How to “Lead Up” (and Why You Should Be Doing It)

lead up perry noble

(This post is by a guy on our staff named Ricky Ortiz. Ricky and his family moved from New York City to come and be a part of NewSpring Church. As a young but very capable leader, Ricky had a lot of opportunities to lead up to me while he worked in my area. He’s now the NewSpring Network Director and is leading the charge to serve and encourage other ministry leaders around the globe. Here’s what he had to say about what it means to lead up…)

Let’s face it: Few of us, if any of us, are our own bosses. In fact, even if you are your own boss—Senior Pastor, Business Owner or even a CEO—chances are that you’re accountable to somebody else whether it be your congregation, your family or shareholders. Short of being a political dictator, we all have someone we are accountable to. This means ALL of us are in some sort of position that requires us to lead those “above us” in some degree.

In leadership circles, the catchall phrase for this is “Leading Up.” It’s a simple term really, but the practice of “leading up” can actually be incredibly difficult and challenging for many leaders. Leaders take charge. They solve problems. They pave the way. But leading up requires working through others, which causes many leaders to feel disheartened.

I completely get this feeling. I’ve never been my own boss, nor have I ever sat in the lead chair over an organization. Every staff role I’ve ever served in has been in a support role to the senior pastor, and at times I’ve found myself feeling quite frustrated.

I started my ministry career as a green 21-year old student pastor fresh out of college. I had a degree, sharp wit and a passion for what should be…a fiery passion. I arrived at my first church ready to change the world—beginning with our own church. I came onto that staff with the least ministry experience, but the most opinions.

To say the first few years on staff were rough would be an understatement. Although I managed to keep many of my frustrations to myself, I found myself making wise-cracks and smart alec comments to those around and above me. I secretly hoped those statements would “get through,” and influence and respect would come my way. Of course, now I see there was no chance of that happening had I continued on the same path.

Fortunately for me, I learned and matured from that season of life and ministry. Today I have the privilege of serving at NewSpring Church. Every day I am surrounded by some of the sharpest leaders in church world, and I have been entrusted with an incredible amount of influence.

Looking back over the years, I’ve identified what helped me gain influence with my superiors and steward the influence I’ve been given. And no matter who you are, or where you rank in your organization, these three steps can help you “lead up” today!

1. Do Your Job Excellently and With Consistency.

Many leaders are unable to see the connection between the quality of their work and the level of their influence.

The truth is, if you want people to care about your input, you must care more about producing great output.

When you do your job with excellence and consistency, people take note. Influence, and the ability to lead up, should simply be a byproduct of your great work.

2. Develop and Guard the Trust You Are Given.

Trust takes time to develop, but just a moment to destroy.

Doing your job well over a period of time builds trust with the leadership around you. This is why it’s important to develop and guard the trust granted you.

One of the best ways to guard trust is to be more loyal to your organization, its mission and its leaders than you are to your own career advancement.

When leaders know you are bought in, they trust that you have the right interest in mind.

3. Be Truthful and Speak Truth.

When your superiors trust you, they expect your honesty…in ALL areas!

One of the BEST things you can do to lead up is to be honest when you fall short. When you own your mistakes and failures, it points to your character and integrity.

The other side of truthfulness is being able to speak up and bring to light things that those above you don’t see. Part of the reason you’ve been entrusted to sit in the seat you’re in is to protect the leadership above you. If you see a problem, or something concerning, it’s your responsibility to make leadership aware of it. You never want your superior to be “the emperor with no clothes.”

Your ability to lead up is both strengthened and sustained by your character. And you can’t have character if you’re not being truthful, or willing to speak the truth.

Every leader, at every level, is capable of applying these three steps, but you have to do these steps in this order.

Remember: If you want to lead up, you have to start from the bottom!