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How Do You Lead Up Without Sucking Up?

By Carla | November 3, 2020
How Do You Lead Up Without Sucking Up?

In a perfect world, you would expect your leader, the person you report to in the organization, to be actively and intentionally trying to connect with you. Unfortunately, that is not always how things happen. Some leaders sacrifice the relationship to focus on the results, not knowing that the results come more easily when you have the relationship. 

Whether your leader is actively connecting with you or not, you can and should be developing your influence with your boss. This is how you lead-up, and it can be one of the more challenging aspects of influence development.

To lead-up without appearing to suck-up, you need to become a student of your boss.

Boss 101

Leading-up means to increase your influence with your boss. As the “5 Levels of Leadership” teaches, we start by developing a relationship with this person if we hope to increase influence with this person. To get started, do the following:

  1. Listen to Your Leader’s Heartbeat. What makes them tick? What do they care about on an emotional level? These are the things they love to do. Notice what brings them joy, what affects them emotionally, and what gives them fulfillment. You often learn about these things in a more informal setting outside the work environment.
  2. What are Your Leader’s Priorities? Where the heartbeat is what they love to do, priorities are what they must do. How clear are you on your bosses do-or-die activities? How are they measured? What must they do to succeed? How do they spend most of their working time? When you know their priorities, you can align your priorities to help them win.
  3. What is Your Leader Enthusiastic About? This can be work-related or personal. I once worked for a leader who was enthusiastic about cooking competition-level BBQ. I didn’t know much about what it took to compete in a BBQ cooking contest, but I began to learn. This might sound silly to some, but has someone you know ever taken and interest in something you were enthusiastic about? Did it make you closer or more distant to that person?
  4. Support Your Leader’s Vision. When your leader expresses their vision for the team and organization, you have a couple of options: support it, ignore it, or fight it. If you don’t understand the vision, go see your leader and talk about it, and add value to it, if possible. Then, every time you get a chance, help your leader communicate the vision to others on the team. When you understand, support, and endorse your leader’s vision, you will increase your influence level in the leader’s eyes.
  5. Understand Your Leader’s Personality and Temperament. When leading down in the organization, you expect your team to adapt to your personality; when leading up, you need to adapt. How does your leader communicate? What are his or her strengths and weaknesses? How can you add value where they are weak? When you understand your leader’s personality and temperament, you can earn trust with them by supporting them and allowing them to be themselves around you.

Influencing those above you in the organization is not a natural thing to do; it requires intentional effort. When you begin to understand how your boss ticks, you will be able to identify ways to value them as a person and add value to them as a leader. When you do this, you will set yourself apart from others, and your influence with them and others will soar.

About Perry Holley

Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with Maxwell Leadership’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.

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