Four Ways to Live Out Leading Up

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?

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  • Daniel Mccarthy says:

    Linda, great post on 360-degree Leadership. When I became the manager of the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, this is the first book I read. The reason was this; Jim Tressell, head coach of Ohio State Football, had his team read this book. That was the year they went on to win the National Championship in 2001. Being a Federal employee, leading in this way is a must, but not easily achieveable. And, it’s value and failure is on display every day. Just look at the budget talk today.

    I discovered that a good way to test this is play in a golf scramble with my boss. I found how challenging leading UP was going to be by the way decisions were made in certain situations on the golf course. I amsure you have experienced this yourself. To be open to make a decision as a team (ah, teamwork comes in here) dictates the success of the team through the leader. Although, you have no boss on the golf course, technically, the person you are playing with still has the title and the logical respect that goes with it. Therefore, how he/she accepts your suggestions on playing a shot or a hole in golf will give you a clue how that person will lead you, or allow you to lead up, in the workplace.

  • Daniel Rose says:

    Another great post. Far to few people realise the difference between leadership and management, and associate leadership with heirarchical structure.
    Another good book on the subject is “The Leader Without a Title” by Robin Sharma.