4. Support Your Leader’s Vision
When top leaders hear others articulate the vision they have cast for the organization, their hearts sing. It’s very rewarding. It represents a kind of tipping point, to use the words of author Malcolm Gladwell. It indicates a level of ownership by others in the organization that bodes well for the fulfillment of the vision. Leaders in the middle of the organization who are champions for the vision become elevated in the estimation of a top leader. They get it. They’re on board. And they have great value. Each time another person in the organization embraces the vision and passes it on, it’s like giving the vision “fresh legs.” In other words, when the vision gets handed off, the next person is able to run with it.
As a leader in the middle, if you are unsure about the vision of your leader, then talk to him. Ask questions. Once you think you understand it, quote it back to your leader in situations where it’s appropriate to make sure you’re in alignment. If you’ve got it right, you will be able to see it in your leader’s face. Then start passing it on to the people in your sphere of influence. It will be good for the organization, your people, your leader, and you. Promote your leader’s dreams, and he will promote you.
5. Connect with Your Leader’s Interests
One of the keys to building relational chemistry is knowing and connecting with the interests of your leader. Have you identified the pet projects that your leader really cares about at work? If so, that’s good, but how about her interests outside of work? Can you name them? It’s important to know enough about your leader to be able to relate to him as an individual beyond the job.
If your boss is a golfer, you may want to take up the game—or at least learn some things about it. If he collects rare books or porcelain, then spend some time on the Internet finding out about those hobbies. If she builds fine furniture on the weekends, then subscribe to a woodworking magazine. You don’t have to take up the hobby yourself or become an expert. Just learn enough to relate to your boss and talk intelligently about the subject.
Leaders sometimes feel isolated and find themselves wondering, Does anyone else understand? Though you may not be able to understand your leader’s work situation, you can at least understand him or her on some level. When leaders feeling isolated experience a genuine connection with someone “under” them, they often find it very rewarding. And if you feel isolated in the middle, that connection just might be rewarding for you too.
6. Understand Your Leader’s Personality
Two staff members were discussing the president of their company, and one of them said, “You know, you can’t help liking the guy.” To which the other replied, “Yeah, if you don’t, he fires you.” Leaders are used to having others accommodate their personalities. As you lead down from the middle of the organization, don’t you expect others to conform to your personality? I don’t mean that in an unreasonable or spiteful way—not that you would fire someone who didn’t like you, as in the joke.
If you are simply being yourself, you expect the people who work for you to work with you. But when you are trying to lead up, you are the one who must conform to your leader’s personality. It’s a rare great leader who conforms down to the people who work for him. It’s wise to understand your leader’s style and how your personality type interacts with his. If you study some of the materials designed to reveal personality, such as DISC, Myers-Briggs, and Littuaer’s Personality Plus, you will gain greater insight into the way your leader thinks and works.
7. Earn Your Leader’s Trust
When you take time to invest in relational chemistry with your leader, the eventual result will be trust—in other words, relational currency. For years I’ve taught the concept of relational “change in your pocket.” When you do things that add to the relationship, you build trust and increase the change in your pocket. When you do negative things, you spend that change. If you keep dropping the ball—professionally or personally— you harm the relationship, and you can eventually spend all the change and bankrupt the relationship.
People with a lot of history who have invested in relational chemistry build up a lot of change. As a result, the relationship can weather many problems or mistakes. Andy Stanley, who is a fantastic 360-Degree Leader, said, “Loyalty publicly results in leverage privately.” If you build trust with your boss over time by giving him public support, then you will gain change with him privately. And you will have opportunities to lead up.
8. Learn to Work with Your Leader’s Weaknesses
Sales expert and author Les Giblin said, “You can’t make the other fellow feel important in your presence if you secretly feel that he is a nobody.” Likewise, you can’t build trust with your boss if you secretly disrespect him because of his weaknesses. Since everybody has blind spots and weak areas, why not learn to work with them? Try to focus on the positives, and work around the negatives. To do anything else will only hurt you.
9. Respect Your Leader’s Family
I’m almost reluctant to introduce the concept of family in the context of leading up with someone at work, but I think it bears mentioning. If you do all of the other things I have recommended, but your boss’s spouse doesn’t like or trust you, the relationship between the two of you will always be strained. You, of course, have no real control over this. The best you can do is to be kind and respectful to your boss’s family members and try to connect with them in an appropriate way. Just be aware that if you sense key members of your boss’s family don’t like you, even though it may be through no fault of your own, it may lessen your influence and maybe even hinder your career.
The thesis of Winning with People is that people can usually trace their successes and failures to the relationships in their lives. The same is true when it comes to leadership. The quality of the relationship you have with your leader will impact your success or failure. If you want to build trust with your boss, then your relationship is certainly worth investing in.