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Upward Leadership: Lead Up to Your Leader

Updated on August 27, 2011

Being a leader doesn’t always mean being the one in charge. Leadership can happen throughout all levels of the organization chart. Leadership is about influence. A leader knows how to Influence others to follow their guidance and direction.

Traditionally, we think of leaders who lead or influence those who are positioned below them. While this is often the case, leadership can actually occur in all directions. A true leader will know how to influence those who work alongside them as well as those who work above them.

Knowing how to influence your supervisor involves some strategic leadership skills. The one who is positioned to lead you will not be swayed easily. This idea is often referred to as leading up or upward leadership.

How effective are you at leading up to your supervisors? Do you have influence over their decisions and plans? Can you guide or direct the one who has positional authority over you? Does he listen to you ideas and rely on your council or advice?

Learning how to lead your leader can be greatly effective in your career. In order to be able to do this, you’ll first have to develop a sense of confidence and trust with your supervisor. He’ll need to know that you have an excellent track record and can be counted on. If you expect him to be guided by your influence and listen to what you have to say, then you’ll have to demonstrate your abilities.

How to lead up to your supervisor

Here are some things to think about when you want to lead up to your supervisor:

  • Always be respectful of your supervisor and those in leadership above you, even if you don’t agree with a decision or have a personal dislike toward someone. Leadership demands a certain level of honor. Any distain or contempt toward your leaders will come back to haunt you and damage your credibility.
  • Never argue with your supervisor in public. If you disagree with a decision or need to correct him on an issue, talk to him about it in private. Don’t undermine his authority and position in front of others.
  • Include your supervisors on any important information. Be sure they are well aware of what you are doing and are planning to do. Having a secret agenda or keeping undisclosed information will only breed distrust.
  • Demonstrate integrity. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Nothing will damage your credibility than dropping the ball. Take responsibility and be honest in all you do and say.
  • Go to your supervisor with solutions, not problems. Work out as much as you can on your own before you bring something to his attention. Find out as much information as possible. Be creative in your problem solving.
  • Find out the leadership style of your boss and adapt your style to match or compliment his. Work with him instead of against him. Understand that it’s not his job to get along with you. Instead it’s up to you to get along with him.
  • Take initiative. Don’t wait to be given tasks or handed projects. Take ownership of your work and demonstrate a bias for action. Be willing to take charge and step up to responsibilities when needed.
  • Develop a bond with your supervisor. Consciously work on your relationship. This will be helpful in keeping open communication and confidences.
  • Work on your servant leadership skills. A servant leader serves the one he leads. Are you serving your supervisor or yourself? Set aside your sense of pride in your position and do what it takes to get the job done.
  • If possible, choose the right team to work with or under you. Develop a staff that buys into the same goals and vision. Learn to be an effective leader down as well as up.
  • Establish good relationships with co-workers and peers. Demonstrate that you have the ability to be influential with everyone around you.

Leading up to your supervisor is easier when you agree on the purpose and goals of your organization. Having a mutual cause to work toward will help you avoid conflicting motivations and directions. If your goal is developing people and his goal is increasing the numbers, then you’ll have a much more difficult time influencing his decisions. His goals will always trump yours.

If you can’t jump on board with your boss’s goals, then you are probably in the wrong place. The one who is in a great position to practice these leadership skills is the one who can catch the vision and buy into the cause. If you have the same goal and motivations toward success of the team, then you will have a better platform to voice your concerns and ideas.

What steps can you take to become more effective at leading up to your leaders? How can you put some of these suggestions into practice? Let me know in the comment section below. If you found this Hub useful, please be sure to vote it up. Thanks for reading!


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  • lisabeaman profile image

    lisabeaman 6 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    Thanks Growing Deeper! That's something that I'm noticing is very, very difficult for the young leaders that I work with. They have trouble getting on board and being a team player when they don't agree with the direction or decision. I'm hoping that concepts such as Leading Up will give them a better understanding of effective leadership. Thanks for the comment!

  • GrowingDeeper profile image

    GrowingDeeper 6 years ago

    One of the many excellent points you made was about honoring those in leadership. We may not agree with every decision made concerning how they handle a situation, but we should still respect their position and not undermine them.

  • Jane@CM profile image

    Jane@CM 7 years ago

    Another excellent hub Lisa!