Author’s Note - This section of the Leadership Maker was one of the easiest to write because for years I got it completely wrong. I only wish I had someone around who could have gotten this through my thick head. I could have saved myself days, weeks and months of handwringing and more than a few sleepless nights.
If your work experience has been anything like mine, you will have had great bosses and bosses who should never have been considered for leadership. That is generally not anything we can impact, and it can be frustrating. Whether you have the boss of a lifetime or the one it would be wise to run away from, it is still important for your own development to do what is right.
Communicating up is good for your career and for your development as a leader. When the communication pattern with your leader is strong, you will both benefit. When you miss the communication expectation of your leader, you will be impacted eventually, and you may not recognize it right away, but something will feel ‘off’.
Your leader may not even equate the way they are starting to feel about you to inadequate communication. Consistent communication, of good news and not-so-good news, builds rapport and trust. It helps your leader see you as a capable and trusted employee who wants to help. In the absence of a high level of communication ‘up’, your leader may not see your strengths and potential.
Maybe at some point, in the absence of good communication between you and your leader, when people are talking about filling a great position with a person of potential, your leader may pause just a moment too long to suggest you or maybe feel a little uncomfortable about attaching your name to theirs. So, what does it take to build a strong communication connection? People like lists so here is one that will work:
Overcommunicate with your boss – At some point your leader will be sitting in a room and something that is in their area of responsibility will come up that is a complete surprise to them. Don’t let that “something” be something you should have found a way to communicate. This is the dread of every leader who drifts away from the day to day work of their area of responsibility.
If you are watching things daily, share the information daily in a summary. Don’t let your leader down on this one and you will gain their respect and appreciation. You will be known as a person worthy of trust.
Early Expectations - Early on in your relationship with your leader, get a clear understanding from them regarding what they expect in terms of communications. Ask specifically what type of communication they prefer such as email, text, face-to-face, or written notes, and ask how frequently they would like to hear from you. Also find out what is their second favorite method as you will need a backup.
Go further and ask about their areas of interest and remember them. Please don’t limit communication to their favorite type and be sure you also know their least favorite method. Ask for feedback to help you develop a sense for what is important to them so you can succeed in providing them with information that is most useful.
Apply honor – Please don’t ever find a moment to speak badly about your leader behind their back. Even if it never gets back to them, you will diminish your reputation with others every time you do this. Let me extend the thought and say that if you can get through life without disparaging others, people will respect you in ways that they may talk (or write) about for years to come.
What are their goals – It is part of your work to make your leader successful. Find out what they are planning for their careers and keep your eyes open to discover things that might aid in their interests.
Putting them first will always be the right thing to do. With luck, there will be a time when you may be selected for their job and you will wish for this kind of person to work for you.
Be first and exceed their expectations – When something tough comes up, take it. Always take it. It is easy to look around at others not taking on your load and it shouldn’t matter what they do. What will count is what you do. All my life I have heard the cynics say, “Don’t volunteer for anything.” Leaders take on the tough stuff and beat it. We call it owning everything. It will give you stress, and you will fail and be overwhelmed from time to time. Please don’t back down and don’t let anyone take away your opportunity to learn.
Use integrity – As you communicate, stay away from exaggeration, amplification and only communicate what you know. If your leader wants your opinion about something you don’t know, they will ask, and it is okay to say you need to learn more before you feel qualified to give an opinion. Which leads me to say, talk about things you truly know. It sounds like a small thing, but it doesn’t take much for each of us to take what we know and expand the story through speculation. Ask my sisters about my high school exploits and you will hear some amazing stories. I was there and can’t remember one third of their “facts.” Their versions are greatly exaggerated. Trust me on this.
Build a communication plan – Under the Early Expectations section above, I recommended taking time to build a communication plan with your leader. Build that into a plan that you can use with your leader, your peers and your direct reports. Keep it fresh and fluid and continue to get better with each revision you make.
In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.