The 360 Leader: Leading up

The 360 Leader: Leading up

The middle leaders are perhaps the most important part of an organization. They both serve and lead and without these leaders, the ability to get things done becomes hazy at best. As you lead down to your team or customers and across to your peers, it’s important to lead up to your leaders as well. That concept may seem a little odd in your organization, but whether they realize it or not, they need you to leverage your full circle of leadership to impact the organization. 

Here are some tips and strategies as you lead and influence your leader. 

Lead yourself well

To say that leading yourself well is a fundamental way to influence and lead up to your leader may seem a bit elementary. Do your job well, doesn’t feel like groundbreaking advice! Willie Mays, a Hall of Fame American baseball player said, “It isn’t hard to be good from time to time in sports. What’s tough is being good every day.” When you are that consistent, get-the-job-done-well, type of person and leader, you are actually helping and influencing your leader in a major way – you are preventing them from having to lift your load. 

Most leaders dislike or even hate inconsistencies in performance or output because they never know what they are going to get. I realized this leadership preference early on and dedicated myself to being a person who got things done consistently and with quality. As a seasoned leader, I loved my consistent leaders. It was always a joy to walk in and see them because they were so consistent. It gave us more time to celebrate the team and spend time on other things like personal and professional development. 

Leading yourself, and your team, well helps you not only stand out but opens the door to influence and lead your leader. 

Lifting the load

As you get to know your leader, a helpful way to influence them is the ability to anticipate what your leader may want or need. It’s good to, and perhaps quicker at times, to have a little bit of courage and ask them if you can’t anticipate the need yourself yet. When you are leading yourself well, they will be happy to tell you how you can help them. 

I remember two points in time I had with a previous leader. I was leading a big acquisition project in the state of California and in he came, like a sudden thunderstorm unleashed on an unexpecting town, “Change this, change that. I don’t like this….” People were shocked. I was shocked! It was one of the first times that I was truly speechless. Now, none of the many things he wanted changed impacted the work of completing the acquisition itself, but it did mean doing a lot of rework to suit his needs and style. After taking a moment from the setback, I took some time to understand why he wanted the changes that he did. A couple of weeks later as we toured the state, I had tuned my leaders into the change and we were all anticipating his new direction. The result was that my influence on him went high very quickly and others were slower to adapt to his vision and communication style. 

Lifting a leader’s load also gets you noticed. Do it once or twice and you’ll get a thanks. Do it several times and they will come to you for help. Do it continuously and they will often seek out ways to help you. Don’t forget that how you go about lifting and carrying the load is often more important than how big the actual lift is 

Knowing when  to push and when to pull back

Obviously, a big part of leading up to your leader is influencing action, direction prioritization as you push through new challenges and strategies. A person who leads up well understands that there is an optimal window of opportunity to push something forward and has a good idea of when to strike the conversation up. The subject matter, what’s going on in the business, and what’s currently taking up your leader’s attention are some of the larger factors to determine the best time to push something through or an indicator of when to pull back. Here are some self-reflection questions that are a good indication that you need to push it forward to your leader

  • Do I hold critical information that my leader needs to know? Do you know of something that would be vitally important for your leader to know as they execute their role? Check yourself here to have the self-awareness to know if it’s something that is truly vital for them to know or something that just impacts or is of interest to you. 

  • Is time running out? Those who are good with time management and strategy skills are often afforded a look into the future that others will miss. What’s critical that has a short runway to complete or a pass or fail deadline quickly approaching? If proper attention and prioritization are not already on the subject, that’s a strong indicator that it’s time to push. 

  • Have you hit, or gone past, your capacity? Your leader doesn’t want you to be burned out. They want you to be an effective leader who is performing well in the role and enjoying the work. Let them know when you hit your limits so they can help you prioritize work, protect other items from hitting your to-do list, and provide extra resources to get things done. 

Here are some indicators and subjects to know when to pull back. 

  • Is this my personal agenda? Is the subject that you are trying to push good for the business or does it mainly benefit yourself? It’s also good to check the subject against your passion areas and biases. Sometimes those do align and what you are passionate about absolutely aligns with that needs to be pushed forward, but it can also become a blinder to what needs to be brought forward. 

  • Is the timing right only for me? As you think about what you want to push forward, think of it in relation to the full slate of things that are going on and are coming up. If it rubs up against other priorities, it may be best to wait until the timing opens up for everyone. 

  • Is the request bigger than the relationship? Relationship equity is like financial equity that builds value over time. Think about a big ask that you had with a leader whom you had a very strong relationship with. Would that ask go over as well during the first month that you knew them? Probably not. Reflect on your current relationship when thinking about a big ask with your leader. Does the relationship support the ask? If not, it may be best to pull back for now or rethink the ask in a more manageable way. 

I truly loved my roles where I had established a great working relationship with my leader and was influencing through them to make some really fun and exciting things happen. Lead up to your leader to open up new opportunities for yourself, and the team while elevating your leader to be even more effective with others. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

The 360 Leader: Leading across

The 360 Leader: Leading across

Twenty years ago I had wrapped up my military service and finally found my next steps in my career path and accepted a people leadership in operations. My family, including my 6-month-old daughter and wife who had just gotten laid off as our main source of income, picked up and moved to a new state in a city where we knew no one. We put all of our proverbial eggs into one basket. This had to work. 

I was also a high performer, and I knew it. I was a great problem solver, but I liked everyone knowing that I was a great problem solver with a high standard. I moved so far away because of one man; Paul Herman. He hired me and was my mentor to help me accelerate my career. This was our agreement and goal when I decided to move and his first order of business was to help me settle in and influence my peers well. 

