Leading Up

What goes up, must come down

by Justyn Smith/ October 6, 2015

Leading up can sometimes seem like a tricky dance. Everyone in leadership today has probably at one time or another had to maneuver this. Perhaps you got where you are today by leading up.

As a leader I often have to remind myself of my own journey and the people who allowed me opportunities to grow and lead. Those opportunities eventually gave me a platform to serve and allowed me the chance to lead in the capacity I am in today. It’s important that we are constantly reevaluating our leadership. I have people in my life who help and coach me still. I have another measuring stick as well, which I believe is just as important as having a coach. Here’s the “measuring stick” question I ask myself:

Am I allowing others “below” me to speak into the process and my life?

Please understand when I say “below” I’m talking about the organizational flow chart. This is a very worthy question; it keeps me grounded and gives me the ability to raise up future leaders. So, how do I allow others to LEAD UP? Here are three things I do:

1. It starts with me. This is the most important thing to remember. If I’m not willing to receive input—even if it’s negative—without getting upset or making my team feel like I’ll retaliate, then my team members will never have an opportunity to lead up. They’ll either live in fear of losing their job or feel humiliated and ridiculed for their input. Those I’m leading cannot force me to receive their ideas and the things they’d like to contribute. As a leader I have to choose that I want others to speak into what’s happening. I have to lead in humility. Jesus described this type of leadership in Mark 10:45 (NLT) when He said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others.”

God allowed you into a position of leadership to lead—not to dominate or force your will. I think some of the best leaders are those who are firm in their convictions to accomplish what God has placed in their heart, yet who lead with an open hand and who collaborate with their team. Yes, you make the final decision, but you’d be surprised at how much valuable input your team would give if you’d just let them. Think about it. They’re probably ministering just as much as you are, and they have a unique and very practical perspective.

My team knows they can say just about anything as long as they approach it with respect. In fact, I just recently sat down with one of my team members and was given tough truth about a few things. An insecure leader would’ve shut that conversation down quickly. Leadership isn’t for the insecure. It’s because I’m secure about who I am and my call to leadership that I can have those tough conversations. And my team is all the better for it.

2. My ideas aren’t always the best ideas. I consider myself a pretty creative person and I think others would agree. However, I’ve learned over the years that I definitely don’t have the best ideas. This is somewhat related to the first point. Often, I’ll put my initial idea on the table, which I believe is awesome only to have it altered—sometimes majorly—in the end because it wasn’t as great as I thought. When I go into a meeting and state at the beginning that everyone has something to contribute and that my idea may not be the best—and I really mean it—I allow the team to feel comfortable; I give them permission to bring their creativity, leadership thoughts, processes, etc. to the table.

3. Be intentional in providing opportunities for your team to lead up. It’s great when your team is proactive in trying to lead up. However it’s just as important for you to give them purposeful moments to lead up. Schedule intentional meetings that allow the team to speak into improving a system or ministry. Schedule a one-on-one with someone and ask what they think you could do better, how you could improve team morale, how you could serve them so they can reach their goal, etc.

This empowers them to not “roast” you, but to speak into the vision. By doing this, you are giving them ownership, which is what they need as a follower and what you need them to have as a leader. You can’t do this alone. You’ll find ministry more fun by giving these opportunities.

Let’s be real. No system is perfect and I’ve definitely felt burned a few times, but I’ll take leading with an open hand and mind over leading with a closed fist as a dictator any day. Going back to our subtitle: If you want leadership, ownership, and results to increase in your church, then you have to be willing to come down and lead with people instead of being the lord over them.