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Leading Up: The Neglected Competency

Written by: Willie Pietersen

At a recent seminar, I asked participants to define their company’s biggest barriers to success. The main impediment, they said, was their top leaders’ immunity to feedback. “They just won’t listen to new ideas, ” “They are living in yesterday’s world, ” “They think they have it all figured out and simply want us to execute.”

My initial reaction was to lay sole responsibility on the participants themselves. There is no “they” in leadership I argued. The question: “Why don’t they …” will produce no results except victimhood. Effective leaders take personal responsibility to make the right things happen. “You simply have to be better at leading up, ” I insisted.

We spent the rest of the seminar wrestling with the challenges of leading up – what the military calls telling truth to power. As we deepened our exploration, the reality emerged that subordinates indeed have a key role to play but cannot achieve this entirely on their own. Their leaders need to be willing participants. Indeed, they need to champion the practice.

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