Be Willing to Lead Up

One of the leadership topics I’m most passionate about is leading up. Leading up is how I coach, how I promote, and how I grow. I love it when my team offers up alternative ideas and insight for a project I’m working on. The value my team brings when they lead up helps move me – and our organization – forward.

But leading up consists of a lot more than just sharing your opinion. Leading up requires sacrifice. It requires vulnerability. It requires a hunger for excellence. And, as John Maxwell points out in his book, The 360° Leader, leading up is often a leader’s greatest challenge because leaders want to lead, not be led.

Today, I want to share my perspective and experiences with three of the leading up principles from The 360° Leader.  These acts of leading up are often done behind the scenes and when no one else is looking, but when done consistently, they will allow you to earn your leader’s trust, reliance, and respect.

Be willing to lighten your leader’s load.

Leaders carry a heavy burden of responsibility, and the higher they are in the organization, the heavier their responsibility. So what are you doing to help lift your leader’s load? All of the leader’s in my inner circle are exceptional at leading up, but I can think of one leader in particular who has always taken it upon herself to figure out how she can lighten my load. The more we worked together and the more she learned about my philosophies, my leadership style and my decision making,  the more she was able to take off my shoulders. She started with taking over on hosting conference calls and leading team meetings, and she progressed to relieving me of production burdens, and in some cases, driving entire programs. Her willingness to assist me freed me up to focus on my vision and goals for our company’s long-term future. When a high-level leader is surrounded by other leaders and teammates who are willing to lighten their load, it benefits the team, the leader, and the organization.

Be willing to do what others don’t.

There’s never a shortage of volunteers to take on the high-profile, new, fun, or interesting assignments. But what if, at the end of the day, no one knows your name? What about an assignment that offers no guarantees of a promotion, no fancy title? What if it includes a “demotion?” The leader I referenced in my first point did just that. She abandoned her higher-level title and high-profile position to join me at the bottom, building a program from the ground up. Her reward for accepting such a position consisted of long days and big obstacles as she faced a lot of challenges as the newest and lowest-ranking kid on the block. But she didn’t accept the position because she wanted to get noticed. She accepted the position because she was up for the challenge, and she knew it was a job that mattered. After several years of “paying her dues” and building programs from the ground up, this teammate became an influential and respected leader within the organization.

Be willing to be a go-to player.

Nearly every successful leader has a few go-to players surrounding them, teammates they seek out to develop a strategy, solve a problem, or execute a plan. Are you the person your leader thinks of and turns to when they need to pull off an important project? Challenge yourself to be that person, and realize it doesn’t happen overnight. Becoming a go-to player is a progression, and it starts with being willing to do what others don’t. As you prove your willingess to work, to serve, and to perform, your leader will turn to you with bigger projects and more challenging problems that allow you to continue to serve and grow. And as Maxwell points out, go to players are momentum makers. Because they always produce, they create an energy when the rest of the team feels discouraged and tired.

This week I want to encourage you to think about your leader. How can you make them look good? How can you make them better? How can you advance them forward? Leading up is crucial to the growth and success of every department and every organization, and it begins with you.

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