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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Vertical Influence

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #153

"It is not about changing my leader, but being the leader, I wished I had," - Simon Sinek

In our previous edition of "Leadership Thoughts," we explored the intriguing realm of influence, examining its dual capacity to affect, and be affected within our circles of influence. I advocated the significance of wielding influence and the advantages of broadening our influential horizons. My musings often meander through the avenues of influence, sparking curiosity about initiating impact upwards—what I like to term "vertical influence." So, what's the game plan when faced with leadership that seems impervious to suggestions, shies away from collaboration, or neglects the power of empowerment?

Through my journey into the essence of influence, I've aligned myself with the wisdom encapsulated in three seminal works: "Influencer" by Kerry Patterson et al., "How to Lead When Your Boss Can't (or Won't)" by John Maxwell, and "To Sell is Human" by Daniel Pink. These texts shed light on strategies for positively steering those challenging upper management figures. Here's a distilled essence of the insights gleaned from these influential reads and my own inquiries into leading.

Understanding Their Viewpoint

To effectively influence the higher-ups, it's paramount to grasp their viewpoints. This involves active listening, posing insightful queries, and empathizing with their concerns. Cultivating a relationship founded on trust and comprehension demands genuine engagement and dedication. A thorough appreciation of their priorities and hurdles is indispensable before nudging their decision-making.

Articulating with Clarity and Conviction

In the realm of upward leadership, stellar communication is non-negotiable. Articulate your thoughts with clarity and assurance, buttressing your arguments with solid evidence. Preempting and addressing potential reservations or inquiries is crucial. By demonstrating your expertise and presenting robust recommendations, you foster a sense of trust among your senior counterparts.

Delivering Value and Solutions

Earning the trust and esteem of senior management necessitates offering concrete value and solutions. Whether enhancing efficiency, boosting productivity, or tackling specific challenges, showcasing how your initiatives dovetail with the organization's goals is vital to positioning yourself as an indispensable ally.

Nurturing Connections

Fostering meaningful relationships with the C-suite transcends formal interactions; it's about authenticity, empathy, and trust. Invest time in networking and connecting personally, showing a genuine interest in their lives beyond the office or boardroom. Authentic connections pave the way for a supportive network that champions your ideas and projects.

Exhibiting Accountability and Integrity

Influence at the senior level is predicated on unassailable accountability and integrity. Being consistently responsible for your actions, owning up to mistakes, and honoring commitments are crucial for establishing trustworthiness and credibility. Such integrity is instrumental in persuading those at the helm.

Being Proactive and Strategic

Anticipate the needs and priorities of higher management, staying abreast of innovative trends and organizational updates. A proactive and strategic stance underscores your role as a trusted advisor and partner in pursuing organizational excellence.

Welcoming Feedback and Evolving

Mastering influence of the senior level is a journey of continual self-improvement. Solicit feedback on your performance and communication, remaining open to constructive criticism. Adaptability and a commitment to growth bolster your reliability and effectiveness as a leader.

To leave a mark on those in the upper echelons, one must exercise empathy, articulate effectively, and earnestly contribute to the organization's success. By understanding senior management's perspectives, communicating solutions, building relationships, demonstrating accountability, and embracing feedback, leaders can secure the trust and respect of top-tier executives. These strategies refine individual leadership competence and fuel the organization's forward momentum.

But what if these efforts are ignored?

Authority, or a lofty title, doesn't automatically confer leadership. My once unshakeable belief in the ability to influence superiors was tested after encountering Simon Sinek's insights in the video "Can You Influence Senior Leadership." Sinek reminded us that altering leadership perceptions is a tall order but urged persistence in our efforts. His statement, "It is not about changing my leader, but being the leader, I wished I had," highlights the essence of genuine influence—leading by example.

This Leadership Thought encourages you to be the leader that you always wished you had. Instead of feeling frustrated with your boss's lack of understanding and acknowledgment, focus on demonstrating leadership within your area of influence. You promote personal and professional growth beyond any individual by improving your leadership skills and aiding others in achieving their goals. As your circle of influence grows stronger and achieves success, it will catch the attention of higher-level leaders who may leave you to lead independently or seek to learn from your accomplishments. As members of your group advance within the organization, they will bring their newfound leadership abilities with them, creating a ripple effect that positively impacts the organization's overall culture.

Call to Action

Being a successful leader requires a firm grasp of vertical influence, as mentioned in our collection of leadership advice from "Leadership Thoughts," along with other valuable insights such as "Influencer" and "How to Lead When Your Boss Can't (or Won't)." The key is aligning yourself with upper management, mastering the art of effective communication, and showcasing your unique strengths.

Even in the toughest of times, when it may feel like you're on your own, facing the cold winds of isolation and disempowerment from those in positions of power, always remember to practice what you preach. Embody the leadership qualities that you value and make teamwork a top priority. This is your chance to make a difference and take your organization to new levels of success. So, fasten your seatbelt for this journey of strategic thinking and personal growth, and prepare to be the crucial element that your organization didn't realize it was missing.

Reflection Questions

  1. How can I deepen my grasp of senior managers' perspectives and priorities within my organization?

  2. In reflecting on my communication style, how effectively do I present my ideas to senior managers with clarity and conviction?

  3. How can I pivot from directly influencing senior leadership to exemplifying leadership within my own team?


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