Complete instead of competing

If you throw in a competitive high performer what do you think their instinct is? Compete! That was certainly my disposition when I jumped into my first team. What Paul taught me and what lessons I had learned the hard way is that in order to lead and influence your peers you have to be intentional in letting go of your ego and motivation to win at all costs. 

Some leaders would say that they would love a person who is willing to do whatever it takes to get to a goal; to win. We’ve spoken before about the power of balancing the What (performance) and the How (The Values) of the work and how each are equally important. How you get to the goal is just as important as getting to it itself. That’s certainly true with leading your peers. Instead of making things a competition between you and others, look for ways to complete and elevate their effectiveness. 

Understand the gaps and opportunities of your peers and instead of using that to your advantage, leverage your skills to help and support them. That may involve you giving up your time and attention in meeting your own goal in order to help achieve the larger success of the team. 

A note I had written for myself reads, “Be careful of peers that have a sense of ownership in an area that you are better in.” Pay extra attention to how you interact with that person and situation so that the window of opportunity stays open for you to influence in a positive way. 

Grow your number of acquaintances 

I’m weird. I love being up on the stage and getting out there and meeting new people. I’m also just as happy at times to hide in the back of the room and not interact with anyone. It’s one of the reasons I love living a very compartmentalized life. I can be out there in certain circles when I want to and blend right into other circles. There is nothing wrong with keeping to yourself, but to really grow your influence with peers, you’ve got to be proactive to put yourself out there. 

Growing your list of acquaintances and professional friends is what helps turn your leadership style into one that is a connector – a person that connects people to each other for both parties’ benefit. The benefit isn’t for others alone, you gain a larger support system to help you as you run into roadblocks to progress and you strengthen your relationships with others as you help your peers remove those roadblocks as well. 

Make a list of areas, or people, that you don’t know very well or have an interest in expanding your knowledge about. That’s exactly what Paul had me do. I listed out several projects that I could be a part of and supporting parts of the business that I didn’t have a personal relationship with. Use that list to begin growing your network. 

Friendship wins

Your friendship is everything when it comes to peers is a note that I had jotted down during one of my meetings with Paul. A peer often doesn’t have to be open to you and your influence if they choose not to be. Friendship is the door that allows your influence to enter. 

You’ll want to approach your business and professional friendships differently than you do in your personal life. When looking for a friend outside of work, you’ll likely seek someone who shares similar interests and has something to offer back in the relationship. In work, look to be a friend to others instead. That means that their Values, work style, and lack of common ground shouldn’t hinder you from offering kindness, interest, and support. As you look to be a friend to others remember to

  • Be a strong active and engaged listener. 
  • Have a sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously. (Show 44)
  • Admit your faults to others.
  • Ask for advice and be open to learning from them. 
  • Tell the truth even when it’s hard. 

Here are some additional resources on how to leverage friendship as you work with others: 

Recently while digging out my closet, I found these notes that I had taken for myself many years ago, along with a nice handwritten note from Paul. Two decades later, these tips and strategies still ring true for me and I hope that they resonate with you when you lead and influence your peers. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

The 360 Leader: Leading down

The 360 Leader: Leading down

No matter your career stage or season of life you have a circle of influence. Think of it like a rock being tossed into a quiet lake and watching the resulting ripples spread once it hits the water. 

As you think about your 360 circle of influence it can be broken down into three categories:

  • Leading Down – Influencing those who report to you and their peers. 
  • Leading Across – Influencing your peers and perhaps their direct reports
  • Leading Up – Influencing your chain of command, their peers, and upper-level support functions. 

We’ve spent quite a bit of time over the years covering how to lead your team well, (with resources at the end of this article) so today we will focus on adjacently down – influencing your direct reports’ peers.

Show them the same care and respect that you show your own team

It’s interesting how many leaders overlook this behavior, but this is a wonderful opportunity for you to influence a person or an additional team in a positive way. If you regularly interact with a different team or group as part of your work, take the time to get to know them on a personal level, and show an interest in what they have to say and the work that they do. 

When you show other teams the same level of care that you do your own, you are either reinforcing the strong culture and Values of the organization or you are showing them that not all leaders at your company are poor leaders. Either way, you and others win as a result. 

Be a connecter for adjacent teams

Your team’s peers may not be afforded the same opportunities to network and connect with others in order to make their job easier and open up potential new career paths. A leader that truly stands out is one that is a connector – They connect people across the organization. The larger the organization the more valuable that this skill becomes. 

Open up your internal network for others and assist them in making those needed connections. Your team’s peers will be more productive and happy and your business will run more effectively as a result. 

Be an advocate and cheerleader for them with their leader

You may not be able to influence their compensation, but you can spotlight and advocate for them with their leader and your peers. Taking a moment to recognize a peer’s team member does two things. 1) It builds positive sentiment about the person and recognizes them in a larger audience and 2) It makes that leader feel good about their own team and leadership as well. 

What if I’m just starting out in my career?

Even without direct reports, you still have a bottom to your circle. For new professionals, your customer/patient/client is your bottom. You influence them in their buying decisions, their health decisions, and/or their business decisions. Many people at this level have more influence than they give themselves credit for. You are directly impacting and influencing others in a meaningful way. 

Leading down to direct reports resources

If you want additional resources to help you lead your team (directly down) check out some of these shows and pages. 

Strengthen the influence in the bottom half of your circle by slowing down to spend time with those other teams, connect them to other people and resources, and lift them when you speak with your peers. The next generation of leaders will see and aspire to your leadership style. 

Make a better tomorrow.