In the industry we call this managing or leading up. Yes, believe it or not you can manage your manager. Some may call this finding a way to “win-win” or finding a way to yes.
Executive Coach - Kyle Kalloo
When might you have to lead up? There are several instances that come to mind;
- A new manger to the organization unfamiliar with the corporate culture or processes;
- An experienced manager that is comfortable (stuck) in their usual (old) ways;
- A manager that lacks big picture thinking;
- A manager fearful and protective of their “turf”
I pondered this idea for a while and in order to share the best possible practices with you I realized I needed to reach out to a subject matter expert, Kyle Kalloo is an executive with many years of experience and was the first person I know to bring up the concept of leading up. I invited Kyle to do an interview with me and here is what we learned.
Jeff - Kyle, tell us a little bit about you first. Your career history and experience.
Kyle – It has been a while I have been asked that question, because most people now tend to google me before meeting (laughing). I have been in leadership for just over 20 years now. It wasn’t something I planned on, I’d like to think I am an accidental leader. Most times I find companies tend to put me in that role. McDonald’s Canada was my first job and first leadership position. After 8 years with McDonald’s, I continued my leadership at Famous Players in Toronto, before moving on to WestJet based out of Calgary, for just over 10 years. And now the CFO, COO, Executive and Business Coach with Change My Life Coaching. Just recently, I was speaking with my younger brother about some of my elementary school report cards he and my mother found. Apparently one of those report cards identified a teacher that wrote, something to the effect, they wished I was focus more on my school work instead of trying to run a business. Naturally, that made me pause. Those that know me well, aren’t surprised by that, yet I was.
Jeff - What does “leading up” mean to you, how would you define that for others?
Kyle – I believe they are two concepts to this; I think people are still confused about the difference between managers and leaders. I support the notion that managers know how to plan, budget, organize, staff, control, and problem solve. Pretty tactful and hands on. Where as leaders tend to create and communicate visions and strategies. They think big and allow the managers to focus on the details. With that said, managing up would be specific and tactful, while leading up is more about being strategic.
Jeff - How does one know when they may need to start leading up? what are the signs?
Kyle – In simple terms, lack of clarity. When leaders are not clear with their ask or what finish looks like, are great opportunities to start the process of leading up. Often times you hear phrases such as, “Could you take care of this,” and “I need this ASAP,” When they are not clear with the expectations, they believe they are empowering the employee, but they are not. Without being clear, a lot of time is wasted with going back and forth - unproductive. This is not about being spoon fed by the manager/leader, on the contrary, it is more about spoon feeding the manager/leader. And sometimes that is necessary for a few reasons; gaining clarity and leading their expectations.
Jeff - What would you say are your hands down best practices for leading up?
Kyle – Get specifics. When this is around a project, assignment, or task, it is necessary to seek clarity by asking the right questions. By what time and what day. Do you want me to stop doing what I am already working on to make this a priority. What does finish look like. The manager/leader might not know, and this is a great opportunity for you to suggest. Often times as leaders we don’t live in the details as someone working the front line, in the trenches, so to speak. This is a great opportunity to lead up. Be clear with your priorities. You are responsible for your workload, learning, and development. Don’t get frustrated with additional tasks being put on your plate, often times the manager/leader is not aware and their ask doesn’t’ come from a place to frustrate you. Keep them informed that something else will have to stop to prioritize another item they need. This will start outlining expectations, so when you go back asking for an extension there will be no surprises. My mother often says, “before it’s a reason, after it’s an excuse”, so if you say you are going to get it done on said date, make sure it’s done or ask for an extension prior to said date.
Jeff - What if I am trying to lead up, but my boss is resistant?
Kyle – This is a common question. I think it is for a few reasons; in my experience I find people try to do this right away without first understanding the company’s mission, vision, and values. There is something to be said for doing your time and truly understanding the business first. Regardless of your years of experience in a field or expertise, it is necessary to invest time (conditioning) and understanding in your organization or department. Do not expect to start leading up off the bat. Get to know your team, your leader, and your industry. Foster effective relationships first! Often times, when someone doesn’t agree with me – which is often, I am reminded of two things, 1) because I am not always in the details, they might not have access to all the information. And that is my opportunity as a leader to involve them and provide said details. Or 2) I don’t have access to all the information and it’s my responsibility to ask the right questions. In my experience, if the above is properly executed and there is still resistance, then the leader is leading from a fear base anxiety, scarcity.
Jeff - What are your additional thoughts?
Kyle – When I speak with other leaders, I am told I am pretty hard on them. I think rightfully so, because it is their responsibility to inspire and tap into the natural resources of people that want to do meaningful work. Our best years of our lives are spent at work, mostly working for someone else. And in the absence of a process people will create their own. Leaders have an opportunity to create and influence an environment that provides meaningful work and a safe environment for their employees. Employees’s responsibilities are pretty simple, do the work you were hired to do first, participate in your own learning and development, ask for what you need, and help others.
As you can see, Kyle has great insight for the concept of leading up. As a professional coach Kyle can be contacted at:
CFO, COO, Executive and Business Coach,
Lead up, down and all around. Most importantly, lead always,