It is possible, yea, even profitable, to lead up. To lead up is to exert positive influence on the person to which you are accountable, for the common good of the organization. To lead up is to lead on, because we all have better ideas together than we do separately, and, we don’t all see things the same way.
What does it take to lead up? Both parties need:
1) Harmony. There’s something about being able to laugh together, be on the same wavelength, and know that everyone involved wants what is good for the organization, and that you’ve got each other’s backs. Relationships are key. Work to make them good.
2) Courage. Telling your “boss” that his idea “stinks” is never easy, nor is it easy to suggest a different strategy that upsets what has been put into place. Yep, it takes courage on both sides to say it and to hear it. If it’s for everyone’s good, and, the truth is spoken in love, we’re going to experience short term pain for long term growth.
3) Respect. Sometimes, when you lead up, you hear a firm “no”. At the end of the day, the org chart is still the org chart. A little pushback may have more to do with the big picture than it does with you, so give the leader leeway to say no. At the same time, the leader has to maintain respect for those who are leading up, because (believe me) you’ll want them to do this again.
Some of the best ideas came from teammates who, when we open the folder, technically report to me. At the same time, I’ve been able to work with supervisors who were strong enough to take it, strong enough to push back, and, most of all, strong enough to be led by someone under them. That’s the mark of an effective, team based, non ego driven, and good leader.
So — don’t be afraid to lead up.