Advice for Leading Upward

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 3 min read

When the topic of leadership comes up, most people tend to think of hierarchies. Specifically, the person who is higher in the hierarchy giving directions.

However, in many organizations nowadays, the org chart may be flat. In some cases, businesses operate within a matrix structure, or possibly even multi-matrix or a honeycomb structure. In short, the levels aren’t as clear as they once were.

This is probably a good thing.

Today, I want to share some quick tips for that other type of leadership, the one where you are leading your peers or even your managers.

The Most Important Tip For Leading Upward

Among the most important things to do when leading upward, is to trade inquiry for solutions. Stated differently, instead of coming to your manager and asking questions, be prepared to present your suggested action step or solution. Then, open the door to collect their feedback. This is especially critical when dealing with a manager who is busy with a variety of other projects, tasks or teams.

By presenting a well thought-out option as a starting point, you are alleviating your manager of the responsibility to lead another initiative. It shows that you are both proactive and taking ownership over your role whole at the same time open to their feedback and input.

The Other Most Important Tip For Leading Upward

Sometimes you may come prepared with a solution…possibly even one that is objectively the best idea. Still, your manager may reject it.

When this happens, it would be very easy to start pinning the blame on your manager’s short-sightedness. You could be angry at him/her.

I suggest you approach the situation with a singular question:

How could I have done a better job presenting my case and achieving my objective?

There is little value in assigning blame and standing in your righteousness. Instead, think about how you presented your position.

  • Was my idea clear and concise?

Perhaps you left our critical details, or maybe you put in too many.

  • Was my idea that good?

We all have a tendency to like our own ideas. After all, we did come up with it.

  • Why might my manager has rejecting this idea?

Do the analysis. Try to figure it out.

The bottom line is that instead of blaming, which creates no additional forward movement, consider how you can take this as a lesson to improve. Take each defeat as an opportunity to work on your skills of influence and persuasion.

Take full ownership and move forward.

Lead…in any direction

Leading upward shares many of the same principles as effective top down leadership. The biggest difference is obviously the shift in the power dynamic. While leaders higher in the org chart can appeal to their organizational status, leading upward cannot rest on the same fallback position.

While it may seem daunting, if you focus on the ten commandments of lovable leadership, you will multiply your chances of success tremendously. Particularly if you maintain a strong sense of personal accountability, keep your ego out of the way, and sit on the same side of the table.

What are your best tips for leading upward?

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