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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #167: What if I’m a Better Leader than My Leader?

December 23, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #167: What if I’m a Better Leader than My Leader?

Have you ever worked for a leader that wasn’t that good of a leader? Today, Perry and Chris talk about the power of leading up in the organization and how you can increase your influence with a leader who’s not leading.

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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 with The John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining. Just as a reminder, if you would love to maybe subscribe to the weekly blog that goes along with these podcasts that Perry and I do or download the learner guide, maybe you just want to leave a question or a comment. Don’t hesitate to go to Speaking of a comment or a question, that’s exactly what we’re going to address today. And Paul sent in a question to us and I think Paul and Perry are in this together. That’s what I think is going on.

Perry Holley:    It’s intervention.

Chris Goede:     It’s an intervention that we’re going to talk about today because Paul and Perry’s question, no Paul’s question really is around … This is really our 360 Degree Leader content and where he said, how do you lead up effectively and hope to make a difference when your leader, your boss is actually a manager, not a leader. And so how do we do that? So today’s topic for this intervention is what if I am a better leader than my leader? What if I am a better leader than my leader? Now, what if is key in this statement. But we’ll just go with it today. And we’ll talk a little bit about this. But Perry, be honest with me now.

Perry Holley:    I’m being honest. You’re a great leader as far as you know.

Chris Goede:     Okay. All right. As far as I know. This is the last time I checked.

Perry Holley:    No one of your team ever worried about that, as far as you know.

Chris Goede:     That’s right.

Perry Holley:    No. Many of us have worked for someone who wasn’t that effective as a leader, and this can be very frustrating. And actually in the 360 Leader, we call it the frustration challenge. And I know I’ve worked for someone once like this and I wondered if working for him was actually hurting my career. Was I being labeled as part of his team and would that hurt me? So what I found instead, and I’m really kind of proud that I discovered this because it could’ve been easy to quit and leave and go find something else.

But I found that this was really a great opportunity for me to grow as a leader myself. It opened even more doors than I might have otherwise been possible. And something we mentioned on the last podcast, it wasn’t optimal being in that situation, but when I stopped looking at optimal and started looking at what’s possible, it opened doors for me to grow and learn, and to help him grow and learn. And so I’d like to share some of those today. I’ve got five tips that I think we can talk about on that, that might be helpful to talk about.

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Chris Goede:     Perry and I had a coaching conversation after our last podcast, because he bumped up the principles, the points he brought was number, it was six.

Perry Holley:    Yes.

Chris Goede:     And so he threw me off a little bit. I actually missed it in the podcast. And so now we’re going back to five. I’m proud of you.

Perry Holley:    Yes.

Chris Goede:     But listen, this is core to who we are. Leadership is influence. And so you should absolutely be looking for ways, possible ways to lead up to your boss or your manager. That’s something that I think you’re always going to face. You’re always going to be challenged with that as long as you are continuing to grow and develop yourself. And so I think this is a great setup for you to become an even more effective leader. So Perry, I know you have some ideas, the five that we’re going to share with him. So let’s jump in.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, I think number one, and I will tell you this it’s very personal to me because I did go through this and turned out great. So I just want to live this and say these were really meaningful to me. But number one was never disparage or talk bad about your leader or basically don’t talk bad about anyone. That’s just bad form. But I was at a social event once when someone at the dinner table was going on and on about how bad their boss was. And I remember hearing John say, John Maxwell was teaching, that you can’t really help someone publicly if secretly you feel they’re nobody. And this person really wasn’t being that secretive about it.

So my perspective is that, and I think it’s what we teach here at John Maxwell Company, is that everyone can grow and learn. And just because they may be struggling, that doesn’t mean that they can’t grow and improve for tomorrow. So I’m always looking with an eye toward does everybody have potential? Absolutely. And can I help them with that potential? That’s what I want to do in life. So never talking bad about someone or running them down in public or private, just having unconditional positive, regard for people I found really works well.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. You will not be able to have influence … Well, let me clarify that, positive influence, because influence can go both ways, on someone that you look down to. That just won’t happen. And there’s a quote that I’ve heard said before that says loyalty publicly results in leverage privately. Loyalty publicly results in leverage privately. And so I think that’s key there. So number two, that leads to this, which is look for ways to add value to your manager, your boss, your leader, and to what they do. We often talk about this when we talk about leading up, about lightening your leaders load.

