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Let’s face it: everyone, except perhaps a dictator, has a boss. In a family, in work, sometimes in a relationship, and on and on. This means that the skill of leading up, across and down is an essential life skill to develop.
Normally when we hear the word leadership, the most common idea that comes to mind is leading those below us. However, since leadership is a choice and not a position, it’s absolutely possible to lead up and across as well. The way to do this is to understand that it’s our behavior that convinces others to follow.
It may seem like it’s highly unlikely to lead a boss or peers, but it’s important to do since most of a leader’s career will be spent in the middle somewhere before reaching the top.
A traditional mindset of leaders is to use power to get people to do things. With peers and bosses, this generally doesn’t work because we have no authority over them. To lead up and across, it’s crucial to build influence. The way to build influence is to build respect.
Helping others win instead of competing with them goes a long way in building respect. When they win, the organization wins. When the organization wins, we all win.
Building influence through respect takes time. Don’t expect to build respect and influence overnight. Influence is an ongoing process that takes time to grow.
The following behaviors are some of the most important that leaders can implement to build influence with those above, across and below:
The most influential people put in the effort to become really good in their role so when the time comes to make a suggestion they are seen as trustworthy and credible. Skipping this step of learning a job well can be detrimental to building credibility and therefore influence.
When these behaviors are put together – being good at what we do, having the “whatever it takes” mindset and being adaptable to different situations – we will grow respect in the eyes of others and the ability to influence our peers and bosses.
Leadership is a skill that must be continually developed. When we get to the top, it’s too late to learn to lead. As legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “When opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.” Leading from the middle today allows us to practice and build the skills needed when we finally make it to the top job.
A former first officer, Paul Ferdais is founder and CEO of The Marine Leadership Group (www.marineleadershipgroup.com). Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.