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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #107: Am I Really Supposed to Influence My Boss?

October 8, 2020
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #107: Am I Really Supposed to Influence My Boss?

A 360-Degree Leader must be able to lead up, down, and across. Whether you have a title or not, you must be able to influence in every direction if you hope to be effective in your work. Today, Chris and Perry talk about ways people in the middle of the organization can develop more influence with their leaders.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, vice president of the John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining. Hey, as we get started today, I just want to remind you quickly about our website, where you can leave a question for Perry or I. You can dig in a little bit and say how can Perry and Chris or their team come alongside and help coach or consult or even deliver some of the Five Levels of Leadership Content, which is what we base our podcast off of. Don’t hesitate to go and visit Also Perry designs a guide for you that you can follow along with each lesson, just take notes if you want to print that out and follow along. Well today’s topic is, am I really supposed to influence my boss? That’s the title, but I’m sitting here thinking about Perry writing this up. Is this a trick statement? Are you trying to get me fired? Are you trying to… But am I really supposed to influence my boss?

Perry Holley:    This comes up in coaching calls from time to time, and it usually is phrased in the sentence, “My boss never listens to me.” And when I dig into that a bit and see what’s going on and what really might be happening there, there are issues that I think could be improved if these individuals just knew how, what we would call lead up. And I was wondering, in your world, how important is it to be intentional about developing the influence you have with your boss?

Chris Goede:     Well, I think not only in my world, I think everybody that’s listening, no matter the industry.

Perry Holley:    The world?

Chris Goede:     Huh?

Perry Holley:    The world?

Chris Goede:     The world. That’s right. The world. I think everybody that’s listening, I think every organization can benefit at every level of the organization from leaders leading up, whether it’s a strategic insight or plan from your lens that you’re able to lead up to your boss. Maybe it is, and I’ll give you even this real life example. Maybe it’s even having the leader, or let’s just say your leader, maybe cast the vision for your team, your department again, or the organization, because you know that some of those of your peers, maybe some of your team members just aren’t getting it or are unclear. And I’ll give you an example. So obviously during this crazy year of uncertain times, our CEO got in a habit of doing a… Maybe it was once a week, maybe it was every other week, just a video message to our team, giving them an update on what’s going on and where he’s at, where John and here taking the company and the organization.

And we’d gone about a month or six weeks or so without hearing from him. Things began to pick back up. Got busy. So I just went in to Mark one day, CEO, and I said, “Hey, I think the team needs to hear from you.” Because he always starts out with recasting the vision. It’s just part of his language. And you got to repeat it often. And he’s like, “Oh man, I appreciate that. Thanks for doing that.” And I just say that to say this, that’s leading up in this situation, it’s influencing my boss, and I was able to do that because what I’m seeing on the daily grind, in the weeds with my team, is that maybe they needed just to get re-centered with division. They needed to hear that message from Mark or whatever. He’s not going to be able to know that from where his position is or his influence. So I have to lead up. And I’m just saying that that happens on every level inside your organization. So every level should be thinking about how do I lead up to my boss.

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Perry Holley:    Making me think of… The reason you were able to do that is you’ve done some other groundwork and building your influence. I was flashing back, my mom would say, when was a kid, you’d come in and say that somebody said something or somebody did something. And she would say, “Just consider the source.” And you know what, we all do that. When a subordinate employee comes and says something, we are subconsciously considering the source and what have they done. One of the things I wrote down is that if you really want to begin that journey of influence, and I know this is what you do, to have such great influence with your bosses is that you lead yourself exceptionally well. And we’ve mentioned this on the last podcast or one or two ago, but I just feel it’s so important that when somebody looks at you and you’re bringing a message, they’re considering the source, what do they see? What is their experience with you? I wonder, what do you think the importance of, and what’s the evidence of you leading yourself really well?

