This month, our leadership journey takes us a step up to leading within a team. If you didn’t read my last blog, do so before you read this one; self-care and leadership are foundational to other successful stages of leadership.
Early in my leadership career, I would do everything possible to ensure my team and I performed the best—no matter the cost. Unfortunately, that way of thinking burned many bridges and left a wake of “relationship destruction” with my peers. It wasn’t until a mentor of mine helped me see that winning could not just be about my team or me, but that we were part of a much bigger team—and a team of teams. He helped me realize that the most influential leaders add value all throughout the organization.
Once I fully grasped this concept of an all-around leader, I began to see even greater success. I focused on adding value to others and helping them grow, which, in turn, helped both the team and I grow. It became a win-win for everyone involved. I believe that to be an influential 21st-century leader, you must learn how to Lead Up, Lead Across, and Lead Down in your organization.
Leading up will require humility and a servant attitude. It’s about helping take as many things off your boss’s plate as possible. It will require a servant’s heart genuinely willing to help and support. This begins with understanding your boss’s leadership and personality style. Is your boss direct, relational, detail-oriented, or conscientious? A great way to find out is to ask your boss if they’ve taken any personality assessment and share it with you. Find out their motivations and fears.
Then, seek to find niches where you can fill their gaps with your strengths and passions. A simple way to do this each week is to ask the question, “How can I help you this week?” Then be ready to support immediately and effectively (if you don’t produce excellent work, then you’ll be creating more work for your boss to correct). As you continue taking things off your boss’s plate, your influence will grow.
Leading across is about supporting your peers and being a great team player. Depending on your profession, there are times and projects where you can be of most use. Take these opportunities and be a great team player. Maybe it requires you to take a supporting role versus being in charge. Provide quality work that your colleagues require for group projects, enable dialogue in planning sessions, recommend options that lead to feasible solutions. The essential part of leading across is to be the go-to person your peers can count on. Your work and support are seen as “automatic” excellence, and others want you to be part of their team because of the quality of work and support you bring to the table.
Leading down requires time and effort for those on your team. The saying goes, “If you wanted shade, you should have planted a tree 20 years ago.” The same applies to leading down; it’s about leader development. How are you engaging with your subordinates on a daily, weekly, and quarterly basis? How are you supporting and helping them achieve their future hopes and dreams, even if it means losing them? How are you developing and retaining your top talent?
When Jack Welch took over GE in the 1980s, he established an excellent leader development system that produced exceptional future executives. So, in the 1990s, when Fortune 500 companies needed a CEO, they went to GE to find one. Jack Welch was great at leading down so that his subordinates and the organization would go up!
Jack Welch once said, “When you were made a leader, you weren’t given a crown; you were given the responsibility to bring out the best in others.” I would add to bring out the best in those above you, across from you, and below you! How can you start leading up today? What can you do to be a more valuable team player and ensure your subordinates’ success? If you are unsure of where to begin, the method outlined above can get you started.