Friday, February 8, 2013

Today’s Challenge: I Don’t Have Senior Leadership Support

For those of you new to this site, each Friday, I write a post to speak to a question I’ve received from a leader somewhere in the world. The series is entitled Today’s Challenge. Today’s question deals with a very common issue: How do I make change happen without senior leadership support?

 Leadership Support

When you find yourself in this situation, here are a few ideas to consider…

Don’t panic. Rarely are new ideas wildly popular. If your idea is getting resistance, I see it as a good thing. If your ideas are immediately accepted, they may not be progressive (crazy) enough to make a difference.

Don’t wait for senior leader support. I heard a talk almost 30 years ago that still inspires me today. It was from A. L. Patterson. He challenged his listeners with this simple message:

Start where you are. Use what you’ve got. Do what you can.

Bloom where you’re planted. Don’t think all or nothing. Lead where you are. Big things can, and do, grow from small seeds. Never underestimate the power of humble beginnings. Once an idea takes root, then it can spread.

Continue to influence up. Look for ways to involve senior leaders in your work. Seek their input and use some of it along the way. Take them to the field. Let them talk to people who are benefiting from your new idea. Share success stories with them – formally and informally. Keep them posted on progress and setbacks.

Show results. Senior leaders almost always want results. Show them your idea works. You may need a pilot or prototype or test case. Demonstrated results usually get senior leadership attention. This is a great reality check for you as well. Does your idea really add value? If not, find a new idea to champion.

Don’t give up. Leaders know progress is always preceded by change. Napoleon said, “Leaders are dealers in hope.” I believe leaders are dealers in change. This is our job. If we don’t instigate change, our organizations are doomed to mediocrity, stagnation, irrelevance, or worse. Don’t ever stop leading change. If you stop leading change, you’ll stop leading.

What big idea are you championing in your organization?


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Comments (8)
  1. This is one of the greatest leadership challenges. This is a true test of influence. In my experience, if you have an insecure senior leader, your chances of success are slim. They may feel threatened by you and your idea. Building trust with them and helping them see their role in helping the plan succeed are crucial. I often think of the example of Daniel who effectively led up and positively influenced an empire from prison. It’s hard to imagine my circumstance as any more challenging than that.

    - Dave McAuley
    • Thanks for your comments, Dave! Influencing up is probably the ultimate leadership challenge. I wish you continued success on your leadership journey! Mark

  2. These are some good thoughts, Mark. I esp. like the one about not panicking and influencing up. One of the things I’ve done when senior leadership was not present was to schedule meeting with peers to give us the chance to review each other’s ideas and work so at least we weren’t all on our own. One thing that I’ve learned is that if there isn’t senior client support, then STOP – until you are sure someone will take ownership for implementing your work (otherwise it could go to waste).

    - Nathan Magnuson
  3. Great post. Influencing up (and out) is an effective tool. Most people underestimate the power of it.

    - Pam Smith
    • Thanks, Pam. Most people also underestimate how difficult it is to do it well. However, it is still critical. Thanks for taking time to comment! Mark

  4. Great post, Mark. You timing is flawless. I was just yesterday working on Book No.2 in my creativity trilogy. [Book No.1 is "HATCH! :Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer."] I was scratching out some ideas on the back of an index card for the storyboard version of the new book. The card said: “Be Your Own CEO.” I was thinking about how to develop, pursue and implement new (even wild) ideas, before you have permission. I will now quote you. Much of this new book is about gleaning ideas from others and adapting them for your own work and life. Thanks for the inspiration. Again.

    - C. McNair Wilson
    • McNair – you are the inspiration! Thanks for your kind words. I’m excited you’re working on book #2. I want to pre-order 25 copies – sign me up! Mark

  5. Mark,

    Great post! As a young leader, this helps me a lot! I appreciate it!


    - Doug Smith