In a post titled How do we make our schools amazing places for learners?, I concluded the post with this question: If you’re not the top leadership in your school or district, how do you lead up? You have great ideas to help make your school an amazing place for learning, but you find resistance to your ideas, even from your principal and superintendent. You can do one of two things: Give up or lead up.
Leading up is the act of working with people above you – whether one boss, several bosses, a chief executive, a board of directors or even stockholders – to help them and you get a better job done.
In this post, I’ll share four experience-based strategies you can employ to get your ideas heard and supported - helping others help you. Each strategy is based on having a solid relationship. And remember, relationships take time to cultivate.
1. Do your work. The best way to build a positive relationship with your supervisor is to bring an impeccable work ethic and enthusiasm to your work. Take initiative and exceed expectations - always. Your initiative will be seen by others as helping the organization and helping others to solve problems and meet goals. Doing the work is a huge credibility builder (greater than anything else) that will open opportunities for future influence.
What can you do today? When you are setting goals for yourself or with your supervisor, clearly define one or more deliverables. What will it look like when that goal is achieved? Then consistently ask yourself, what can I do to exceed that expectation or deliverable? Then get to work doing the work of exceeding expectations!
2. Know your leader. What kind of leaders do you work with? What do they need to be successful? Make personal connections and study how decisions are made. When you want to approach a leader for support, anticipate needs and connect your ideas to meeting the needs and goals of the leader.
What can you do today? Make a personal connection with your leader and engage them in a conversation around the organization’s work and goals. Think about both the ideas and support you can provide to help achieve those goals. Connect your ideas with their goals. Then do the work of influence.
3. Be honest. Honesty is another credibility builder. Nothing kills credibility like dishonesty. If you want your ideas heard and acted upon, you’ll need to have a strong reputation for honesty.
What can you do today? When things inevitably don’t go as planned in your role, take ownership. Tell your leader like it is, what happened and what you learned from the experience. Anytime you blame others or try to soften the reality of a bad situation, you’ll come off as less than straightforward, harming your credibility and chances for leading up when you most need the support.
4. Maintain a growth mindset. Demonstrating a growth mindset not only models the most productive mindset for change, but it also demonstrates that you are open to others making your ideas even better.
What can you do today? Reflect on how you approach push-back to your ideas. What does your body language and the tone of your voice communicate in these situations? Aim to use synergy to create win-win situations. The best ideas almost always emerge from a synthesis of multiple perspectives while working to solve a problem.
Never forget that leading up takes time, effort, patience and energy. You may be tempted to give up. Stop, and commit to leading up! Stay focused on your ideas and how they can benefit your organization’s leadership and goals. Also, remember that as an educator you have a unique insider perspective that your leaders can benefit from. Let your voice be heard!
How will you lead up to influence others to support your ideas? What strategies have you used?