Chris Goede:     Well, I think that it is extremely important. John says… Again, you’ve heard us say this. Leading yourself is the hardest thing to do. But that’s where it starts. And I think that you begin to gain influence. What I love about this model that we’re talking about, this 360 Degree Leader, the principals, the models of the Five Levels, the principles of the 360 Degree Leader is that… What I absolutely love about is that you are in the center of it, and you got to take care of the center of that influence first before you have the ability to influence anybody else. So I think it’s extremely important.

Some of the things that, when I look at others, that I have the privilege of working with and walking alongside that, I look at to say, are they leading them themselves? I look at their emotions. We talked about consistency. I love that word. Even with your emotions. How are they managing their time? How are they managing their priorities? How are they managing their personal life? You spend more time with the people you work with than you do with your personal side of the business. So do they. But it carries over back and forth. So remember the value that you’re bringing to people, the conversations you’re having with them, and the substance that you’re bringing, the ideas, all of that’s going to lead to how people perceive that you’re leading yourself, because it starts with you.

Perry Holley:    You saying that makes me think… You say that they don’t need anything and I couldn’t really add any… I wonder how often I make it difficult as a leader. I’m the leader. How often do I make it difficult for my people to lead up? Do I give them the opportunity to add value? Do I invite them to the table? Do I encourage them to do that? I don’t want to push them away and that can disengage the team. So one thing I did was begin to invite them to lead up. Of course I didn’t use those words, but I shared where I could use help. We talk in the Five Levels sometimes about, “Do you ever say I don’t know? Is it okay? I’m the leader, I’m supposed to know.”

I know you know, or at least you think you know, but do you know what you don’t know? So inviting people to bring their point of view. I ask for them to share their thoughts before I share my thoughts to get them on the record and get them thinking that I need them. I thought this might seem weak at first, because I was trained that leadership is my position and I’m very important, but when I started thinking of leadership as influence and how I could invite more people into the mix, it really helped me in the team succeed.

Chris Goede:     With this right here, I think that what we have to remember is we have to do a better job as leaders of asking questions. We’re taking a little bit of a sidetrack here, but in order for you to help your people understand the power of leading up and helping influence you as their leader, I want you to ask those questions that Perry just talked about. “Hey, how would you do this?” And then, by the way, once they answer it and they’re getting ready to leave your office or the situation, just be like, “Hey, that was really good. Will you bring some more of those ideas to me?” And that’s going to open the door to allow them to lead up.

Now I know that it is difficult to do that. And I think it’s difficult because of the perceptions that we have of our leaders. It’s not the intent, maybe it is at times, that leaders place on us or they have, but it’s really the perception that we have of our leader. Right. We look at it and we’re like, “They don’t need anything. They have all the answers. I don’t feel like I can add any value.” And here’s what I want to tell you. What you do on a daily basis and what your lens is, your leader has no idea what’s going on. So you’re going to add value to them, and you’re going to be able to influence them by what you’re seeing. So do not hesitate to lead up to your boss by bringing some of those thoughts and some of those ideas to meetings with them.

Perry Holley:    So one concept we look at in the 360 Leader is can you lighten your leader’s load, looking at what’s burdening them, what are they working on? And if you’re going to lead up, once you learn how to lead yourself, how do I like… I’m going to give you some things that I think we do, or at least I’ve seen that people do to me when I’m leading that make my load heavier, but then I’m going to give you time to think about it, what things could we do to lighten the load which would help increase our influence? I think if you make your leader’s load heavier, it hurts your influence with them. S The things I’ve seen is overwhelming me with email. They really don’t get the concept of reply all or the dot cc. Although there are things you need to be discriminate about, what do you need to let your leader know, because you don’t want to blindside anybody. But I think I get copied on a lot more stuff than I need to. They question everything. Make me justify my instruction. What are you looking at me so ?Chris Goede:     And not only just question everything, let me just jump in. I know this is your list. Let me just jump in. Then you answer the question, but then they have a question about your answer and it just keeps going and I’m like, “Okay, go figure it out.”

