We have all said it. “They didn’t teach me that in seminary.” This is not a column to pick on what grad schools don’t teach. It is a column to bring focus on one of the most over looked and under developed skills required to lead successfully. It is the skill of leading up.
Leading up is the ability to influence your boss (senior pastor, executive pastor, ministry director, board of elders) to support what you want to do because it makes the whole organization better. It is helping them understand how what you want actually adds value to the overall mission and vision they want to see accomplished. When you take the approach of seeking to add value to those above you, you have the best chance of influencing them.
Your goal as you lead up is to make it clear to your senior leader what it means for him and the organization when he says YES to what you want to do. Here are five steps you can learn to do to strengthen your ability to lead up.
Be Prepared: Every leader feels pressed for time. Their days are filled with multiple requests for timely decisions and valuable resources. Do everything you can to lighten the load of your leader. Take the time necessary to thoroughly prepare to meet with your leader. It is to your advantage to discover now how he likes to receive information for his consideration and decision-making. Does he like a written summary ahead of time? Does he like to hear from you first and then read the proposal after you meet? Bottom line for you is this: If he cannot easily see how a win for you is also a win for the organization you are not well prepared.
Be Clear: Thinking about your leading up conversation in terms of the basic flow of why, how, who, what and when gives you a clear and simple structure for your conversation. Why – refers to the problem or challenge you need to resolve; how -refers to your plan for solving the challenge or problem at hand; who – clarifies how you and your team is uniquely positioned to lead the initiative; what – explains the outstanding results, the return on investment, that will come out of the effort; when – identifies the time frame within which desired outcomes can be expected.
Be Knowledgeable: Demonstrate that you have thought about what you are asking for within a broad context and about how your decisions will impact the entire organization. Often the way forward is not trying to convince your leader to do something brand new. Show them how what you are proposing will help him do what he has already been talking about that needs done. Anticipate the questions your boss will ask. He will want to know how this request will impact budgets, staff, growth and other resources.
Be Appropriately Enthusiastic: Nothing gains the attention of a senior leader more quickly than a team member with a whatever-it-takes attitude. However, you are not after his attention you are after his permission. So don’t lead with your passion. Lead with your well thought out plan (we just talked through this in the first three steps) fueled by your passion. Passion displayed before a plan is explained can be overwhelming like a middle school boy who uses too much body spray. A well thought out plan coupled with a can do attitude is a formula for predictable success.
Be Open-minded: Don’t become so emotionally attached to your ideas that you are all or nothing about your idea. Leaders won’t go along with your ideas if they can’t help you shape them. It is a good idea once you have shared your plan to seek your boss’s feedback as to any thoughts he has to make your plan stronger. Here are my three go to questions as I seek my boss’s feedback: What do you find most helpful about this idea? What would you like me to rethink? What is missing that needs to be added?
Senior leaders are always on the look out for people who can step up and make a difference when it matters. When you learn to lead up and influence those in positions over you they will discover the person they are looking for in the moments that count most is you. When they find people like that, they rely on them and are inevitably influenced by them.
How do you add value to those who lead you?
If you are a senior leader, how would you help us lead up?