3 Keys to Successfully 
Influence Leadership

If you are committed to your organization’s success then you must “lead up”.  If you are not leading up, you are falling short in your practice of The Collaborative Way®. At the bare minimum, when you don’t lead up you’re failing to speak up, an essential part of “Speaking Straight”. In addition, your failure to lead up often contributes to missed opportunities, breakdowns and failures in your company.

At times we come across situations where leading up is essential yet it can feel risky or unwelcome. You may still have these feelings even when your company is practicing The Collaborative Way®. (Imagine how challenging it can be to do this in a company that doesn’t actively support people in leading up.) Thus, the challenge is to be willing to lead up even when it’s uncomfortable.

INSIGHT: Leading up is an expression of taking responsibility for the success of your company. When you actively lead up you are supporting your leaders in becoming aware of their blind spots and giving them an opportunity to respond to situations in more forwarding ways.

When you take responsibility for the success of your company or work group you will recognize many opportunities to lead up. Some of these will be large opportunities or threats; others will be about smaller issues, such as your boss’s failure to keep a commitment or a missed opportunity to acknowledge someone for an important contribution.

3 Keys To “Leading Up” Successfully

  1. Listen Generously. If you are going to lead up with success, you need to really turn up your practice of Listening Generously. After leading up by offering your suggestions or sharing your ideas, the first and most critical step is to make sure that you are actually hearing and appreciating your boss’s perspective (or whomever else you are leading up to). Instead, the more common reaction is to quickly jump over your boss’s response and try to change his or her mind to see it your way. Rather than resist what your boss is saying, it’s far more effective to first listen to your boss and appreciate his or her perspective. By doing so, your boss will be much more open to seeing YOUR perspective. On the other hand, if you skip this step you reduce your odds of being able to influence.

One of the biggest problems people have in leading up is that they think they’ve heard their boss, but they haven’t made sure their boss feels heard. Make sure your boss knows you are listening by actively giving back what you are hearing and then getting confirmation that you are hearing correctly. Again, once your boss feels heard, it’s a lot easier for your boss to hear you, and you’ll be far more successful leading up.
  2. Communicate Commitment. Communicate your commitment to your boss’s success and the company’s success. When your boss knows you are standing in the same commitment as he or she is, it makes it a lot easier for your boss to hear what you have to say and you have a platform for a powerful conversation.

Also, communicate clearly and directly. If any misunderstandings arise, be quick to clear them up. Don’t assume your boss has the same perspective as you about the issue at hand. Explain where you are coming from, what you believe the opportunities are, and how it is aligned with the company’s vision. Keep truing up the conversation to forward your mutual commitment rather than being fixed in your agenda and you’ll have a much more successful conversation.
  3. Be Persistent. Persistence is essential. Without it, key players will likely overlook the opportunity you are championing. Stay centered around your goal of the company’s success when leading up. Additionally, do your homework. Be prepared to back up your stance with credible data rather than just opinion alone.

If you’re not heard the first time, don’t stop, try again. So often people will have something to contribute but will quickly give up if it’s not received well the first time. They abandon the possibility of their contribution rather than figuring out how to approach the conversation again in a way that is more likely to be heard. Here is where you must practice persistence: if you don’t feel heard and still see it as important after your first conversation, come up with another approach and go at it again. You may choose to use support and coaching to accomplish this.

ACTION: Pay attention and recognize opportunities to lead up. Take responsibility for your company’s success and lead up in these situations. The more you lead up, the more your colleagues and superiors will look to you as a leader within the company.

To further explore how to effectively led up read chapter four in “Leading The Collaborative Way, Overcoming the Seven Most Common Pitfalls”.