Perry Holley:    They complain and then they also complain to others, sometimes about you. Constantly asking me for instructions. Now I took that one a little serious. If I’m not giving clear instruction, I need to make sure I am. But sometimes I thought… Even give it to you in writing and you have… They bring me the problems. They don’t own the problem. They just bring it to me and expect me to solve the problem. They’re late to meetings or they miss meetings completely, then act like that’s normal. They start or perpetuate rumors, others on the team or about me. The list could go on and on. But you think about the things you’ve seen, others have seen, but let’s be positive. What could we do to increase our influence by lightening our leader’s load?

Chris Goede:     Well, going back to my example, I interrupted you there about… It just seems like there’s a question about your answer and it’s almost like, “Okay, I should’ve did it myself right.” To that point. So I love it when people have a, “Hey, I’m going to figure this out. I got it,” kind of attitude and they do it with a great attitude, with a positive attitude. The other thing is that this is big for me, I know, is not only do I love it when people follow up and follow through on things, the reason I love it is because then it creates extra mind space for me. Meaning if I can get to a point to where I can trust somebody, not only to follow up with me on something they’re working, but follow through on it and I build that trust, I’m able to put that out of my mind and it gives me additional mind space. So that is a huge lifting my load.

I love it when people collaborate together. I’m a big team leader. So I love that. And take responsibility for outcomes. Ultimately, listen, as a leader, you’re the one that’s responsible, so don’t misunderstand our list here, but we love having people that are on the team that are responsible for outcomes. They anticipate issues. And then not only do they make decisions and keep the ball moving forward, but if there is a problem, as you mentioned, they bring all the problems to you, is that when they do bring the problem to you, is that they bring a couple of ideas that they’ve already thought about in order to jumpstart the conversation.

Perry Holley:    Well, I think the single biggest thing most of us could do to lead up in a very positive way, increase our influence, is to do our jobs exceptionally well. A leader never wants to have to be watching over you and having to clean up after you. So I think about people on my team that I would have to follow around behind. When they see a problem, they fix it. They bring me a solution. I’ve had somebody come in and say, “Well, we had a problem. Here’s what I did. I wanted you to know. Are you in agreement with that?” All of a sudden I have someone I’m being influenced by at that point.

I also appreciate people who will tell me the truth. It’s easy to get people to tell you what you want to hear, but have trouble telling you what you need to hear. And when you have that level of influence and that… I’m going to use the trust word, that you trust people, that even though that I may not like what I’m hearing, I know they’re doing it to help me, help the organization and not let a problem get bigger than it already is. So I think those are things that doing your job really well helps a lot.

Chris Goede:     No doubt. And I think that’s where it starts. And that’s how I want to wrap up today is we started off with the title, Perry said, am I really supposed to influence my boss? The answer is absolutely yes. You’re supposed to influence everybody within your circle and your network, but it all starts with you doing your job well. That’s the first one. So I have a couple of questions for you as we wrap up. Are you doing your job well? Now I know that sometimes we have a self-awareness issue, so maybe you need to ask that question of your boss, of your leader to get these thoughts started. But if not, you’re not going to be a credible resource to your boss. You’re not going to gain influence with him. So you’ve got to start with that.

Two other questions for you, is as you look at what your leader is carrying, what’s pressing him or her right now? What is heavy on their plate? And then maybe, the final question for you is, what specific things either with what’s pressing them, or maybe in general, that you can do to take off their plate? And I think as you begin to think about this with the perspective of your leader in mind, that absolutely you’ll begin to influence your boss at another level.

Perry Holley:    And it’s easy to think that, “I have so much to do. You expect me to go take something off of their plate?” Well, generally what’s on their plate is going to be on your plate eventually. So you can preempt that, do it intentionally, you increase your influence. Great stuff, Chris, thank you. As a reminder, if you’d like to learn more about the Five Levels of Leadership or the 360 Degree Leader, you can go to We also have a learner guide for you there. You can leave a question. You can tell us what you think. We’re always glad to hear from you and we’d look forward to hearing from you there. We’re grateful that you would join us. This is the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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