March 9, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
Leadership is often equated to managing those who report to you – or influencing others predisposed to follow because of your title or position. But savvy leaders understand that leading up is as important as anything else they do. Their capacity to make a difference depends on support and mandates from those above.
Wise leaders, therefore, attend carefully to relationships with more powerful players, pursuing goals of partnership, open communication, and credibility. How well developed are your skills and strategies in doing that? Here are five guidelines to get you started:
1. Look within. What’s your motivation? Set out to wow folks at the top or push your own agenda and you’re on the road to disaster. Leading up is all about partnerships and reciprocity: you deliver for your boss, and your boss is likely to do the same for you.
2. Build credibility. It has two, equally important components: expertise and trustworthiness. You can have solid business acumen, but if people don’t believe in you, they’ll ignore your message. Credibility comes from consistently demonstrating integrity and reliability in achieving or exceeding your goals.
3. Speak up. A common reaction to authority is overdependence – responding to those above you in a fearful or overly-compliant manner. Bosses are not infallible or well served by anyone who hesitates to tell the truth about potential fallout from their judgments and decisions. An important test of leadership capacity is the willingness to speak truth to power. Are you willing and able to do that?
4. Give solutions, not problems. Make your boss’s job easier and use her time judiciously. Arrive with well-researched solutions. When you say "Here’s what I see, what I’ve done, and what I’ve learned. Here’s my plan. What do you think?", you keep the boss in the loop without putting more problems on her plate.
5. Avoid surprises. Never let your boss be blindsided! Partnerships take time to develop, but they can unravel quickly. And it goes without saying, but is important enough that it can never be said too often: all your choices should be clear, clean, and ethical.