One of the more challenging tasks for anyone in an organization is leading “up” to your boss. You have no authority over that person. In fact, they have all of the authority over you. Navigating this power imbalance requires cultivating influence and building a trust-based relationship. When it works, each person can make the greatest contribution to shared goals.
This is never more true than in a crisis when a leader relies on followers for essential perspective on what is happening deeper in the organization. Warren Bennis, a pathfinder in leadership, once said that, “Followers who tell the truth, and leaders who listen to it, are an unbeatable combination.” Yet he also said that seventy percent of followers will not question or challenge a leader’s point of view even when they feel the leader is about to make a misstep. In a crisis, that is a recipe for catastrophe heaped upon disaster.
In my most recent piece for Crisis Response Journal, I offer tips and techniques for leading up more effectively. Positioning yourself properly and having a strategic approach to truth-telling can give you the confidence and courage to speak up when it matters most.
One helpful technique is to discuss decisions that will have to be made in a crisis: evacuating a facility, moving production, and the like. Ask the boss which decisions she wants or expects to make, and which she wants to delegate. For those she decisions she is reserving for herself, ask what information she would want to inform that decision. Such a conversation will build a rapport with the boss and prepare you to pivot to lead up effectively when a crisis hits.
The article resides behind a paywall. However, reach out to me via the contact page if you would like a copy.