Influencing Upward: How to “Lead Your Leaders”

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Have you ever been in a situation where you feel like you just can’t get through to your boss?

Maybe you had what you thought was a breakthrough business idea get shot down before you could even really get into the details.

Or maybe you know you could create a much better deliverable for a client, if only given a few more days for the assignment. But when you ask your boss about extending the deadline, you’re told there’s no way that’ll fly.

Here’s the thing: It’s not just your boss being difficult. In fact, being able to get your point across and communicate persuasively with your superiors is a critical workplace skill that you have to develop. As Lori Carlin Proctor, senior retail supply leader with Procter and Gamble, put it, “To be an effective leader, you have to be a strong communicator. One of the most important areas of leading and communicating is with your own management.”

In my 15 years of experience coaching emerging leaders, I’ve come to believe that this art—also called “managing upward” or “influencing upward”—is one of the most important skills you can possess. And I recently sat down with Proctor and a few other senior leaders to get their tips for doing it well.

Here’s what they had to say.

1. Understand Your Leaders and Their Goals

“The better you understand your leaders, the easier your life will be, and the more successful you will be,” says Kim Strickland, a VP of finance for Walmart.

In other words, to begin to influence upward, you’ll need to start by learning what is important to your manager and the business, so that you can show how what you’re doing and asking for is relevant to his or her top priorities. “Understand your leaders, what’s important to them, their pain points, goals, and metrics,” echoes Linda Nordgren, vice president and general manager of merchandising with Safeway Inc. For example, is innovation a key priority for the company—or are ideas being tabled for now due to a focus on the bottom line? Is your boss in build-up mode or cost-cutting crunch time?

Read my entire article for The Daily Muse.

Jo Miller

Jo is Founding Editor of Be Leaderly, CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc., and creator of the Women’s Leadership Coaching® system, a roadmap for women who want to break into leadership. She has traveled in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and workshops, and counts being the only Aussie women’s leadership coach in Iowa among her unique “koalafications.” Learn more about Jo’s services at womensleadershipcoaching.com and follow @jo_miller on Twitter.

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