The Lasting Impact of Leading Up

I am fortunate in that I serve on a high performance team (  I would go a step further and say that I’ve had the good pleasure of serving on a number of high performance teams throughout my life.  At the same time there have been occasions and seasons when the senior leader was absent or distracted from providing the leadership the team needed and desired (sometimes I was that leader).  Perhaps you can relate!  As a consultant it is not unusual for me to be approached by someone who is frustrated or struggling with the senior leader. At the same time let’s face it, we are all human and regardless where we are in the leadership pipeline, we can fail at leading those below us.

If you are in a situation where you are not being led well, what you may not know is, you can and should do something about it.  I would go one step further and say you are part of the problem.  That’s right!  We all are responsible for helping lead those above us!

When it comes to leadership it’s important that we lead in all directions, or what Bill Hybels refers to in this short video teaching as 360 degree leadership.  By 360 degree leadership he’s referring to our need as a leader not to simply to lead those below us, but to lead those on the same level and above as well.  What you may or may not realize is that when it comes to leading, an effective leader spends more time leading up than he does leading down.    An effective leader leads from the center.

Which leads me to the question I want to address.  How do you lead up when your leader is not doing an effective job at leading below him or her?   Let me suggest three things I want my leader to know:

  • What I need to be successful at my job.  I want to make sure my leader knows what tools I need to be most effective.  This could include training, people, resources, technology, job description, clarity, time, and a whole host of other things.


  • What I can excel at and make my greatest contribution. I also want my leader to know how I can make my best and ultimate contribution.  I’m not helping the team achieve our overall vision if I spend my time on meaningless tasks or responsibilities.  I want my leader to know what I can do best and add the most value to our organization by doing.


  • What I need help with.  I want my leader to help me problem solve.  Maybe I’m doing a task I need to be doing, but I’m stuck.  I want him to know it long before it becomes the organization’s problem.

All this starts with good communication.  I’m going to do everything within my power to make sure I have a relational connect with him/her and that we meet on a a regular bases. The last thing I want is for my leader to only see me coming only when I have a laundry list of problems, complaints, or needs.  I understand that over time, if we don’t connect or meet regularly, we are going to suffer from distant decay, which simply means our relationship is going to deteriorate, no matter how well things are going.

Yes it is true everything rises and falls on leadership.  The question is whose leadership?  I think we all know the answer.  Take responsibility now.  Regardless of where you are in the leadership pipeline, lead well!  You won’t regret it.

Learn more about the impact of leading up – connect with an Auxano Navigator.

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David Putman

David Putman

David is a Lead Navigator serving on the Auxano Team, the category leader in vision clarity and vision focus campaigns. He is also founder leader of Planting the Gospel a non-profit ministry committed to helping churches move discipleship from a program to a culture. He has been involved in church planting for over twenty years as a planter, strategist, and coach. He is author of I Woke Up In Heaven, The Gospel Disciple, Detox for the Overly Religious, Breaking the Discipleship Code, and co-author of Breaking the Missional Code with Ed Stetzer. He latest book The Gospel Disciple Journey will be released in February 2014. David’s life mission is to help others discover the simplicity, centrality, and beauty of Jesus and his ways. David is married to Tami and they have two awesome kids, and two even more awesome grandkids.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree with your 3 must-haves. I would add that the rectors have to call on every member who attends, at least once a year. The existence of a "calling commitee" is just an excuse to avoid making the effort. This is part of #3. If a rector does not like to call on parishioners, then she/he should not be a rector, but should find a different ministry. Carter Kerns, former senior warden, Diocese of Eastern Oregon and lifelong Episcopalian Tel# 541-379-3124
— Carter Kerns
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
— Jon Moore
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks

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