And so what does that look like for you? So first and foremost, and I talk to my team about this. They’ll come to me and say, “Hey, what do you need from me?” Man, just keep doing what you’re doing with excellence. Keep doing your job really, really well. Maybe even I have this experience, which I absolutely love. I’ll have team members come to me and say, “Hey, I noticed that this seems to be maybe an issue for us. Here’s a couple of solutions I just wanted you to think about.” I think that’s awesome to be able to do that for your leader to add value to them. Maybe it’s simple as, “Hey, is there something that I can … Is there a phone call I can take for you? Is there a meeting that I can stand in for you? Is there something that I can do to add value?” Continually look for ways to do that and then bring that to their attention is absolutely huge.

Perry Holley:    Right. And I can’t say enough for doing your job really well and keeping an eye out for that leader and any areas where they struggle in. You may be able to bring that value. Number three, I said was actually use your strength to compliment their weaknesses. And that this was really key to me. I think about Paul’s specific situation where he said the boss was really a good manager, a good person, but just not a good leader. Could Paul use his leader skills to compliment his boss? And I know that’s what I did with my situation, was the guy was a great guy, meant well, but he just didn’t know how to lead so much. So could he help his boss think the way I just think of things that I do for my boss, help him think more longer term, developing vision and mission for the team.

My boss was just managing the day to day. He didn’t really think about long term, where are we going next? He didn’t have a strategy, but I was thinking that way. Could I help him with that? Could I help the boss with quarterly goals and then expectations for the team? In my one-on-ones here, I think this is what’s happening. This is where we’re going. I’m thinking about putting this in place. What do you think? And he’d say, “Oh, that’s a great idea, Perry. Go with that.” Making it his idea, but helping him to see that we should be thinking this way.

Helping the boss connect better with other people on the team. Making sure that he knows that he’s kind of focused on just where the fires are, he’s not really touching the people that are doing really well, and could we make some connections there. Helping the boss, this is big. Helping the boss be a change agent, suggesting areas for improvement and helping him to think through. He just wasn’t thinking that way. He just trying to get through today and get the project solved. He really didn’t think what about tomorrow? What could be better? How do we tweak this?

Chris Goede:     And oftentimes when you’re that close to the situation or the problems or the customers, you have ideas that you can be bringing to him. So this is even more of, I think, important when it comes to leading up where not only are you looking for ways, Perry said your strengths to compliment their weaknesses, but you’re also looking for ways to add value to them because you’re bringing ideas. And I know that when that happens with me, it really helps me think differently. It helps me put in a gear, in a mindset that I’m not currently in to your point, because I’m kind of leading day to day at times. And so I think it’s a huge thing that you can be doing for your leader, your boss, your manager that will help increase your influence.

Well, number four … Go back to number one, where you talked about, listen, it’s not good to talk bad about anybody, but especially not your leader. Here’s the complete opposite of that. I want you to stand up for your leader whenever you can. This is really about loyalty and just being a great team member. Maybe when debating an issue, or it’s popular or it’s not, I still want you to kind of give your honest opinion, but when the decision is made, make sure you’re executing on that with excellence as if it was your own. We talk a lot about this around our enterprise of agreement and alignment.

We have conversations often to where we don’t necessarily want agreement and we want the people to give their opinion. But when we step out of that room, whether my team steps out or the enterprise steps out of those four walls, we want to make sure that we’re standing up for that decision, that leader of that decision, because we want to make sure that we’re showing that we’re all in agreement of that.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. I had that where people would actually say something bad about my boss. They came to me and said, “I can’t believe you work for that guy. How hard is it to work for that guy?” I thought, don’t take that bait. I’m not going there. I said, “Well, he’s under a lot of pressure, but we’re making good progress.” I try to put positive on there, but I’m not going to be a party to running him down. But I’m also not going to let somebody else run him down. They don’t know the whole story. They’re not there, so

Chris Goede:     That’s the quickest way to create silos in organizations is to allow that small talk to happen.Perry Holley:    Yeah. Number five, and this might sound a little odd, but invite your boss to study leadership with you. Can you add growth to their agenda? I’ve used this before. I’ve done it where I actually invited this particular man I’m thinking of to read a book, but I didn’t think he would take that with just from me. But I suggested that our team do a leadership book study. We were all second line. He was a third. We were second and we all had people reporting to us.

