Leading your Boss is More Important than Leading your Team

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Mike: “Jackie, I’m completely overwhelmed and feel as though I’ve really accomplished nothing in the past week. My team seems to over-rely on me and it makes it difficult to focus on my own projects. Whenever I finally have a great idea to help get me out of the weeds, my boss says no.

Jackie: “Tell me more.

Mike: “For example, I have a great idea to bring on a new member to my team to focus specifically on purchasing. I think by focusing the role to one dedicated person, we can create efficiencies and save the company money. I presented the idea to my boss but he dismissed it, saying we don’t have the budget.

Jackie: “What did you do next?

Mike: “Well, nothing so far. Since I can’t get approval to hire, it looks like I have to figure out how to make time to handle purchasing myself. I swear, my boss expects me to do it all.”

Does this dialogue sound familiar to you?

A lot is written about the importance of leading your team, while little is written about the importance of leading your boss. We view our boss as the individual we work for and therefore rely on him or her to make the final decisions, approve direction and clear the obstacles. While we may do the heavy lifting, we ultimately put everything in our boss’s court to resolve and decide. Essentially, we disempower ourselves by believing our boss is the only one with the final say.

If you approach your boss with the understanding that you work for him or her, you’re likely missing the big picture. Arguably, your boss is a member of your team and in many ways, the most important person on your team who you must lead and influence daily. It’s not up to your boss to make the big decisions and clear the obstacles. It’s up to you.

To be most effective, you must lead your boss. And, believe it or not, your boss wants you to lead him or her. I’ll say it again: your boss wants you to take the lead. Meaning, he wants you to make his job easier by lining up the facts, making the business case, recommending the direction, and making the decision. Your boss wants to spend only 5 minutes weighing in on an important issue, not five hours figuring out the pros and cons on her own based on what little information you may have provided so he can make the decision.

You may not be leading your boss effectively if you feel:

  • your boss says “no” to you more than “yes”
  • you can’t seem to get on her calendar
  • decisions have stalled to a halt
  • your boss gets the small things out of the way first; e.g., the things you sent to him only as an FYI
  • frustrated that you seem to have to run everything through your boss
  • you could be so much more efficient if only your boss would respond to your emails

If you feel you’ve been waiting a long time for your boss to get back to you, you’re going to continue to wait a long time. So, change your approach. It’s time to lead your boss.

Let’s say you want to grow your team but you haven’t received approval from your boss to hire someone new to add to your team. Why stop at “no” or even radio silence? How about putting together a plan for your team structure and a description of the role you want to hire for. Paint the bigger picture for your boss and make it easier for him or her to decide. Don’t just stop because your boss said “no.” Change his or her mind.

By leading your boss, not only will you find that your job becomes much easier, you’ll also find you’re getting things done much faster. Not to mention, you’ll be positioning yourself for promotion in the process because you’ll be showcasing your adeptness to lead, manage, take on greater responsibility and get things done.

– Jackie Simon

3 thoughts on “Leading your Boss is More Important than Leading your Team

  1. This is my exact situation. Any other tips on how to lead your boss? I need more suggestions on HOW that I can sink my teeth into. Thanks so much—wonderful article.

  2. Pingback: How to Lead Your Boss | The Leader Suite

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