Leading up…It’s a subject I frequently am asked how to do.
I have personally surrounded myself with great young leaders who are 10, 15, even 25 years younger than me. I love the enthusiasm and creative minds of young leaders, so I try to remain open to them leading me at times, but I’m sure some on my team wrestle with the same issue with me at other times. The question I often receive is how to influence those who are supposed to be leading you, especially when many times you feel as though you have better ideas than they may have about an issue. How can you gain influence over the people in leadership positions when they don’t seem be open to or even value your input?
If this is your issue, here are 5 things I believe you should consider when trying to lead up:
Respect – Granted, you may know more than the person leading you about an issue, but chances are he or she has experience you do not have. We all like to be respected for our experience. Keep in mind also that some of those experiences may have been negative and may have prompted the style of leadership he or she provides now. If you have any hope for the leader’s approval, however, you will need to show that you respect the position of authority the person has in the organization.
Kindness – This is a general principle when working with others, but especially true in this situation. If you aren’t likable to the leader, he or she isn’t likely to respond likewise. Have you ever heard, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? That works when trying to gain the favor of a leader too. Even if the leader is unkind at times, attempt to win him or her over with kindness. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
Acknowledge – Recognize the leader’s previous and current contribution to the organization, as well as his or her wisdom. Even if you respect a leader, he or she isn’t likely to know or appreciate that respect until you let them know. When a leader feels appreciated for their previous efforts, he or she is less likely to feel threatened and more likely to welcome input.
Ask – Request the leader’s input and help…even if you don’t necessarily need it. It will show you value them. The best leaders gain insight from lots of different sources. Model this for the ones who are leading you. You may not see the relevance of their insight right now, but they may actually surprise you and add something from their experience that you haven’t thought of or been exposed to yet.
Partner – Find areas of common connection. Even if there is a significant age gap or different paradigms of life, there will be things you have in common. That’s part of all networking and team-building. I see many younger leaders who only want to hang out with younger leaders, and vice-versa for the older leaders. This will never bridge the generational gap and isn’t healthy for the organization.
I personally understand the frustration of being part of a team, but not feeling you have the freedom to share your opinions or the opportunity to help shape the future of the organization. Real leaders never last long in that type environment. There are certainly leaders who will never be open to your input. I recommend discovering this early and not wasting much time battling that type insecure leader. (I wrote about that type leader and organization in previous posts HERE, HERE and HERE.) Most leaders, however, if approached in the right way, will begin to see you as more of a helper than a hindrance to their personal success. Try these approaches and see if they help your situation.
Let us learn from your experience in leading up. How have you learned to influence those who are leading you?