So I just suggested that we do a team leadership book. We picked John Maxwell’s 21 Laws actually. And we just went through it. On each team meeting, we would do 10 minutes of the 21 laws, which opened a leadership conversation. He may not have known I was doing it for him because I did it for the whole team and it helped me as well, but learning to them as we began looking at materials, then began to ask for his point of view on things and various leadership lessons we were learning. How did you read that? How did you hear that? Did that apply to us? And just asking questions. And it starts a conversation that I found sparked interest in learning more. And the whole idea is that I thought the team should be on a development plan together anyway. And it worked out that he was included and he grew from that.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, it’s contagious. We talk about that word and growth is contagious and it’s really not about the boss. You’re not making it about that manager or that leader. You’re really making it about growth. And each example that I’m thinking about, Perry, leads me to that this is an intervention, because every example I’m given, I’m like, “Well, my teammate did that. My team member did this.” And so I think what you did was gave them these principles and said, “You need to take these to Chris, but … ”

Perry Holley:    I think you’d noticed we invited you to this.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. But listen, here’s what it made me think about. Another personal example is that one of our team members came to us and we’ve talked in the past about that change your world content. And it was really a values-based conversation that I think we all grew from, I know I grew from. But one of our team members is like, “I feel like we should do this.” I think that team member was like, I’m a better leader than my leader and I need to lead up.

No, but I just think about that as an environment, which it was completely their idea. They helped facilitate it and not only did that individual grow through their experience, but I know I did as well. You were part of it and you did as well. So it’s really about making it about that growth. And I love making it about the team as well. And by the way, your boss and your manager will benefit from it.

Perry Holley:    That’s right. Well, my biggest takeaway from this whole episode was that I reflected on that experience with the situation that I actually could increase my influence and my future potential a lot by helping my boss be successful, a lot more actually than I could be from running from it or trying to keep away from it. It actually gave me an example of things I may not want to do as a leader and gave me ways to look at ways to help him and myself be a better leader.

I actually learned that if I was a true leader, I look for ways to add value to everyone in my circle, not just those who are like me or those who are already doing well, but to especially help people I think have potential, but may not be reaching their potential. Can I add value to that? And it just set me up. It increased my influence, not only with my leader, but with my teammates who saw us handling a tough situation in a classy way.

Chris Goede:     That’s good. Well, as I wrap up, there’s a couple of things I just want to close with that came to mind as we were talking about this. We often say at times, there’s examples, plenty of examples of leadership out there of leaders we don’t want to be. And if you’re in the situation where you’re asking this question, today’s topic, what if I am a better leader than my leader? The first thing I want you to understand is be on a intentional growth journey so that when you have the privilege to lead people or lead people differently than you are now, people on your team aren’t asking that question about you. And I think that’s a challenge that you need to make sure that you just continually go on a growth spurt for you personally.

The second thing is that Perry mentioned this and he said, “Man, I can’t say this enough, which is keep doing your job with excellence.” Keep doing your job with excellence is so important in this process. No matter if you feel like you’re a better leader than your leader. And then the final comment is I would encourage you with the proper motive to make your manager, your leader look good.

Proper motive, make sure you’re checking your motive first, but put yourself in situations to where you can jump in on projects. Maybe cross-functional projects, do them with excellence, deliver with excellence, because the potential, back to your comment earlier, it may not be optimal to be under this leader, but the potential for you and your growth and your career by doing this could be absolutely huge. So be thinking, be looking for opportunities to do that for your leader.

Perry Holley:    Perfect. Thank you, Chris. Great input. And thank you for the questions. Keep them coming. As a reminder, if you’d like to leave a question or a comment, if you don’t want to learn more about The 5 Levels of Leadership or the 360 Degree Leader, you can do all that at We love hearing from you and we’re very grateful that you would spend this time with us. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership podcast.

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