It’s a common belief that leadership is from the top down, right? The boss gives the orders and the employees carry them out. But have you ever fantasized that it’s YOU leading the company?
To be clear, I’m not suggesting a situation where you as an employee are giving your boss orders on how everything should be done. That’s really not a great situation, nor is it likely they would yield that much control.
However, there are ways you can lead and heavily influence decisions while letting the boss be the boss. It’s actually quite problematic when a boss is the only one making decisions because it assumes they are 100 percent correct in every decision.
Think about that for a second – does your boss REALLY get things right 100 percent of the time? How about 75 percent? I am betting there are those who would drop it down quite a bit further.
The point isn’t to identify decision accuracy, it’s simply that no one is perfect. Because of that, your leadership (and that of your co-workers) is valuable.
The problem, however, is we get stuck on a that’s-their-job-and-this-is-mine mentality and/or are fearful of pushback.
So here are six ways you can turn the tables on your boss and help lead your leader.
Read the Situation
Is today the best day to approach the boss about a problem that needs to be fixed when they just got chewed out by a customer or the office computer system went down for the third time in three days? Or maybe they are having some problems at home with a child or spouse, or their health is a little under the weather.
There’s a timing associated with bottom-up leadership that you have to get right or the boss may either blow yours off as a “lesser problem” and never get to it, or get immediately defensive as one more reason they are having a crappy day.
Start with a Positive
No boss wants to feel chastened, attacked, or unappreciated. Give them something genuine that is working well so that they are more open to a discussion of the problem. Starting with a positive creates a separation between the problem that needs to be addressed and them as a boss overall.
It could be in something they handled well in the past or something they are good at in their leadership style. Ideally, choose something somewhat related to the problem as it further helps soften the problem.
Here’s how you might start the conversation:
“Do you have a few minutes to talk? First, you should know I feel comfortable sharing this with you because I know you are the kind of boss who is receptive to feedback and would want to know if there’s something we can do to better serve our customers.”
Reverse the Roles
You have something you feel is a blind spot for your boss – something they aren’t seeing. Do YOU have blind spots? For sure, we all have them! So approach your boss’ blind spot the way you would want them to approach yours.
Think that through carefully because the tendency is that we want to get what we have to say off our chest so bad that we forget how we would like it done if the roles were reversed.
And, by the way, just because your boss may not be good talking to you about blind spots, mirroring his or her approach could make the situation worse. Soften the conversation by starting off with something like:
“Can I talk to you about something I’ve been guilty of at times.”
Or it could be something like:
“Let me share with you what I’m seeing, and please correct me if you see things differently.”
These kinds of non-defensive statements help ensure they will engage with you in a productive solution.
Your boss is still your boss even when you are trying to lead them, so it’s important to show that respect. When you are ready to engage with them on a difficult conversation, get their permission. Consider the following:
You: “Could I bend your ear for a minute?”
Boss: “Sure, what’s up?”
You: “I’ve always appreciated the way you handle problems with customers…”
You: “Would it be okay if we talked about yesterday’s situation with Mrs. Jones?”
Focus on the Big Picture
Small business employers, in particular, are accustomed to dealing with micro problems. It’s not very often when an employee communicates the bigger picture that a small problem represents. Yet, it’s far more powerful when you give your boss some context to these little issues.
Discussing the bigger picture helps communicate to your employer that you are concerned more about the solution and not just whining about a problem.
For example, instead of just saying, “Becky is late to work every day.” You could say something like, “It’s really important everyone is to work on time because in order for us to care for our clients, we need everyone on board and ready to go when we open for business.”
Assume the Positive
If we could climb inside our boss’ head we might find all kinds of interesting things. Some of it might bother us, but some would surprise us, too. Since we can’t possibly know all the intentions of our boss, the best place to start is by assuming the best in them.
That allows you to kick off your discussion giving them the benefit of the doubt and allowing them some space to explain their intentions. Consider something like the following:
“I know you don’t intentionally want to make the customers feel like you don’t care. In fact, I know most of your interactions are excellent. However, yesterday something seemed a little off when you were talking with Mr. Jones…”
So there you go – six tips for leading your boss. Remember, all workplaces need leadership from the boss AND the team. Bottom-up leadership fosters and nurtures business success, gives you some great resume content, and helps your grow professionally.
Doug Perry is an expert resume writer and job search coach. He and his wife, Tracie, who is a dental hygienist, created GetHiredRDH in response to the challenging dental hygiene job market and have helped thousands of dental hygienists through tips and individual services. If you need individual, click here to contact Doug.