Leading Up & Leading Down

small__160211602A while back, I was helping to guide an emerging leader initiative for a group of Western Europeans. During a Q&A time, one of the leaders asked an insightful question about how to lead up in an organization. It was an honest question and an issue that most leaders do not handle very well. In this post I am offering two critical components in both directions, leading up or leading down, for any leader seeking to properly lead.

Leading Up 

To lead up means to raise issues and concerns with those in authority over you. To do so in an effective way you must pursue your superiors communicating trust and with an attitude of seeking greater understanding. It is easy to think you see a problem clearly and go rant in a corner. Or worse still, rant to your fellow team mates in a way that actually disparages the leaders over you. You must first discern if your concern is worthy of seeking a point of discussion with those above you. But if you feel the concern is big enough, then you must go in communicating your belief in the leaders above you as God’s ordained authority in your life. They have a different perspective than you about the whole of the mission. So communicate your belief in them. This will create space for your concerns to be heard.

You must also go in communicating understanding.

This means you enter humbly, realizing that you don’t see the whole picture.

Go in prepared as best you can.

Understand the problem and the issues that are behind the problem.

Offer possible solutions, but ask for a different perspective that you might see things more clearly.

All of this will help to create space, validation, and the opportunity for creative solutions.

Leading Down 

In leading down, as the leader, you have the responsibility to frame problems and opportunities for your team. Then you must allow them to speak into the “how” of solving these issues.

Be sure that you have chosen the most critical issues for team involvement.  

Be sure you actually let your team speak into the issues and offer solutions.

Act on their advice.

This will create ownership and empowerment, and will lead to better solutions.


Create space to be heard from those above you.  

Create ownership and empowerment for those below you.

What are your thoughts on this important topic? The ability to lead up well, and to lead down well, can have a great impact on your leadership legacy and your ability to impact your world.

(photo credit)

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