I believe Godin is on the right track. Companies have been downsized. Many managers simply have too much to do to give the kind of coaching and assistance that people got in the past, so if you wait for that, you may be waiting a long time. But, in many workplaces, especially in large organizations, there is a big risk to taking unilateral action. Alas, some bosses demand you get three signatures to blow your nose. So, depending on your boss and the organizational culture, you do risk getting in trouble, even fired, by making major decisions on your own. The notion that it's better to ask forgiveness than permission is only sometimes true.
A safer approach to leading upMy version lowers that risk while still affording you more control than the typical employee assumes is possible. It's a two-step:
- Start thinking like the boss: Coming up with the ideas you'd adopt if you were in charge.
- Then, for each, instead of acting unilaterally as Godin suggests, make it easy for your boss to say yes.
Example: Come up with a project you'd love to lead, ideally one that won't require more resources. That can be a great investment of your time: You get to work on something you care a lot about while gaining leadership and other skills. Besides, that's the sort of effort that could get you promoted or look so good on a resume that it could help you get a higher position elsewhere.
Just write your boss a concise email that explains your proposed project's benefits and that it will cost little or nothing in money or your boss's time. Conclude by asking permission in a way that requires just a one-word answer: "Is that OK?" You reduce your risk further by ensuring that your boss and other key stakeholders get due credit for any success, but you take responsibility for any failure.
You're annoyed at some cumbersome process that you or your co-workers must endure. Outline a streamlined version and ask if you might try it for a month, with no time required from the boss. Explain that, in a month, you'll report back on how well it's working.
make the case briefly and crisply, ending with "I have checked with Jane Jones in HR whom I've copied on this email. She said that if you approve, just click Reply to All, write 'OK' and it will be taken care of." That way, all you need to get your one-week Hawaii vacation -- oops, I mean training -- are three keystrokes.
Even my less risky version 2.0 of leading up could get you in trouble. With your particular boss, as they say, your experience may vary. But I believe Version 2.0 puts most employees' odds well in their favor. And hey, if your boss or workplace culture does require your getting approval to buy a box of paper clips, the ultimate example of leading up is to look for employment where they'd love you to lead up.
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