Influencing up is an important skill to master. While there is tons of literature on leadership, there is not a lot on followership. Followership can loosely be defined as the ability to understand a leader's vision and help them bring it to life. Followership differs from leadership in that, as a follower, you have less organizational power, fewer resources at your disposal, and competition for your leader's attention. In this article, we will explore followership and how you can gain more influence with your leader by focusing on building trust.
Executing is the ticket of entry when it comes to influencing leaders.
Leaders of organizations must deliver results. They are held responsible for achieving organizational goals over anything else and must make difficult decisions around people, processes, and resources to achieve goals.
Leaders know that they have blind spots, so they rely on the people around them to give them data and insights to help them understand how business is going and the type of changes they need to make to maintain current performance and strive for improvement. The people they choose to trust and listen to will directly influence their ability to reach organizational goals.
For this reason, leaders tend to rely on employees who have proven records of delivering results and are reliable sources of information, insights, perspectives, and solutions. You must start by executing your role at a high level to gain more influence with your leader. Once you can do this, your focus should also expand to include helping your leader achieve their goals.
How do you become a trusted source?
It takes time to build a trusting relationship with your boss. It starts with you making small investments around being on time for work, doing the tasks that you are assigned, and consistently being forthright about challenges and obstacles. By executing what you are asked to do, you establish credibility with your boss. Over time, this creditability can grow into trust, which will provide opportunities for you to share your opinions, thoughts, and ideas.
Whenever your boss comes to you with a problem, and you can provide a solution, you expand your influence with your boss. Think of delivering results as being like building a bridge of trust. Each time you help solve a problem, another brink is laid, strengthening your relationship with your boss.
When you disappoint, fail to deliver, or provide inaccurate or hard-to-understand information, you damage a brink on your bridge. If you have a lot of bricks, a minor mistake will not disrupt the integrity of your bridge. But if your bridge does not have a good foundation, you could find yourself on shaky ground.
Once you have established a strong trust bridge, you can begin the process of influencing your leader. Having a good relationship is the first step in the process. The next step in the influence process is communicating brief, clear, and compelling information to your leader.
Being brief is important because the higher your leader is in an organization, the more people pull on their time and attention. Your ability to summarize complex ideas into a 5 to 10-minute conversation is essential to getting your leader's attention and getting them to care about the information you have to share.
Being clear is important because your leader likely does not have time to help you flush out your ideas or help you refine your logic. That is time and work, which can be seen as an additional problem to be solved instead of the solution you want it to be. Test your ideas with a trusted peer and ask them to help you refine your thinking before presenting a new concept, idea, or solution to your boss.
Being compelling is important because there are always competing priorities and perspectives. Your idea needs to be better than others your leader is presented with. If you want buy-in, you must present solutions that feel like no-brainers because they are easy to understand and can provide a qualifiable benefit to your leader.
Building your followership skills is essential in growing your capability as a leader. It may seem counterintuitive, but all great leaders started off as great followers. Being a great follower can give you more face-time opportunities with your leader, greater influence within your organization, and incremental opportunities to take on important, high-profile work.
Being a great follower starts with executing your role at a high level and then providing insight and perspective that helps your leader and organization perform at a higher level.
One word of caution: not all leaders deserve great followers. Do your due diligence in identifying leaders to follow that align with your ethics, values, and beliefs. If you are going to go all in on supporting someone else success, you want to be confident that it will be a mutually beneficial relationship.
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I am a father, husband, executive coach, and former retail executive. My coaching expertise comes from 21 years of leading operation, sales, and marketing teams. I understand what it is like to feel stuck, undervalued, and underappreciated.
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