In ministry and business, I have typically 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, and feel a certain calling to invest in the next generation of leaders. In my current church, however, I have equally surrounded myself with people my own age and older. It’s a more established, structured church and the experience has proven invaluable in an environment of change.
Regardless of the age or experience level of the staff I’m supposed to be leading, I try to remain open to my team leading me. They may be more in tune with the generation we are trying to lead. They may have more information about a certain subject. They may simply be better leaders in certain situations. As hard as I try to remain open to input, however, I’m certain there are times they wish they could lead me even more.
The question I often receive from readers of this blog is how to influence those who are supposed to be leading you, especially when many times you may feel as though they don’t welcome your input. That is often true even though you sometimes 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 open to or even value your input? How do you “lead up”?
Here are 7 tips 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. They are in the position for some reason. Even it you don’t agree with them being The leader, there is something to be gained simply from sitting where they sit. Everyone likes to be respected for their experience and position. Keep in mind that some of your leader’s experiences may have been negative and may have prompted the style of leadership he or she provides now. Try to put yourself in your leader’s shoes. If you have any hope for the leader’s approval you will need to show that you respect the position of authority the person has in the organization. I’m not saying that’s always easy, but it is vital to gaining the trust of the leader. I’m not suggesting you falsely politic your way into the leader’s inner circle. I’m suggesting you humbly and genuinely respect the leader’s position.
Commitment – Be loyal. It’s such a rare occurrence in today’s work environment it is refreshing to a leader when we find it. Buy into the vision and the direction of the team and make your support known…in word and in action. It will impress those around you and the leader.
Work Smart – Do good work. Have a good work ethic. Produce more than expected. You don’t have to sacrifice your family on the altar of work, but you may have to get more disciplined in how you do work. Again, it is a rare commodity today that someone tries to do more than is required of them. When a leaders spots someone willing to go the extra mile, they gain approval and recognition.
Display 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 genuinely 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 into future decisions.
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. It certainly won’t help you lead up to be exclusive with whom you associate on the team.
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. I have been there. 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 have written about that type leader and organization in previous posts HERE, HERE and HERE. Some leaders are toxic and you’ll waste a lot of time trying to satisfy them or gain influence with them. The sooner you discover this the sooner you can work to find yourself in a healthier environment.
With most leaders, however, if approached in the right way, you can earn their respect enough that they welcome you a voice at the table. You may even help them be a better leader. I know my teams have always done that for me. Most leaders over time can begin to see you as more of a helper than a hindrance to their personal success and the health of the overall vision and team. 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?