your job description, why on earth would your leader expand it? This is the starting point to leading up. It’s at the heart of someone who can be trusted.
2. Excellence: Consistently over-deliver.Excellence is a commitment to do more than enough to get by. It’s delivering work that is downright impressive. Responsibility means you can be trusted. Excellence means you can be heard. If you want your leader to hear you, he has to see a level of excellence that gets his attention and makes an impression. Doing what you’re supposed to do doesn’t get noticed. It’s expected. You don’t get a trophy or a bonus for doing what you were supposed to do all along. But when you consistently over-deliver, your leader starts paying attention. This one act will set you apart from the pile, and will immediately give you greater influence to lead up.
3. Teachable: Be a curious listener and learner.Nobody likes a know-it-all. Nobody! If your leader feels like he can’t teach you anything because you already know it all, you’ll never lead up. That’s a turn-off. No matter how smart you are, try not to make assumptions about what your leader does or doesn’t know. Remember, most of us don’t know what we don’t know. You have to deal with your unconscious incompetence. When you make yourself teachable, you endear yourself to your leader. Be humble, listen more than you talk, and exercise patience. Welcome honest feedback, and don’t get defensive when your leader gives it. In addition, increase your value to the organization by cultivating an aggressive learning posture.
4. Priorities: Value what’s important to your leader.Sometimes we let our pet projects get in the way of what’s most important to our leader. If you want to lead up, you can’t put your preferences ahead of the organization’s priorities. That will never work. Embrace the vision and personalize the focus of the organization. You can’t lead up if your leader thinks you have an ulterior motive or a secret agenda.
5. Sacrifice: Pay the price others are unwilling to pay.We live in an entitlement culture. People want their perks, privileges and power without paying their dues. If you want to lead up, you can’t demand your way to the top. You have to be willing to make sacrifices. I’m not suggesting that you sacrifice your values, convictions, faith or family. I am suggesting you put in more time, mental energy and a higher quality of work than others. I am suggesting that you volunteer for projects (so long as you’re delivering on your other responsibilities) without expecting something in return.
6. Team-Building: Be a developer of people and teams.Peter Haas says there are three types of leaders: technicians, equippers and multipliers. Technicians do the work. Equippers empower people to do the work. But multipliers build entire family trees of equippers. The employees that get my attention the most are the multipliers. They have the ability to build teams and develop leaders of leaders. They don’t just get the job done; they get it done with and through leaders of teams. Developing people is when leaders are at their best. As a result, they make themselves more valuable to the organization because they’re able to handle larger amounts of responsibility.
7. Creative Problem-Solving: Be solution-minded.I don’t mind if a team member brings me a problem. What I do mind is when I have to be the one to always solve the problem. When you bring a problem to your leader, simultaneously bring three possible solutions. I want to know that you’ve thought about it ahead of time. You’ll never lead up if your leader has to do all your thinking for you. I’m also more than willing for my team to shoot holes in my ideas and strategies. In fact, one of our operational values is “candor and care.” We communicate with candor and care about our ideas and realities. What I don’t like is when someone shoots a hole in my idea but offers no alternatives. Anybody can do that. There’s always someone to poop on the parade. That doesn’t take any skill. True leaders embrace the facts but solve the problems. Their solution-minded perspective allows them to act as creative problem solvers.
8. Preparedness: Value your leader’s time.I used to have a weekly meeting with my pastor followed by a staff meeting that I led with the rest of our team. Before the meeting with my pastor began, I always prepared for two things:
- First, I knew every meeting would start with him asking this question: “What do you have for me?” I had better have something. If I didn’t have an agenda, I wasn’t prepared, and thus, was wasting his time.
- Second, prior to the meeting, I always looked ahead to what was coming down the pike. I didn’t want my pastor to ask me something that I didn’t have an answer for. If it was time for staff reviews, I wanted to give him an update before he asked. If a major event was approaching, I wanted to bring attention to our action plan before he asked. If something was brewing, I wanted him to know about it so he wasn’t blindsided.