Take your leadership to the next level: Lead well in all directions

November 18, 2021

Personal perspective of a business professional smiling as colleagues applaud successful presentation in office board room.

By Jon Lokhorst, CPA, PCC

Is it possible for you to be a good boss and, at the same time, underperform as a leader in your organization? That was the dilemma facing Peter*, a coaching client who served as a manager in the financial services industry.

Peter had the respect of his functional team, which was known for reliable, consistent performance. Unfortunately, he did not have the same rapport with superiors and peer leaders within the organization. Peter’s lack of influence in those relationships made it difficult for him to garner support for his department’s priorities. It was also a barrier to gaining cooperation from other teams on companywide initiatives.

Chances are, you have experienced a similar predicament at some point, especially if you serve in a midlevel leadership role. Most leadership development resources don’t adequately address these challenges. That’s because they focus on a single direction in the organizational hierarchy: downstream to direct reports.

While being a good boss is important, that alone is an incomplete view of leadership. If you want to be successful as a leader, you must lead well in all directions. Here’s a brief look at what that means.

Lead yourself

You can’t lead others well unless you first learn how to lead yourself well. Expand your leadership capacity from the inside out by building a strong personal foundation, complete with your vision, purpose, mission and values. Gain self-awareness about the strengths and struggles of your leadership style, and work on your blind spots. Learn self-leadership strategies to overcome the myriad obstacles you will encounter on your journey.

Lead up

“Seriously, I need to lead my boss?” asked another one of my coaching clients. It’s true; upward leadership is counterintuitive because it goes against the current in a typical hierarchy. Few people ever become the “top dog” in their organization, so you will likely spend your entire career leading up to superiors. Master this crucial superpower by building unwavering trust with your boss—who else has more influence over your career advancement?

Lead across

Leading among your peers is the most complex form of leadership. Neither you nor the person you are trying to lead has role power over the other. Leading across your organization requires a unique blend of trust and influence as you build productive relationships with peer leaders. Doing so will get you noticed as it did for Peter—when his credibility increased among peers, so did opportunities to work together for the greater good of their organization.

Lead down

Leading in this direction is the most common form of leadership and the most easily understood. You have role power, with formal authority over those you lead. If you rely too heavily on these dynamics, however, you will lose credibility with your team.

Leaders who play the “boss card” too often eventually lose their right to lead. Instead, deepen engagement from your team members by coaching them to excel in their roles. Encourage their potential and provide opportunities for them to grow and advance.

Mastering this framework will equip you to take your leadership to the next level in 2021. It will put you on an inside track to advance as a leader all the way to the executive level. Building the framework into your culture will increase employee engagement, break down silos, reduce turnover and develop a flourishing leadership pipeline that produces future leaders from within the organization.

*The names and some details in the story have been changed for confidentiality reasons.

This article was originally published by SmartBrief on Leadership, and later republished by the Indiana CPA Society.