Leading up the chain of command 

Often, when people think of leadership, they think of a senior person leading a team of people that report to them. That’s leading down the chain of command. But just as important—or perhaps even more so—is leading up the chain of command. You must also lead those senior to you in the hierarchy of your organization. You have to understand their vision, align with that vision and push information up the chain, prioritizing the most important things they need to know. You have to influence them so that they make the best strategic decisions possible. You have to convince them so that they provide the training and resources you need to solve problems, accomplish your mission and win. You have to earn their trust.

Dealing with a Less-than-Stellar Boss

At Echelon Front, one of the chief complaints we hear from leaders we work with, is about their boss. We hear things like: “My boss is terrible;” or “My boss won’t make a decision;” or “My boss wants all the credit;” or “My boss won’t listen to me.” But whether you have a terrible boss, a mediocre boss, or even a great boss, your goal should be to build the best relationship possible with them all.

Take Extreme Ownership of Building a Better Relationship

Stop blaming the boss, and instead, blame yourself. Don’t point fingers up the chain of command. Instead, take Extreme Ownership. If your boss struggles with getting things done, then help the boss to prioritize and execute and see what you can take off the boss’s plate. If your boss won’t make a decision, then present your boss with well-thought-out plans, including detailed steps to mitigate the risks the boss is concerned about.  If your boss wants all the credit, put your own ego in check and give them the credit. If your boss won’t listen to you, then start listening to the boss and allow yourself to be influenced by them, which will in turn, allow the boss to listen and be influenced by you. You should strive to build the same relationship with any boss that you work for, whether they are good, bad, or somewhere in the middle: You want them to trust you, give you what you need to accomplish your mission, and then get out of your way so you can do your job.

Not Hopeless

If you don’t have a great relationship with your boss, some people feel the situation is hopeless. But it isn’t hopeless. You can’t control the boss, but you can control you. And if you strive to build a better relationship with your boss, or the senior leadership in your chain of command, and work hard to do so, you will see substantial improvements. The moment that you stop blaming the boss and start blaming yourself for not building a better relationship, is the moment that you begin to solve the problem. So, take ownership and lead up the chain of command.

Real-World example:

“I wish my boss were here,” said the frontline supervisor. “Because he really needs to hear this stuff.”

We had just wrapped up a full-day workshop with a group of leaders from a client company.

“I try to make recommendations to improve our process and make things more efficient,” the supervisor continued. “But the boss doesn’t listen to me.”

“Why not?” I asked. The supervisor didn’t give an answer, but merely shrugged.

“It sounds like you don’t have a great relationship with your boss,” I said. “When you don’t have a great relationship with your boss, does that help you? Does it help your team?”

“No, it doesn’t,” the supervisor replied.

“You need to take ownership of building a better relationship with your boss,” I said.

“Start by listening to the boss, showing the boss respect, and allowing yourself to be influenced by your boss. That will enable you to build a better relationship. And in time, the boss will give those things to you.”

For Action:

Examine where you can lead up the chain of command this week. Where can you build more effective relationships with your boss or senior leaders in your organization? Focus on really listening to your boss and your chain of command. Treat them with respect. Allow the boss and your senior leaders to influence you. And give them trust. Now, GO FORTH AND LEAD.

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