Have you ever been in a toy store and saw a kid yelling at his parents for a certain toy? The kid screams and screams, pleading and crying until, out of exhaustion or pure embarrassment, the parents give in and buy the toy the little sweetheart wanted. If you've had the pleasure of seeing such an ordeal, you've witnessed a well-developed ability to influence up.
Today, however, it would be quite inappropriate for you to kick, scream, and beg to get your leader's attention. If you do try these tactics, you most certainly won't get what you want and but you might get something…a pink slip.
I supposed you don't want a pink slip, but I also suppose that you'd like to be looked at positively by your senior leaders. The best way to do this is to actually help them do their job. Yes, you've got a lot of work to do, but if you can also make your senior leader's load lighter, you are definitely going to get noticed. So, allow me to share with you 7 mature ways to get your leader's attention.
#1 - Lead Yourself Well
To start, don't make your leader's load heavier! Don't become a burden to your leader. Ensure that you lead yourself well. Be a good manager of time. Manage your personal life so that it rarely affects your work. Manage your thinking by becoming the most optimistic person in the room. Manage your emotions, especially when people disappoint, machines go down, and deadlines aren't met.
These and a plethora of other things will become invitations for you to get upset, to show the raw side of yourself, and to let your emotions get the best of yourself. As a leader, it is not OK to lose control of your emotions. If you have to, leave the situation, count to ten, or start taking yoga classes. Do whatever you need to do so that you are leading yourself well.
#2 - Stand Up for Your Leader
Unfortunately, it is human nature to talk negatively about our leaders. We clearly see the nationwide acceptance of this in politics. This leads us to believe that it is perfectly reasonable to negatively talk about anyone at any time. Bring this idea into work and you'll be sure to get that pink slip.
What should you do? Always honor the absent by not talking negatively about others behind their back, especially your leaders. They are burdened with a very heavy load. They often have stresses and anxieties that you don't understand. They don't need others tearing them down. What they need are people supporting them, encouraging them, and standing up for them. So, when you hear someone criticizing your leader, speak up. Let them know that nobody is perfect and we don't need to be showcasing the leader's weaknesses to everyone around.
Standing up for your leader also means supporting his or her decisions in public. You may not fully agree with a decision or an action, and that is fine. It makes you human. We need disagreement. However, these disagreements should be expressed directly to the leader in a private conversation, not spread like peanut butter across the entire team. Whether it is the vision, a purchasing decision, or a new rule for the breakroom, stand up for your leader by showing support publicly.
#3 - Stand In for Your Leader
All leaders have weaknesses. As a good friend of mine says, "Having weaknesses doesn't make you weak. It makes you human." Working together also makes us human. Therefore, instead of pointing out the weaknesses of your leader for all to see, consider how your strengths can supplement his or her weaknesses.
Perhaps she is not great at organization. It seems like there is never an agenda for the meeting and any of the company events are not well planned out. Interestingly, you are very well organized and you love to plan things. Have a conversation with your leader and ask if you can plan the activities or organize the agendas for her. Or maybe he has a hard time seeing how certain decisions have a trickle-down effect on front-line employees. Ask him if he'd mind that when a decision is to be made, he let you know before and you could provide a perspective on what affects this decision could have on your team.
If this all sounds too much for you, begin simply by asking the question "How can I help?" to your leader on a daily basis. That alone will allow you to determine the best way to stand in for your leader.
#4 - Clarify Communication
The most difficult thing to get right in leadership is communication. We either have too much of it or too little of it. Or, perhaps, the communication we do receive is not the communication that we need to receive. Unfortunately, most of us do not have open conversations about communication. We frequently talk about miscommunication behind closed doors which seems quite unfair if we've never really established communication expectations. This can be especially frustrating for you as you strive to communicate with your senior leader.
I recall once keeping some pretty significant concerns about a staff member from my senior leader until I felt like I had enough for us to fire her. I then shared these concerns with my senior leader, who instantly got upset because I had not kept him in the loop from the start. We can avoid these situations by having an open conversation about communication. Set up a meeting with your senior leader and ask some or all of the following questions:
Do you prefer email, text, phone calls, or face-to-face communication for routine daily information?
When a serious situation arises, how would you like me to communicate that?
What, in your perspective, is a serious situation?
Can I contact you while you're away from work? If so, how?
What do you want to know on a daily basis? A weekly basis?
If there is bad information to report, how would you like it?
When I have questions about a decision you've made, how would you like me to bring that up?
#5 - Honor Your Leader's Time
You've probably heard, "time is money," and as a leader, this is especially true. Our time is extremely valuable and it gets more limited the higher we climb in leadership. Therefore, in order to ensure that you don't add more to the burden of your leader, honor your leader's time by being fully prepared.
When I was leading as a middle-school principal, there were frequent experiences where teachers wanted to come and talk something through with me. I could tell that they had put very little thought or preparation into their question before meeting with me. This made me a little irritated as there was a lot of wasted time looking for reports or having to meet again because they didn't have some information.
Don't look at your time with your boss as a time to work out your thoughts. Do this on your own or with someone else. Look at your time with your boss as a time to suggest ideas, consider consequences, and make decisions.
At the school, I intentionally cut all of my meetings with staff down to 15 minutes. If they could not get their idea across in 15 minutes, they had not thought enough about it yet. Make sure you take the time to think through what you are going to say to your senior leader and how. In fact, I'd suggest that you spend at least 10 minutes preparing for every 1 minute with your leader. If you're scheduled for 15 minutes, that means you should have prepared for about 2 hours. You can remember this by thinking of it as the 10X rule. Spend ten times (10X) the amount of time scheduled in preparation. This will give you the ability to be more direct, more accurate, and more concise with your leader.
#6 - Provide Options
Closely related to honoring your leader's time is providing options. I once heard that money really only does one thing for you…it gives you options. If you don't have much money and you're planning a family trip, your options are limited. If you have lots of money and you're planning a family trip, you have many more options. I'm sure you are like me and you like options. I'd also bet that your leader does too. So, in all of that 10X time, don't just determine the best way to share a problem with your leader - create options that will help solve the problem.
Anybody can point out problems. Heck, your leader could bring someone off the street and they'd probably be willing to point out problems for free. You don't get paid to point out problems. You get paid by helping to solve the problem and this starts by creating options. In John Maxwell's leadership work, he stated that "Anyone who brought a problem to me wanting help with it had to also come up with three potential solutions before coming to see me." That's pretty good advice.
Come up with three different options each time you bring a problem to your leader. If this is hard for you, repeat this saying to yourself until it becomes memorized: Problem spotters come for free, problem solvers provide them three. By doing so, you don't add to the weight of the leader's rock, but rather you make it a little lighter.
#7 - Be Willing to Do What Others Won't
Take a second and consider all the jobs in your organization that people just hate to do. Is it working with difficult customers? Is it maintaining a clean working environment? Is it having hard conversations? Is it doing a changeover on a machine? Make a list of all the things that people don't enjoy or avoid doing then resolve to become great at doing these things.
Do a Google search or take a class on working with difficult customers. Stay after your shift for a couple of hours and clean up an area. Get a team together and determine how to make changeovers more efficient. Read a book on how to have hard conversations. Whatever it is, become great at the things that people don't like to do and do these. There is almost no better way to get noticed by a senior leader.
Legend says that an aid group in South Africa once wrote to missionary and explorer David Livingstone asking, "Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to know how to send other men to join you."
Livingstone replied, "If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come even if there is no road at all." Leaders are looking for people who are willing to do what others won't.
Leading is not easy and if you can do even a few things to lighten the load of your leader, you will get noticed. So, what can you do to help your leader today?