Book Excerpt: Lead Your Boss

Leadership depends upon persuasion. You need to give a reason for people to believe in what you stand for. Politicians do this in public; corporate types do it behind closed doors. What they do is present their ideas, backed by themselves and their organizations, in the hope that people will follow. Politicians get tested every election; corporate types get measured by performance in the capital markets. The challenge for both is to present their ideas in such a compelling way that people not only want to believe, they carry them to fruition. That's how you get results. Effective leaders use all the classic communication techniques to sell their plan. Their playbook is instructive to any strategic communicator. KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING Accuracy is critical when presenting a new idea. If you are a proposing a new product, process, or service, know how it will benefit the company financially (improving the bottom line) as well as performance wise (improving work conditions). Be certain to include the competition in your analysis. Companies, like ideas, do not operate within a vacuum. PRESENT THE BIG IDEA Aspiration is essential to leadership. Twentieth-century presidents learned to think big from Theodore Roosevelt—big grin, big words, big stick, big accomplishments. Roosevelt's leadership positioned our nation to take its first steps on the world stage, and we haven't taken a back row seat since. CEOs who want to change must similarly think big and act as if they are big enough to tackle the job. What they say and how they say it does much to frame the right response. Entrepreneurs from Henry Ford to Bill Gates or Sam Walton to Howard Schultz have spun their visions into products that have captured the imagination of huge majorities of consumers and even better captured their patronage. Those in charge do not do the doing; they supervise the process. While that is very rewarding, it is a distancing of oneself from the action. So get involved. Take an active role in strategic planning. Ask many questions. Visit with customers. Glean their ideas for improvement. Feed it back to the strategy team. And then follow through. LEVERAGE YOUR CUSTOMERS Your greatest allies may be the people to whom you sell and serve—your customers. If you frame your idea in terms of what they are asking for, you will stand a better chance of being heard. By adopting your customers' point of view, you become their advocate. You champion what you think and hope is good for them. Such an argument applies to internal customers, too. KEEP PUSHING Too many good ideas are forfeited the first time someone says no. That is a shame because often the first no is a good indication that you might be onto something good. Find out why the idea was rejected. Perhaps you need to make an adjustment in the idea, add some new element, or combine it with another idea from someone else. You will never know unless you persist in your ideas. If you keep pushing, sooner or later your tenacity will win you some points, as long as you are earnest, courteous, and in keeping with corporate strategies. In other words, your idea might not fly, but your career will. Organizations need leaders who do not buckle at the first obstacle; adversity is a marvelous teacher. Assert Yourself Diplomatically Assertiveness may be one of the most talked about topics in leadership style. Managers on the way up want to make certain that they are "assertive enough," while those at the top or near the top are sometimes advised to be "less assertive." Assertiveness by definition is the net outcome of acting like a leader—that is, giving people a reason to believe in your abilities to decide, to act, and to lead others. Assertive leaders are confident as well as decisive; they radiate power and seem in total control. That's the good side. Sometimes too much assertiveness, like too much octane, leads to the "my way or the highway" attitude that instead of bringing people together drives them away. There is another side of assertiveness, however, that is less talked about. It is for lack of a better term, quiet confidence. It is an attitude that does not proclaim, "Hey, look at me," but rather says, "Hey, look at us." Let's call it reflective assertiveness, or a form of quiet power. It is confidence that emerges from experience, of having endured trials as well as triumphs. It may be a form of resilience, too. Getting knocked down a few times takes the edge off the ego, but getting back up again enhances the ego. Why? Because you know you have what it takes to persevere, to get back into the game and ultimately succeed. Reflective assertive leaders know they can do it because they have done it. Such assertiveness is wise to cultivate and here are some things to consider. LISTEN FIRST A key to effective leadership is listening. Why? Because it signals to others that you value their ideas and their input. Listening in itself is a gift to others. It says to the speaker or the group, "You do matter!" When it comes to assertiveness, you need to know the landscape and the variables. That comes from studying the issues, but most often it comes from listening to others, ones closest to the situation. How you listen matters, too. You focus your attention on others and you ask questions of them to get them to share their input. KEEP IT LOW Reflection is the operative word in this form of assertiveness. Absorb what you hear and learn, but also maintain your bearings. Often the strongest person in the room is the one who does not speak. This is true in certain Native American cultures as well as in Scandinavian cultures. People know where the power lies; the one holding authority does not need to advertise it. If you keep that model of quiet power in mind, it will enable you to remain calm when tempers fly and people hurl invectives at you. Your ability to take it calmly often is a sign of strength. When you speak, you do not speak in kind. You keep your emotions in check and your voice calm. Easy to say, but very hard to practice. ACT DECISIVELY The payoff to reflective assertiveness is decisiveness. Those lacking in assertiveness are so labeled because they fail to act in a timely matter. They suffer from "analysis paralysis" and appear to dither and dally. By acting decisively, you demonstrate strength. For leaders on the quiet side, this is very powerful. It may catch people by surprise. Keep in mind that all situations may not call for swift action. It is often appropriate to ask for time before you make a decision, but if you call for "time out," make certain you keep everyone informed of the decision-making process. Failure to "do" makes people think you are stalling when what you are really doing is weighing the options. Reflective assertive leaders deliberate, but they keep people in the loop as they gather information, consider variables, and respect timelines. While reflective assertiveness is a virtue, there are times that call for overt assertiveness. For example, when the house is burning, you don't invite opinions on what size hose to use. You grab the biggest hose closest to the faucet and turn on the water fast. In a management setting, assertiveness is vital to crisis management. You want the person in charge to know what the situation is and be in control at all times. Not control of the problem per se, but in control of his emotions as well as in control of people and resources. Such an attribute is especially valuable to managers who lead from the middle because they need to exert their willingness to lead and their ability to do so. What You Need to Do to Lead Up The boss needs someone who can think and act and be accountable for results. Those are the cornerstones upon which the leading-up process rests. You can think of leading up as a form of managing up, but with a difference. Both practices are focused on helping the leader do his or her job better. But in leading up, the person leading up demonstrates a degree of selflessness so that the organization can benefit. It gets to the root of what leadership so often focuses on, doing what is right for others, even when it means putting yourself aside. To lead up, you will need to: Establish trust by following through on your commitments, e.g., do what you say you will do. Connect with others authentically by making yourself available to advise and assist on projects. Get out of the spotlight by sharing credit with others. Demonstrate an ability to think and act for the boss by demonstrating initiative and the ability to follow through. Exert common sense, that is, think before you act and do what is practical as well as tactical to help the organization achieve its goals.

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