Leading Up

One of the more regular issues I encounter in working with CEOs and advancement leaders centers on the notion of “leading up.”  Everyone understands their role in “leading down,” or leading those in their care on the organizational chart.  But the real work – and your ability to be successful – rests in large measure on your capacity to “lead up.”

What do I mean?  I’m talking about the Advancement VP “leading” her CEO.  I’m talking about the CEO “leading” the Board.  And I’m talking about the annual fund director “leading” his VP.  Leading up should happen at all levels of the organization.  Here’s why it’s important:

All great organizations have people who Lead Up.  And people who Lead Up advance more quickly.

You practice “leading up” by planning for and persuading those above you on the organizational chart that your strategies, tactics, and plans are the best next steps.  People who practice “leading up” don’t wait for direction.  In fact, they create environments in which they have the opportunity to direct their bosses.

With communication flowing both up and down the organizational hierarchy, “leading up” creates new learnings for the organization as new ideas are suggested, tested, and evaluated.  Further, for those staff members that master the art of “leading up,” success within the organization soon follows.  Organizations are hungry for people who can lead up.  Why?

People who “lead up” are consensus builders.  They understand how to move people and persuade them that their vision for the future is one that should be followed.  They are doers and they have the ability to get others to respond favorably to them.

But here is the rub:  “Leading up” doesn’t mean that you are promoting yourself.  In fact, it will backfire on you if people come to believe you are promoting yourself.  People, including your boss, will only listen and act in accordance with your ideas if they believe your ideas are effective, executable, and, are being offered with the genuine intent to better the organization.  My own research on higher education presidents suggests that those who are viewed as working regularly to promote themselves, instead of their institutions, soon run into trouble.

I may or may not work with your organization, but I can guarantee this:  no matter how many are practicing this skill now, your organization needs more people who “lead up.”


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