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Future of Work Needs Leaders To Lead UP

December 9, 2016

Recently I was in Las Vegas delivering a future of work leadership workshop for a major tech firm. I was facilitating a dialogue on the challenges that leaders are facing. One of the challenges identified was succession planning and the lack of progress.

I asked the group, “why do you think there has been a lot of talk about succession planning but not a lot of progress has been made?”

A gentleman in the front said, “because our executive team ignored our succession plan”.

A number of heads in the room nodded in unison at his response. The gentleman went on to say that all of the problems with making sustainable change was the fault of the executive team.

I paused, I looked at the group and I asked, “is that true?”

A lively discussion ensued where leaders in the group were saying things like, “well change happens from the top down” and “things are never going to change as long as we have the current executive team” and so on.

I listened carefully, these comments were coming from very frustrated and tired leaders.

I acknowledged their viewpoints and their frustrations and then asked the group whether they thought that they had mastered the skill of leading up.

Only a few leaders said that they felt they were excellent at leading up.

Often for leaders at any level they get so caught up in leading self and leading the team that they either forget or ignore the equal importance of leading the level above them.

The future of work and the changes needed to get there requires urgent attention to mastering all aspects of leadership.

Mastering the art of leading up can be both career changing AND it can positively impact teams and ultimately the company.

What does leading up require?

  • The courage to speak to your boss or the executive team about issues and challenges however you need to go with a plan and a list of ideas for possible solutions.
  • The desire to make the changes you seek – in the above example of succession planning the leader and his team simply stopped all focus on the succession plan project when they did not get executive buy in. If  a leader is truly committed to making the needed changes he or she will not give up after one failed attempt.
  • Less blaming and more focus on speaking the language of the people you want to influence – if you say to an executive “we are looking for ways to replace you” there will not be buy in – however if you re-framed that to, “we are focused on ensuring sustainable future growth and that includes looking at back up plans” that same executive will be all ears.

Any thing in the workplace that requires change is always going to be met with resistance at first. Building a succession plan is a project that creates instability and fear in people – whenever people are afraid they resist.

Back to the workshop – the lively dialogue shifted from ‘blaming’ the executive to generating ideas on how to go back and take a stab at Plan B that would gain buy in from the executive.

The future of work is calling everyone to ‘roll up his or her sleeves’ to make the personal leadership changes necessary to remain relevant as a business and to grow the business.

The time is now to shift from blaming and bureaucracy and move forward with more connecting, collaborating and creating towards the future.

Future of Work Needs Leaders To Lead UP

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