by Paul Casey

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8 Ways to Lead Up While Following

A leader and manager working together

April 25, 2022 | Originally posted September 4, 2020

You want to be on your boss’s good side to get a great performance review, right? And you want to work “as one” with him/her whenever you are both working on an initiative for your organization. And sometimes, you have needs that she/he can meet, and you want to make those requests respectfully. On the flip side, the person above you wants to lead, but also wants to have value added to them. Anytime you can add value to those above you, you have the best chance of influencing them.1 That’s called Leading Up.

“Leading up is the act of working with people above you – whether one boss, several bosses, a chief executive, a board of directors or even stockholders – to help them and you get a better job done,”

Michael Useem

Michael Useem is the director of Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management and author of Leading Up: How To Lead Your Boss So You Both Win

Tips for Leading Up:

1. Schedule Regular One-to-Ones

Assure your one-to-ones with your supervisor occur regularly. Give him/her feedback on what you think the frequency needs to be to stay on the same page. Regular communication typically improves relationships.

2. Prepare Agendas

In meetings with your boss, have a written agenda. He/she might already have one of these for your meetings, but if not, it’s proactive and intentional to bring one of your own. It also helps you remember the talking points on which you’d like feedback.

3. Assign Action Items

Assure that after each discussion topic it is clear who has the action and by when it should be completed. Often a follow-up email locks in the clarity and gives a chance for any clarification on what plan was decided upon.

4. Display a Can-Do Attitude

When your leader directs you to take an action or asks for your help, display a can-do attitude, and find out what would make the outcome most positive in their eyes. Adding value is a great way to lead up. Your first “customer” is your leader. Add these tasks to your calendar and complete them ahead of other projects if possible and be prompt with the follow-up.

5. Provide Status Updates

In general, keep your supervisor informed of your current tasks and your priorities. Don’t leave her/him wondering what you are up to lately. Be ready for their question, “How can I help?”

6. Request Feedback

Ask for feedback in almost every conversation. Not only does this give your boss a chance to mentor you from his/her experience, but you will also better understand their expectations. And you get more comfortable asking for and receiving feedback constructively. Say thank-you for when they speak into your life or one of your projects.

7. Express Gratitude

Show gratitude whenever your leader removes an obstacle or paves a path for you to accomplish one of your goals. And on a regular basis, simply be grateful for all she/he does for the team, and ask how they are doing, followed by the word “really?” This shows you care and can humanize the relationship. Leaders often don’t get much encouragement–only the biggest problems to solve.

8. Lead Up by Giving Respectful Feedback

Whenever you give input to your supervisor’s decisions, give feedback respectfully. Enter that conversation with phrases like, “What if we…” or “Have you considered….” before making suggestions. If they don’t run with your idea, be gracious.

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Conclusion

These tips are just a few of the ways you can positively position yourself and collaborate with your boss. Which ones resonate with you? You have probably learned some “Leading Up” lessons yourself. What would you add to make this a list of the “10” tips? Contact me and let me know!

1 “Most leaders want to lead, not be led. But most leaders also want to have value added to them. If you take the approach of wanting to add value to those above you, you have the best chance of influencing them.”John Maxwell, The 360 Degree Leader

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