How to Lead Upward

Start Leading Your Leader and You’ll Both Benefit, Featuring Aleta Norris of Living as a Leader

Even if you are high up in the hierarchy at your company, statistically, you probably have a boss. Does this relationship always work the way you want? Who is leading? Who is advising? Are you both gaining?

Leading Upward

A relatively unique concept, leading upward is about influencing your superiors, instead of always being led by those with more power than yourself. Leading upward is not malicious or an attempt to control someone, it is about inspiring and attempting to improve a relationship for both parties.

Complications and Benefits

Just the idea of reversing roles and influencing someone of higher power can be stressful for some people, and for good reason. It can be difficult and scary — you have to push through norms and the “accepted” power hierarchy, you have to worry about potentially offending someone, you have to be able to clearly define what you want, along with what you are experiencing, and more.


Leading upward implies that there is power somewhere, be it above, below, or in an individual.

Position Power: Role

This power is based on job title, where someone officially is in a company. Role power is the most formal as it is official and agreed upon by multiple parties — a person’s title cannot be refuted.

Position Power: Penalty

This power is based on the ability to punish another in order to get a desired result.

Personal Power: Reputation

This power is based on how others perceive you. Having good character and personality can contribute to this power, identified by how much people like and respect you as a person.

Personal Power: Expertise

This power is specifically related to a person’s knowledge and skill set. This largely comes through past experiences.


Understand what power you have and utilize it. If you have an extensive background in your industry, use your position as a subject matter expert (SME) to your advantage by influencing others using knowledge from experience.

Tips to Engage

1. Be understanding — In most organizations, everyone has stressors at work as well as home-life stressors. Recognize that the person you are having issues with may have a lot they are dealing with and any negative impacts they have might not be ill-intentioned. Take this into consideration when approaching the subject.

Living as a Leader

Aleta Norris cofounded Living as a Leader, a company using a unique combination of training, coaching, and success assurances to help people grow as leaders.

Wrap Up

That’s a great way to round it out. By leading upward, you want to make sure you are on the same page with the other person and that you both want to help make the relationship better, as well as make each other’s jobs easier. This doesn’t happen by gossiping or kissing up, it happens through effective communication and understanding.

About Leeward Business Advisors

Leeward Business Advisors is a Wisconsin-based corporation that provides business strategy planning, business improvement implementation, and full IT operational support. They offer world class Cloud Computing services, Cloud brokerage, Managed IT services, and a full US based Support Service Desk (called Quick Answers). Michael Polzin, CEO has 20+ years of enterprise business and technology experience gained while working at Allstate Insurance and Microsoft Corporation. Jason Klein, CTO has 15+ years delivering effective and efficient technology to Midwest companies.

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