A Personal Development PlanLast week I received this e-mail from a manager in Toronto:

“You were recommended to me by my boss. He is interested in having me take some leadership training specifically on the issue of ‘managing up.’ I see that this is an area you discuss on your website.

Would you have some time to discuss how we can pursue some training on this? I’ll also need to know how many hours this will entail, and the expected costs so I can pass it by my boss for approval.”

I have written extensively about upward leadership. As you’ve probably read, my view has long been that leadership is an action, not a position. It’s what we do and not the role we’re appointed to that determines whether we’re Leaders, Followers, or Wallowers.

What’s been clarified and reinforced in the last six months of our new strategic partnership with Zenger Folkman (see the September issue of The Leader Letter for background), is that an important skill like upward leadership has many underlying and interwoven components. ZF has built a massive database over the past 12 years that all started with the question of what core skills and behaviors most differentiates those leaders perceived as the least effective from those that are the most effective. Based on ratings from over 300,000 managers, peers, and direct reports on more than 36,000 people in leadership roles they now have a very clear answer. 16 “differentiating competencies” were identified in the five clusters of Character, Focus on Results, Personal Capability, Leading Change, and Interpersonal Skills.

When I now look at upward leadership through the lens of ZF’s research findings, some of the 16 competencies like Drive for Results, Technical/Professional Expertise, Develops Strategic Perspective, Communicates Powerfully and Prolifically, Builds Relationships, or Collaboration and Teamwork jump out. All of these (and others) will have an impact on your ability to lead upward. The great news is that leveraging only three of these 16 competencies from a strength to a profound strength will jump you to the 80th percentile in leadership effectiveness. The critical question is, which ones will have the highest impact and which should you focus on?

That’s where getting feedback is vital. The Extraordinary Leader process involves asking your manager, peers, direct reports, and any others who work with you (customers? outside agents/partners? suppliers? etc.) to give you input on your effectiveness across the 16 competencies, and identify which four are most critical to your job. Feedback from others is twice as valid as your own self-assessment. In your case, having this data would open up a discussion with you and your manager on what route you should take to increase your leadership effectiveness.

Two other keys emerged from the research:

  • focusing on your existing strengths, and
  • using cross-training to build them.

Most multi-rater feedback-based approaches focus on finding and fixing weaknesses and gaps. Finding and focusing on building your strengths is 2 – 3 times more effective. And it’s a lot more fun!

You can learn lots more about all of this in ZF’s brand new book, How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths. It was reviewed in The Globe & Mail last week under Excellent? Counterintuitive tips on how to be exceptional.


You’re welcome to call if you want to discuss any of this further.