Today, I spoke to John Baldoni, who is the author of Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up and is a leadership consultant, coach, and speaker. In this interview, John explains how you can lead your boss in a hierarchical organization, why leadership is important in a bad economy, some tips to influence management, and the most important job survival tip.
How can you lead your boss in a top down organization?
There is a notion that CEOs do what they want to do and everyone follows. I call this the “myth of the hierarchy.” Senior leaders set the agenda; employees execute it. But within that frame work, there is room for creativity, innovation, and influence. Those are the points of leverage that a manager in the middle can use to lead the manager.
Why is leadership so important in a bad economy?
We have witnessed a significant failure of leadership in our great recession. Companies need to become more agile and responsive; this is nothing new but such agility will require leadership from the middle, men and women who can look around the corner so to speak and consider what the future might hold.
Middle management is tactical by nature, but when it is challenged to become strategic it opens the door to apply new ideas in new ways that stimulate innovation.
Therefore, leading from the middle can become a strategic and tactical advantage.
What are your top three tips to influence your superiors?
Before you can influence, you need to focus on what is happening and position your idea as a way to improve performance. So you must:
- Understand the business case, e.g. what are we in business to do and why
- Understand what your boss wants to achieve; what are his/her hot button issues: quality, performance, cost, innovation, etc.
- Develop your leadership pitch to embrace the business case and address what your boss desires to accomplish.
Noted people who have led from the middle include Eleanor Roosevelt who served saw her role as First Lady to bring issues to the President that otherwise may have been overlooked. She was a champion of the disadvantaged as well as an advocate of civil rights. She also served as a chief morale officer for our troops stationed overseas during WWII. Bono uses his celebrity to promote the One Campaign to eradicate poverty in Africa. In that role, he lobbies governments, heads of states, and teams with others such Bill and Melinda Gates.
But speaking personally, I know of many middle managers who lead from the middle. These are the men and women who champion projects across functions, or leverage customer needs to develop new products and services. Leading up does not always mean that the manager must come up with the initiative himself; very often such initiatives are handed down from on high, but it is up to the person in the middle to influence others in different departments and different functions to adopt the initiative. The adoption of lean thinking, a process of continuous learning and improvement, is one such example that requires leadership from the middle.
“Critical to success is tenacity and the courage of standing up for what you believe.”
What job survival tips can you offer to all the managers out there?
Believe in your ability to make a positive difference. Find ways to lead by example. You do this by being good at your job, then you use your credibility to advocate what you think is important not simply for your team, but for the entire organization.
John Baldoni is the author of Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up and is a leadership consultant, coach, and speaker. His work centers on how leaders can use their authority, communications and presence to build trust and drive results. He is the author of six books on leadership, including Lead By Example, 50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results. In 2007 John was named one of the world’s top 30 leadership gurus by Leadership Gurus International. For more on John and his work, visit www.johnbaldoni.com. John writes the “Leadership at Work” blog for Harvard Business. Previous to that he has written extensively for FastCompany.com and CIO.com. John’s articles on leadership have appeared in the Harvard Management Update, Harvard Management Communications Letter, Executive Excellence, Leader to Leader, Link & Learn, PR News, T&D, Wharton Leadership Digest, and Global CEO. John is also widely quoted on radio as well as in mainstream and trade publications including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Harvard Management Update.