Today's Challenge: Leading Up

This is another installment in the Today’s Challenge series. These are issues that a leader somewhere in the world submitted, requesting that I comment on their situation. I feel compelled to offer this disclaimer… the brevity of my remarks does not mean that I believe the answer is simple. There are obvious and inherent limitations in a 400-word post. That said, my goal is to serve you. I hope this post will do just that. Today’s Challenge: Leading up.

Many leaders invest virtually all of their energy leading those under their supervision. While this is understandable, the most successful leaders invest substantial time leading their peers, themselves and their boss as well. This post is in direct response to the question, “How do I lead up?”
The following are some of my observations on the topic.

  • Embrace the idea that one of your key roles is to make your boss wildly successful. Some will look at this and say that looks like kissing up to me. On the contrary, I think it’s very wise. Your boss hired you. Your boss, to a large extent, controls your future opportunities. It would be foolish not to look for every opportunity to help him or her be more successful.
  • Find out what your boss hates to do and do that for her. Often leaders, and that includes bosses, will do things out of a sense of duty, responsibility or even legacy - “that’s how we’ve always done it.” Talk to your boss – if she hates putting the budget together, do it for her (or have someone on your team do it.) Relieving your boss of things they don’t like to do is always a good move.
  • Find out what your boss doesn’t do well and find a way to get it away from him. You know what your boss doesn’t do well – even if they don’t. Help him get comfortable delegating that work. If he insists on staying involved, use the 10/80/10 method that John Maxwell taught me years ago. Let your boss do the first 10%, find someone else to do the middle 80%, and then you can let the boss put on the finishing touches - the last 10%.
  • Find out what your boss LOVES to do but doesn’t do well, and try to get that away from him too! We all have blind spots. Often our passion for a given topic far exceeds our ability to actually do it well. Bosses are not exempt from this. You serve your boss well if you can protect him from their weaknesses.
  • Don’t forget to find out what your boss expects of you and be sure to get those things done with excellence. Not much to add here. If we want to lead up, we need to have personal credibility with our leader. It’s hard to build credibility if we don’t do our work with excellence.
  • Always show your boss honor, dignity and respect. This does not mean that we shouldn’t challenge our boss – I believe we should, usually in private. It does mean giving her the respect she deserves, defending her when needed and supporting her decisions and executing those decisions with our full energy. If we reach a point we can’t show our leaders honor, dignity and respect, it’s time to look for another job in another organization.

As we learn to lead up, we learn to lead others and ourselves.[GLS_Shield]
Please send me your leadership challenges. Here’s how:
Send a single sentence stating your current leadership challenge. If you’d like, you can also send a paragraph outlining pertinent details or context. I will not reveal your name or email address.
You can send your challenges to:
Or, if you can fit your challenge in 140 characters, you can use Twitter: @LeadersServe.

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Bill Bliss

10 years ago

As you said in the beginning, the brevity of the post does not mean the answer is simple. The points you have raised are all right on target. The point about helping your boss to be successful is so important and I believe not given enough attention today. When someone is helping their boss (or anyone else for that matter) be successful, it demonstrates their attitude of service to others over self and this is a critical component of leadership today. Successful leaders have a mindset of serving others, enabling others to succeed and be successful, enabling them to grow, develop and together, contribute to the well being of the organization.


10 years ago

Thank you Bill for taking time to comment and to add your insight. I think it's critical for leaders to have a mindset of serving and appreciate your response as well!

Christopher Battles (

10 years ago

Thank you Mark. How to do this by not "butt kissing" is key I have found. I know sometimes it seems that way by fellow coworkers, but the key is teaching them why.
K, bye

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karin hurt

10 years ago

this is a fantastic list!

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