One of the most crucial elements in my leadership career comes from the concept of “leading up.” John Maxwell teaches this concept in his book, The 360 Degree Leader. Leading 360 degrees means leading those beneath, across, and above you.
This leading principle has always intrigued me because I love how it challenges teammates to lead their “boss.” Even as the president and COO of an organization, I must be open to allowing those below me on the org chart to lead me.
Of course the idea of leading up sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t always seem so cut and dry in real life. We’re used to following the leader, but leading the leader? Just the idea can seem intimidating or down right dangerous!
A titled leader’s office, confidence, hiring and firing authority and even their dress and speech can innocently threaten a follower. However, intimidation shouldn’t keep a teammate from leading up. Today I want to discuss four ways that leaders and followers can live out the essential leadership concept of leading up.
1. Be approachable.
Leaders, be easy to talk to and accessible to your people. That might mean walking through the office slower or keeping your door open. A reclusive leader makes for awkward communication, which will create an environment where followers aren’t willing to lead up because they feel uncomfortable in your presence.
2. Create a partnership.
Leaders need to create a safe environment for communicating. This means putting your ego on the shelf so you can really listen to your teammates. Followers, you must have the courage to speak up! Both the leader and the follower benefit from this shared communication effort.
3. Ask for permission.
If you’re the follower, ask your leader if you can speak into a subject that’s been on your mind. Don’t be overbearing or obnoxious, and definitely don’t dance around the issue. Get to the point, but lead up with care. Most leaders value time, and we would rather spend it communicating, not guessing.
4. Lighten the load.
Remember not to put more work or stress on your leader. Leading up should take both away. Take the time to figure out how you can serve your leader as you lead up.
In my mind, leading up isn’t optional. It’s essential for developing a culture that’s stimulating, fulfilling, and productive.
Now it’s your turn! Followers, how have you led up recently? Leaders, how has a follower led up to you?