Our recent Leaders’ Lab conversation was focused on leading up. How do we influence our “bosses”? Let’s start by defining ‘leading up’ to be influencing a person with power or authority for the mutually beneficial result, for the greater good. That opens the definition up beyond boss – to include leading those around you that have more authority or power than you do – could be peer-to-peer and still be leading up.

Power. Now that’s a great starting point! What are the power variables involved in leading up? Divide the notion of power into two groups: positional and personal power. Positional power is hierarchical, the stuff organizational charts are made from. Positional power is sometimes only because of a title, where other times it happens because of reputation for penalizing/punishing or rewarding people. We have often experienced this type of power, as it frames the love or hate relationship we have in our organizations. This is where we pause to consider your own relationship to this kind of power. Are you aware of it? And how are you allowing influence for the greater good?

The second consideration is personal power. Think about the amount of relationship capital you have with those who like you and those who relate to you. It might be easier to think about those people whom you really like, or those you really relate to. How much more open or willing to listen to those people are you? That same relationship power applies to those who like and relate to you. What relationships are you building?

And, while relationships matter, so does expertise. When you are seen as competent your ability to influence rises substantially. Think about how you grow your skills, learn new things, and the contrast of that to the demands you have from others to achieve goals, advance initiatives, and communicate well.

So, if you are looking to have more influence over someone with power, start with your personal power. Build the relationship and establish yourself as competent, consistent and a clear communicator. Add in empathy – what is this person dealing with? How many pressures and challenges might they be dealing with? Bring along WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) so you are considering what might be the benefit for this person. Mutually beneficial result, remember?

We had a great conversation on this topic. Leaders’ Lab is a free web video round table that has a new topic each month. Sign up here.

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