If you were in charge, everything would be different, wouldn’t it?
But you’re not. At least not yet.
So how do you effect change when you’re NOT the senior leader? How do you lead change when you’re a staff member or simply a volunteer?
Because I’ve written on change, I get that question all the time. That shouldn’t be a surprise, really. Far more people are NOT the senior leader than are the senior leader.
It’s easy to think you’re powerless, or to try to work around a leader you disagree with. But neither is a great strategy.
So what do you do if you want to bring about change but you’re not the key decision maker?
If you do a little homework and learn to think differently, you can be exceptionally effective at leading change well, even when you’re not the senior leader. Even if you’re ‘just’ a staff member or ‘just’ a volunteer.
Here are five ways you can ‘lead up’ to your senior leader when you want to broker change:
1. Think like a senior leader.
So you’re not a senior leader, but try to imagine that you were. Imagine the pressures and issues facing your senior leader and approach the conversation accordingly.
Think through how it impacts the entire organization.
Understand that your senior leader may have budget restraints and many other interests to balance, like a board of directors or elder board. Show him or her that you understand that and you’re willing to be flexible on some points.
Showing your senior leader you understand the bigger picture is huge.
I’m a senior leader and I’ll disclose a bias here.
When someone on my team comes to me with any idea and I realize they have thought it through cross-organizationally (that is, they’ve thought through how it impacts the entire organization), I am far more open to it than otherwise.
They’re thinking about more than just themselves.
They did their homework.
They helped me do my homework.
They showed me they’re leading at the next level.
I always try to be open to new ideas, but here’s the truth. Often before the person is done their presentation or we’re done the discussion, I’ve already thought through 15 implications of their idea.
If they show me they‘ve thought through the 15 implications before they got to my office, I’m completely impressed and very open.
I’m not saying that’s a good thing, I’m just saying it’s a true thing.
And I think it’s true of most senior leaders.
When you think like a senior leader, you’re more likely to persuade a senior leader.
2. Express desires, not demands.
No one likes a demanding person.
In fact, when someone demands something there’s something inside me that wants to not give them what they asked for.
I don’t always follow that impulse, but expressing demands damages relationships. Instead, talk about what you desire.
Show respect and tell him how you feel – don’t tell him how you think he should feel. And above all, don’t be demanding.
3. Explain the why behind the what.
As Simon Sinek has so rightly pointed out, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
Your best argument is not the what (we need to completely transform our church) or the how (here’s how you should do it).
It’s the why (I think I’ve discovered a more effective way to reach families in our community and help parents win at home…can I talk to you about that?)
The more you explain the why, the more people will be open to the what and the how.
Lead with why. Season your conversation with why. And close with why.
4. Stay publicly loyal.
Andy Stanley has said it this way: public loyalty buys you private leverage.
It’s so true. If you start complaining about how resistant your senior leader is, not only does that compromise your personal integrity, he’s not dumb.
He’ll probably hear about it and he will lose respect for you.
In my mind as a senior leader, the team members who conduct themselves like a cohesive team always have the greatest private influence.
Your public loyalty will buy you private leverage.
5. Be a part of the solution.
If you’re discontent (which you should be, as I wrote about here), it’s not that difficult to drift into the category of critic. Unless – that is – you decide to be part of the solution.
Offer help. Don’t end-run your leader, run with your leader on the project.
Be the most helpful you can be.
Offer to do the leg work.
Bring your best ideas to the table every day.
Offer to help in any way you can.
If you won’t be part of the solution, you’ll eventually become part of the problem.
So be part of the solution.
Those are five ideas on how to lead change when you’re not the senior leader.
Do they always work? No…human dynamics are more complicated than that.
But they often work, and if they don’t, you will know you gave it everything you had and then you can weigh your options. (Click here for 5 signs it’s time to move on.)
If you want more on change, I wrote about effectively leading change in my best-selling book Leading Change Without Losing It.
Non-senior leaders, what would you add?
Senior leaders, what other advice would you give?
Scroll down and leave a comment!