Leading Up -- The Risk Worth Taking That May Save Your Career

Mike Camp

I have witnessed many people in my career who were courageous enough by leading up instead of just leading those who report to them. It takes a strong leader to take the steps required for leading and influencing all people, regardless of their title or place in the organization chart. A few years ago my boss shared the importance of leading up, and how critical it is for not only the development of those around you, but your own personal development as well. Author John Maxwell once defined a leader as someone who is an innovator and creator who relies on other people to achieve their goals. Based on that definition it would be safe to say that your boss is relying on you to help them achieve their goals, so there may be times when you should take the risk of leading up.

The concept of leading up is nothing new, but many people don’t fully understand the definition. To me, when someone is leading up, they are simply sharing leadership lessons or advice with people who are higher in the organization. It is ludicrous to think that just because someone holds a higher position, they are a better leader or they know all there is to know about leadership. One of the keys to leading up is the ability to influence people who work below us and above us within the organization. Some leaders may not feel comfortable leading up to their boss, but it is critical to have the strength to provide advice and insight to ensure they succeed.

Another key point in leading up is communicating effectively to your boss to ensure they "see the whole picture" of an issue. By doing this, you may have given your boss an opportunity to make certain moves which could mean the success of a project or goal. We all assume our bosses know everything going on around us, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It doesn’t matter how smart someone is. If they aren’t living in the trenches every day, they are going to be unaware of some things happening within the organization. Not having all of the facts could prove to be the critical reason for failing.

Leading up
takes perseverance and strength to face any fears you may have about offering advice or strategy to your boss. The question you have to ask is, if you know your boss is on a dangerous road that could lead to the demise of their career as well as your own, what do you do about it? Do you just sit there and go along even though you know the outcome? Do you stand up and provide advice to your boss that may ultimately save both careers? The last thing a leader wants is to be surrounded by is a group of "yes people" who are too busy cozying up to them rather than helping the team succeed.

Ronald Reagan expressed how important leading up is to the overall success of an organization in this quote, "Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere". So when given the opportunity, will you show the strength and courage necessary to do the right thing by leading up?