As Reading for Leading readers know, leadership is not a position. Leadership is an activity. But what happens when the person in the position of authority is not leading well? Then don’t wait. Don’t whine. Be the leader!!!
Note: I did not say: Act like you’re in authority. That’s a pretty sure way to get whacked! You want to lead through them. Here, I follow my friends Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner and briefly suggest how two of their five practices of exemplary leadership come into play when leading up.
First, encourage the heart. Uh-huh. You are going to en-courage the authority who is dis-couraging you. This one is tricky. First, because how do you encourage someone when you don’t think they’re doing a great job? But, from the authority’s perspective, why would they listen to you when you are bringing an attitude (they’ll feel it) that they are incompetent, unjust or otherwise not cutting it. So, what do you do? Lie?! No!! Pay attention. Look for what you can honestly see is working. And allow me to be direct: If you can’t see someone doing some thing well, then you have a problem. Leaders do have problems seeing fully and fairly, but real leaders do their own work in order to see fully and fairly, and not to be blinded by the negative they see. Just saying.
The second reason it’s tricky to encourage up the chain is that none of us wants to look like a suck-up — neither to the boss, nor to our peers. But the truth is authorities need encouragement, too. Poor managers probably most need encouragement, are the most insecure. You shouldn’t have to encourage them, but you’ll likely need to in order to be trusted and listened to. And the way around being a suck-up is to be genuine. Can you still be misinterpreted? Of course. But the more you can generate positivity in your life with everyone you deal with, the more genuine the upward praise will seem.
With a foundation of encouragement in place, the biggest work is to engage the authority in sharing vision. Authorities presumptively think they are responsible for the vision, for articulating the picture of success, and setting the big goals. We largely confer this power and defer to their visioning, their goal setting. But when we’re really frustrated it’s almost always because we don’t feel like we’re moving in a clear, smart or moral direction. So, ask for time to talk — and listen — about the vision. Two simple questions will guide your path: “What is your vision for success?” And, “Why? Help me see what we’ll we have if we achieve that?” This is a respectful question, not a challenge. And the more fully you can listen them out, the more likely they will be to take an interest in what you think.
Then, your opportunity to lead up arises. Then, arises your chance to
Lead with your best self,