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Leading Up

Tammy Helfrich
Tammy Helfrich Monday June 13, 2016
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When we think of leadership, we typically think of the people we are leading who are under us. The people who report to us or who look to us for leadership. We sometimes forget that there is a way to also lead up to the leaders above us.

This is a lesson I learned early on in my career in sales. I was responsible for my sales only, and didn’t have anyone reporting to me. But what I always had were leaders that I reported to. They were the ones who would help guide me and support me as needed. But do you know what I found most of the time? Once you hit a certain level of leadership, people are often afraid to lead up to those leaders. They feel like it isn’t their place, or they feel strange about it.

In my business career and also in my ministry roles, I have found that leading up can be one of the most important things you can do. Leaders can be lonely at the top. They typically have people who will always complain and they hear about what is wrong with the organization. But do you know what they don’t often hear? What is going right. And what is working.

This is especially true in ministries. The leaders at the top of the organization need our encouragement and support more than ever. Ministry can be tough. There are so many challenges and issues that need to be solved. A simple thank you or acknowledgment of how needed they are in the organization can be incredibly helpful.

Here are a few suggestions for how to lead up well to those you report to and the people who are leading your ministries:

  • Give constructive feedback – Let the leaders know what is working and what isn’t. Present it in very thoughtful and helpful ways. Be constructive. Don’t just vent about what is wrong. Present facts and details about what is really happening. Sometimes leaders don’t know this in an organization because people are too scared to actually tell them. When you provide helpful and constructive feedback, it helps the leaders stay connected to the heartbeat of the organization.
  • Encourage your leaders – Let them know what a good job they are doing. Offer sincere praise and encouragement. Let them know specific things that they are doing which are really helping. This is a way to encourage them and build them up.
  • Support them in ways that are helpful – Find ways to support your leader. Each leader is different, but you can often notice ways that may help them do their job better. Offer to help in an area that is taking up time or may be causing them stress.
  • Protect them – Many times you may find yourself in a situation where someone is wanting to tear down your leader or gossip about them. Don’t ever stand for this in your presence. Learn to redirect and also to protect and support them through your loyalty. This can be as simple as refusing to engage in those types of discussions. It can also mean directing someone to speak directly to your leader rather than festering or gossiping behind their back. When your leader knows that you are willing to protect their integrity and that you have their back, they will feel your loyalty and support.
  • Lead your teams well – One of the best things you can do to lead up to your leader is to lead your teams well. When you are leading well, it frees up time for your leader to do their job and to lead the organization well without having to worry about taking care of issues that you are better equipped to handle.
  • Learn from them – You can learn so much from leaders that you report to. When you are genuine and have a willingness to learn, most leaders are excited to share with you and help mentor you along the way.

There are many different kinds of leadership in an organization. Leading up is one we often forget, but it can be extremely helpful. How do you lead up in your organization?


Tammy Helfrich recently left an established career in the corporate world to follow her passion and invest in people. She loves to encourage, empower and connect people so they can live into who they were created to be. She is the Connections and Growth Director at The Orchard Community and is passionate about people and their stories. She hosts a podcast titled Right Where You Are, which encourages people to make a difference in the world right where they are now. You can connect with her on Twitter, Instagram and her website: www.TammyHelfrich.com.