“I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”
Leadership is often considered a downward directed affair, where the person in charge gives his or her vision to employees who follow the person in charge towards a common goal. This is certainly one way of considering leadership, however, it’s not the most effective. In every organization, the relationship between leader and follower – boss and employee – is a two-way relationship. Thoughts, emotions, and information flow from one to the other. What also flows from one to the other is leadership.
To be effective, the person in charge needs to establish a vision, identify objectives, state expectations, and serve their employees. However, to be effective as an employee, you need to learn to lead upwards.
Upward Leadership: Guiding the Whole Team Towards Success
The theory of upward leadership revolves around a set of skills that together, allow a person to effectively influence his or her leader in order to bring success to the entire team. What makes an effective upward leader?
Always respectful and loyal. An effective upward leader thinks critically and respectfully lets their leader know when they disagree on an issue. This point is different in every situation, but the astute upward leader knows how far they can push a disagreement without being disrespectful or being disloyal. Always approach a disagreement from a position of fact and example, providing the boss with information they can use to make a decision.
Then give them time to contemplate and think on it. It they agree with you, be respectful by not gloating in your greatness. If they don’t agree with you, exercise by your loyalty by pressing forward like the final decision was yours all along.
Understands his or her leaders vector. When you know where your leader is headed, it’s a lot easier to influence their decision or suggest adjustments to the plan through upward leadership. When you know the vision and objectives, you are better able to anticipate the leaders and organizations needs so you can generate solutions in advance. This is upward leadership at its best. You are bringing your boss’ vision to life, which makes the organization look good and your clients happy.
Maintains honesty and high integrity. Trustworthiness is vital in any human relationship. For an effective upward leader, the honesty and integrity are linked to your motivations for leading upward. Are you doing it out of service to the team, the organization, and the client? Or are you doing it to usurp the boss? Or to feed your ego and help you fill personal needs?
Manipulation, coercion and self-serving reasons are not what effective upward leaders do. When the interests of the boss, the team, the organization and client are what’s driving you, your honesty and integrity will shine through.
Never surprises their boss. There are enough unknowns in life, so the effective upward leader doesn’t add to it by surprising their boss with issues, good or bad. Doing so can lead to mistrust, eventually leading to a loss of confidence and your effectiveness.
Surprises come in good and bad packages. Even a good thing, sprung on your boss in the wrong setting will lead to you losing your ability to effectively influence things. Always find the right setting to share good and bad information. As you establish a trusting relationship with your boss, you can openly discuss how and when to share emerging information.
Always acts from a position of service. You’re probably familiar with the theory of servant leadership. Servant leadership doesn’t mean selflessness. Instead, the servant-first leader is one who ensures that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. This is the role of an effective upward leader as well. Your focus is on serving your boss and your team to ensure success. By doing this, success will engulf you as well.
Upward Leadership: Serving Others, Generating Success, and Being the Best Follower
Upward leadership, at its core, is about developing discipline and mastering the ability to deliver the goods under direction. In some circles, this might be called followership. A good follower embraces responsibility, works to maintain trust at all levels, and never forgets their true convictions. Learning to serve and follow builds humility and empathy—two traits that translate directly into effective upward leadership, as well as effective downward leadership.
If you understand these fundamentals and put them into practice right now, you will excel as a member of any team or organization. You’ll also set yourself on a course to becoming a highly effective leader.