categories: leadership, staff
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June 9th, 2009

by Bobby Gruenewald

13 comments (+ Add)

On Leading Up: In Their Shoes

In every leadership role I’ve held, I’ve had to make decisions that others did not agree with and did not understand. In hindsight, not all of those decisions were the best, and in a few cases would have been better if I had heeded more of the input from those who worked with me. So why didn’t I take their advice? I wasn’t sure they appreciated all of the factors that I had to weigh in making the decision. I also didn’t think they fully understood the potential consequences of a bad decision, or how those would affect me.

Those experiences have helped me in leading up (or having influence with other decision makers). Sometimes it’s easy to think the key to influencing a decision is for your leader to understand your perspective, but it is much more important for you to spend your energy trying to understand their perspective. Doing so will help you build trust and give better input.

Can you share some ways you’ve found to better understand your leader’s perspective?

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  1. 1Kylie in Australia
    Jun 9, 2009 at 6:00 am

    Taking time to listen…without any hidden agenda or thoughts swirling around in your head, ask the ‘right’ questions, and above all…PRAY! Pray - that you will see from God’s perspective ultimately, but also that He will give you eyes to see where your leader is coming from.

    Sometimes, even though ‘our way’ seems like the best/right way and you get frustrated that the leader can’t see that, we need to realise that God has placed those leaders in authority and in those positions for a reason. Sometimes it takes a little bit of “Humble Pie” to back down and continue to serve them - submit it all to God and trust Him with the situation, regardless of how it turns out.

  2. Jun 9, 2009 at 7:06 am

    I agree, listening…true listening and seeking to understand is harder than you think. But I feel it is invaluable.

    Redeeming Riches

  3. Jun 9, 2009 at 7:20 am

    I’ve found I can understand my leader’s perspective better when I submit to their authority and engage in ministry on their terms. It’s tempting for me to stand back and assess everything - run it through my own filter - and then only do the things I really jive with.

    As I’ve submitted to authority and done things a new way, his way, not my way I’ve grown to see things clearer and some of the lines are grayer while others have become more defined. This is a good thing. It’s ok to learn and change because of someone else’s leadership and character.

    I’m thankful for my pastor.

  4. Jun 9, 2009 at 8:47 am


    [...] In Their Shoes. In every leadership role I’ve held, I’ve had to make decisions that others did not agree with and did not understand. In hindsight, not all of those decisions were the best, and in a few cases would have been better if I … [….

  5. Jun 9, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Hey Bobby–

    Thanks for the post. This one specifically speaks to some challenges I’ve had in the past (and you are well aware of them). I had this exact conversation yesterday with a couple guys that worked for me in the past. Good stuff. I agree with Kylie above - Humble pie doesn’t taste good all the time; however, it’s one of those things necessary to eat :)


  6. Jun 9, 2009 at 9:37 am

    The most effective way (but not the best way) to understand a leader’s perspective is to fill their shoes. I have much more empathy and understanding for all leaders I served in the past now that I have lead. Maybe I should have learned my lessons better in the past, but when you are not driving the bus, you always think you can do it better. (Maybe that is a pitfall to having a leadership gifting). God through time and testing and humble pie brings us to a place of understanding those who lead us. Hopefully we serve better with that understanding. I guess I am saying experience is sometimes the only way we learn no matter how well someone teaches us the lessons of leadership.

  7. Jun 9, 2009 at 10:06 am

    One of the most important things for me was the realization that *I* am responsible for my boss’ ability to make good decisions, to support or stop me when necessary, and to celebrate when things go well. He has a world of things to worry about in his everyday work life, and the less he worries about me, the better he does at all of his other work.

    Keeping that responsibility in mind, I think there are two really important things:

    First, I can never forget that communication is critically important. He cannot read my mind, does not necessarily read all the emails or visit all the meetings which give me reasons to feel the way I do about a particular project.

    Second, it’s critical that I understand his “Commander’s Intent” (read “Made to Stick” if you haven’t yet). That means that–whenever possible–I don’t just get a set of step-by-step instructions from him. Instead, I get a value statement: “at the end of the day if X happens, we’ll be successful.”

    It’s also important, though, to recognize that different jobs require different kinds of “leading up.” When I ask an admin or an intern to do a project, it’s often the kind of project that requires a set of a step-by-step instructions. I’m not particularly interested in seeing a creative solution, for example, to alphabetizing a set of documents. I just need them alphabetized. On that note, one other small thing: no “scutwork” associate of mine goes through a project with me without picking up some creative, thinking work as well. If people don’t get a chance to stretch, we never get to see how far they can go.

  8. Jun 9, 2009 at 10:33 am

    I am new to full time ministry (only 2 years in) so I am still learning communication with other staff and our Senior Pastor. I have found the best way to understand my leader’s perspective is to just sit down with him and ask him to share his uninhibited dreams/vision for the ministry. That way i always understand the motive behind certain decisions, even if I don’t like it.

    This also helps to keep your leaders accountable to their own vision. If they are taking actions contrary to what they told you the vision is, then you can confront them on it, in love of course, and wither gain further insight to the vision or help keep the vision on track.

    Dustin in Indiana.

  9. 9Ian @ CATF
    Jun 9, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Good followers/elders make every attempt to make people/pastor’s lives easier. They approach their ministry and work with energy and enthusiasm, striving to do their best. They are effective and illustrate the skills of being independent and active critical thinkers. (This is opposite to being alienated, passive and a conformist.)

    Further, effective follower’s behaviors include:

    • behaves the same towards everyone, regardless of their position in the organization,
    • does not avoid risk or conflict,
    • initiates and participates in change,
    • challenges the pastor/leader’s ideas and opinions in a respectful way,
    • accepts responsibility, and
    • serves the best interests of others.

    Strangely, effective followers also know when to leave the organization or change their position.


  10. 10jim
    Jun 9, 2009 at 10:49 am

    I like you have choosen to learn from the good and the bad sides of leadership. When someone does something that I think is a bad leadership move, I take note. When someone does a great leadership move, I take note. I look at all areas to help me be the most well rounded leader for Christ that I can be. I am sure that their are those that will leader from my right steps and my miss steps.

  11. Jun 9, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Interesting post and I would agree with the view except for the end point. Being a leader myself, I can’t say having others understand MY perspective is more important than me understanding THEIRS. In fact, my perspective would be warped if I don’t understand theirs! I think it’s equally important we listen to each other.

  12. Jun 9, 2009 at 11:47 am

    One critical element in understanding your leader’s perspective is to learn the leader’s “language.” By “language” I’m referring to their communication style and nuances. The leader’s perspective is often missed because we hear what they say and miss what they mean. It’s a communication issue. What the leader says must be filtered through that leader’s communication style, not your personal communication style.

    Ultimately you need to understand what the leader wants to accomplish and how you can help achieve that desired end-state, including modifications you believe will result in an overall better outcome. As you listen to the leader explain his/her desired outcome the leader’s objective can easily become lost in your personal communication filters – how you write, how you talk, what words you use, your voice inflections, etc. What the leader says must be filtered through the leader’s communication filters – the leader’s writing style, vocabulary, inflections, etc. When you understand your leader’s “language” you significantly increase your understanding of his/her perspective.