How to Enhance Authority Without Being Bossy
“Managing up” means you’re thinking like those over you and adapting. Those who adapt survive and thrive.
Thinking like the boss:
- What’s the leader’s style?
- Where should I fit in and how can I stand out?
- What’s the big picture, not simply tasks?
- What makes the leader feel supported?
- How much information do they need?
Leading from the bottom:
Managing up suggests typical top down organizational structure. Leaders look down from the top while everyone else looks up. Try shifting your view of leadership. See leading from underneath not above. Lower yourself and lift others.
You enhance your authority by leading from the bottom.
Important not self-important:
Admit it, importance easily morphs into self-importance. Leaders are important, even central to organizational success. Reject self-importance, however. Don’t walk around puffed up like all knowing gods. Don’t look down on the little people.
Authority and responsibility from the bottom:
Enhance and extend your authority by using it less. Use your authority to give authority.
You’ll always make decisions that please some and displease others. That’s leadership. Reserve your authority for the tough calls. The more authority you give others the more they appreciate yours. Weak leaders make all the calls. Strong leaders step back.
Never jettison responsibility. Leading from the bottom is delegating authority but maintaining responsibility.
View decisions from the bottom not the top:
- Ask front line employees, “What do you think?”
- Maintain responsibility but push decision making down.
- Overcome the need to be all knowing. You come off like a know-it-all if you can’t learn or be wrong.
View people from the bottom not the top. Ask:
- What makes them feel supported?
- What’s their style?
- Where can they stand out?
- How much information do they need?
- What are their dreams and aspirations?
What prevents leaders from leading from the bottom?
What does leading from the bottom look like?
Excellent points Dan.
There is a Greek term from the New Testament, huperetas. It means “underowers.” These are the guys who, day after day, took an oar in hand and moved huge ships. This is the essence of the servant leadership and manager you have outlined above. We all serve the people above us, as well as those “below.”
In the same way that we help the leaders above us, the people “below” us in the foodchain, aid us. By giving them authority to do their jobs well and to think, they can only help us look our best. Likewise, this is what we do for the leaders above us. Figure out what they need, and get that done.
Don’t wait to be assigned.
Grab an oar, doing something practical, move things forward.
Thanks for being first in today. Great seeing you.
Good call on mentioning the under rower. It helps us maintain healthy attitudes when we realize there is someone over us.
Even though I know it’s important, I chafe at being under authority. I don’t like that I’m that way and I keep learning to be under authority…slowly.
Always a pleasure,
Influencing and coaching leaders 1 to 5 levels up by sharing the fruits of a Northwood MBA, years as a Marine Sergeant and the wisdom of @LeadershipFreak, @LollyDaskal and others. With no positional authority to speak of, building and exercising personal credibility to #LeadFromWithin
Thanks for a view from the bottom.
We can enhance authority without being bossy by taking accountability and delegating responsibility to lower level. “Know all” leaders are disconnected with others. They overlook most of the problems because people think that leaders know. I think EGO, ARROGANCE and IGNORANCE prevent leaders from leading from the bottom. And core of these entire problems is fear, fear of being exposed, fear of being criticized, fear of losing position, fear of safety etc. Leading from the bottom looks like treating others equal. It is about empathy, humility and sensitivity. Leaders sense the feeling of others and humility connects with people. Top leaders are usually concerned with vision, strategy and resources whereas lower level leaders are more concerned with alignment, execution and objectives. But truly effective leader is one who connects with people at top and bottoms both. He or she is concerned about organizational development than individual development. A true leader knows that when organisations grow, everyone grows.
Liked your analysis of leaders who are not willing to lead from bottom due to ego, arrogance and ignorance. Yet, it primarily depends on their working style. Autocratic leadership will never give any kind of importance to subordinates and lower staff, while participative style of working would always look for good involvement of people in a democratic way. Although good but a time-consuming process and at times more of compromise going with what a majority feels.
We should look for a consultative style which can provide opportunities to select others to be part of decision-making process. Good leaders always seek the support of bottom with operational freedom with assigning responsibility with due care. Accountability also lies with those who carry the responsibility.
The entire process rotates around taking the involvement of people at bottom and winning their confidence for the expected level of individual and collective contributions.
Dan, you are right on target. I think leaders also need to remember the higher in the organization you live, the harder you must work at seeing things from the bottom. It comes with the territory, but the organization will often work hard to shield the boss from the mundane struggles at the bottom to keep the C-suite focused on strategic things. Your advice will keep that shield from being put in place and keeps communication open among all the team members at whatever level they happen to live in the organization.
Love it! Going to send it to my boss 🙂 Hope all is going well.
Have a good day!
I once worked with a great leader who wasn’t in a leadership position at all. She was the librarian in a large school.
She noticed what people did well and dropped them encouraging and complimentary notes. She would stop you in the hallway and say, “I heard someone say something wonderful about you.” And then she would pass along that compliment word for word.
She was professional, helpful, and encouraging to everyone. When she left our school she received a well earned prolonged standing ovation.
We don’t have to just look up or down for leaders. We can look around us and build someone up. That is how WE can become a true leader.
Nice post, Dan – I totally agree, and love the term “leading from the bottom”. Check out my post from last year called “Up with people!”. My number 1 rule is to say the mantra “my job is making other people better”. http://wp.me/p1VfnS-1y
Hey, Dan… “Don’t look down on the little people.” ? While a fair statement to encourage a less bossy attitude toward being a leader, doesn’t mentioning that statement at all imply that “little people” exist? (I mean, other than the current politically correct identity for those who might be sizeably challenged).
In fact, there are no little people… just people with more or less workplace responsibility in the world, sometimes called subordinates.
