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One of the fundamental truths of our work lives is that senior managers will sometimes make dumb decisions and junior staff will always complain about it.

Can you identify with that? Take a moment to reflect on the latest “good idea” that your senior leaders had….

What did you do about it? How did you influence the senior leadership around that decision?

I’ve often heard clients that I work with say things like:

  • “That decision is well above my pay grade. Nothing I can do about it.
  • “Don’t ask me what that decision is about. No one consulted me.”

These kind of statements come from a place of being a victim in the work place and having a sense of no control. What if I could show you a way that you could influence up and have an impact on the decision making within the organisation? Would that be useful to you? Read on ….

Let me tell you the story of Elaine (name changed to preserve confidentiality). Elaine works in a small to medium enterprise and leads a number of geographically dispersed teams. HR referred Elaine to me for 1-1 leadership coaching in order to improve her ability to influence within the organisation. Even though Elaine was consistently getting great results and achieving high external ratings from her customers, her reputation within the organisation, especially at the higher levels, was low.

Elaine was passionate about her work and believed she was making a difference. It was evident, however, that she had no trust in the senior leadership of the organisation. Elaine would challenge, often aggressively, every decision made that she disagreed with. Let me tell you, there were plenty of decisions that fit that category for Elaine.

The result was that, while Elaine was getting good results, her ability to influence was reduced. Senior leadership were getting frustrated with the number of times they were being challenged by Elaine but also the way that these challenges manifested. Elaine would often send aggressively worded emails or have loud chest poking sessions at organisational functions. The leadership was starting to wonder if Elaine was a good fit for the organisation, despite her results.

Take a moment now. After reading Elaine’s story above, what do you think her problem was? How would you approach this situation?

I’ve written before about how you don’t need to have a team to be a leader. Leadership is about behaviours and not about position. I’d like to take that concept a little further now and talk about how we can apply it to leading up. How do you influence the decision makers in your organisations? Here are a few steps you can take to ensure your voice is heard.

1. Build your reputation

If you want people to take notice of you when you talk you need to have a good reputation. This means you need to be the best worker, team member, staff member, junior or middle level manager that you can be. Work hard within the appropriate guidelines and policies, be ethical and get results. Additionally, lead down well. Your staff will talk about you and your reputation and integrity with them is just as important.

2. Follow the rules

Senior leadership do not like rule breakers. They made those rules, or their predecessors did, and any affront to those rules may be seen as a personal attack on them. This adds to the reputation piece in the paragraph above. People who follow the rules are seen as reliable and will be respected. Here’s the kicker; this means you have to follow the ‘stupid rules’ that you don’t agree with as well!

3. Pick your battles

Pick the issue, discussion or decision where you feel you can have the most influence. You will not be able to win every argument so don’t have one where you can’t make a difference. Linking back to following the rules above, this means there will be times where you might have to do some ‘stupid stuff’, which will again build your capital with the leadership.

4. Go with a solution

When you have picked the issue that is most important to you, and where you feel you can make a difference, develop a solution and socialise it with colleagues, peers and mentors first. Make sure it has the best chance of working before you take it to the leadership. This is where your reputation and hard work will payoff because it will speak volumes for you before you open your mouth. The senior leadership will be looking at you as a trusted employee and will be willing to listen, especially if you have a solution for them. After all, you’ll be making their life easier rather than just bringing them another problem to solve.

5. Be humble

Don’t be worried about who gets the credit. If you really love what you do and believe in what the organisation is doing then it won’t matter who success is attributed to. Right? You can’t be looking for the pat on the back or “I told you so” moment. That’s about ego and not about purpose. If the senior leadership think you’re trying to get one up on them they will potentially close off to your idea quite quickly. In his book “Good to Great” Jim Collins talks about Level 5 leadership. The characteristics of a level 5 leader are humility and force of will. Be the leader who is happy that the right thing got done and be comfortable in your own skin that you had something to do with it.

So, here’s what I want you to do ….

As you reflect on the work you have done recently, reflect on the frustrating things about your job and what you’d like the senior leaders to change. Do a self assessment of your own reputation with your leaders. Is it good based on the hard work that you have been doing or have you been a thorn in the side of management? What can you do over the short to medium term to enhance that reputation? Pick an issue you’d like to have an impact on and start working on a solution to that issue. Collaborate with others and check the ego at the door.

If you can do these things you will start to notice that your influence with your leadership will start to grow and you will have an impact on the things that are important to you. You will be leading up.

Do you know someone who is struggling with frustrations at work and could use some skills in leading up? Please feel free to share this article with them. If you subscribe to the principles discussed here perhaps it might be useful to sit down with them and have a conversation with them about it. I’d love to hear your feedback about how it went. Please leave your reflections in the comments section below.

How have you successfully led upwards before? What worked for you and what didn’t? Again, I’d appreciate your thoughts. We can all learn from one another.

If you or anyone you know would like to discuss this or any concepts on leadership please feel free to get in contact with us here at Campbell Leadership Solutions. We’d be delighted to assist you in any way we can.