Your post brings up another theory perhaps… the typical organizational chart illustrates levels of authority and not necessarily levels of leadership. If the idea of leadership is to provide direction toward an assigned goal or mission then meeting that goal is more an application of “lateral” leadership rather than leadership from top/down, bottom/up vantage points… if we presume completion of a goal is a team effort. A good leader “facilitates” rather than directs. Good post.. made me think. Which is the whole idea. 🙂
Now you’ve got *me* thinking too– the idea that a typical organizational chart only illustrates the level of authority, not the levels of leadership. Brilliant!
I know this to be true, but haven’t framed it before in terms of leadership. Thanks for putting the idea out there!
Jennifer… sometimes tossing out ideas is like pitching horseshoes or tossing hand grenades… you only need to get close to strike a nerve. 🙂 The fact any of us are reading Dan’s posts is enough to suggest that we are all looking for some help and inspiration to achieve in leadership. He makes us think.
I might add that any organizational chart also has the un-official hidden lines of authority that can be just as important to know to be an effective leader. Most of us already know that because that can form the basis for office politics. Us humans are truly complex.
I’m with Jennifer Doug, excellent distinction!
And you are right, the org chat is often just an iceberg, with the tip showing the obvious, while 9/10ths are below the surface…and what sank the Titanic!?
Hehe.. love the titanic analogy. 🙂 Now, if only there are enough lifeboats to go around….
There is a great root cause analysis of why the Titanic sank. And even though they did not have enough total lifeboats, there were about 1/3 of seats empty overall. Empty seats early, lots filled in the middle, empty seats at the end, too late…leadership lessons abound.
Your post really made me think and I appreciate the lesson learned. You made a statement, ” A good leader “facilitates” rather than directs.” It really hit home with me. The root word of facilitate is facil which means “easy”. Our job as leaders should be to make our reports job easier by providing direction and support for them to succeed. If you ask yourself each day what have I done to facilitate growth and drive performance you can focus on leading from the bottom up. The statement alone forces you to ask what have I done to make life easier, what value have I added.
This is my first time commenting on Leadership Freak but read often. Thanks again… I’m doing a little thinking out loud.
Love the topic and it fits with my personal philosophy….
My favourite leadership quote (ancient chinese proverb and my guide in all my own leadership activities)….
Bad Leaders people hate.
Good leaders people love.
Great leaders make people think they did it themselves.
My favourite leadership book in a similar vein:
The Tao of Leadership; by John Heider.
A ‘must read’ for every leader, in my mind.
An inverted pyramid might fit here, with the leader on the bottom, shouldering all of the levels above—if we are going with the bottom/top analogy. The weight of the organization is clearer then. That also speaks to the ultimate responsibility/ accountability, yet still can pass along the authority to others.
And there are successful organizations that are quite literally flat in org chart and sans pyramid–> a wagon wheel hub might fit closer for an image. To an extreme(?), there are VPs and CEOs with no wall offices where the service is delivered.
Seems that there are some leaders who have been ‘challenged’ with letting go of some of those tools that helped them manage up early on, when they really needed to lead or direct. They cling to what they know and what brought them to the party which is not the tool set they now need. Mentors and coaches are key then, or at least an external perspective is needed.
There are multiple levels of benefit from leading from the ‘bottom’–your pulse is more aligned with the customers’ pulse, the reality of the work is clearer, the opportunities to model mentoring, coaching and true leadership are more frequent and you are walking the talk.
An axiom in the operations world is that the solution to most problems is within ten feet — meaning, the people working closest to it already understand the problem and have good insights into what would fix it. And often, the root cause of the problem is in a 3rd-floor corner office across the parking lot. 🙂 So bottom-up view is critical.
I agree with Doug, Jennifer and Doc (and I know Dan too) that there aren’t little people. All my org charts are one horizontal level; the newest person on the line and every secretetary and custodian are on the same level as I am, organized according to the flow of work.
Great post Dan! This all plays into the organization’s culture. The flow of power shows how the entire company runs. Every single person in an organization is important. There are too many top down leaders that take many of their employees for granted. If they could turn their view around and begin to lead from the bottom up, their organization would become even more successful, both physically and emotionally.
What prevents leaders from leading from the bottom? What does leading from the bottom look like?
It must be easy to end up in a fairly sterile atmosphere “at the top.” For example, we may love eating a delicious roast chicken, but not that many diners feel the need to hang out at the poultry processing plant. Once someone is at the top, it must require discipline and courage (b/c they might not like what they see) to keep visiting “the bottom”. Ditto for a business …… on a recent non-fiction show, the CEO of a vineyard was among the “line” employees in the vineyard (disguised) and later expressed being surprised at the inefficiencies that he wasn’t aware of. He took measures to fix them once he had been educated/made aware. Re: what leading from the bottom looks like, it looks like “access,” being there to see what is going on, not having your head stuck in the sand. .
Here is a film made by BBC director Nik Sirenko to mark his fellow director Simon Andrews’ retirement. Simon was a student of mine when he was a boy and we have remained friends ever since. I learned more from him than he did from me! A truly wonderful person. This film is a tribute to Simon’s leadership qualities from those who he has worked with and inspired. Please watch!
I think this is my first comment about something useful in my place of work. I’ve been leading from the bottom up based on pure instinct because I saw the need based on observation alone. Its been kind of frustrating not getting any feedback whether I’m on the right track or not. Thank you for this article. A lot of stuff is starting to make sense and the responses from other readers are also on point. Again, thank you for your insight.
I wish to quote Michael Leunig who saw every emotion as a sub-category of either love or fear. ‘Bossy’ bosses actually have fear as their underlying emotion. Those who lead from the bottom lead with love and are loved back. Leadership is essentially the influence one has over others and the best proposition for such influence emerges from love.