5 Things Exceptional Employees Love to Do (and Toxic Employees Hate)

Don’t confuse any of these things for kissing up to your boss.

Two years ago a reader sent me a message to complain that her VP was giving her, and her team, all kinds of problems. She said he would show up for a day and check in, then go MIA for a whole week and leave people hanging. He rarely followed up and didn’t communicate clear expectations for results.

She then asked if I had any advice. You betcha. This is a problem that I’ve heard countless times: When your boss’s behavior or performance just isn’t cutting it, which affects everyone down the line.

So what do you do?

Lead up

That’s basically what I told her — lead up. If this idea is new to you, “leading up” can only work for followers with influence. If you’re a poor performer you don’t have leverage so don’t bother. For good performers valued by their organizations, you have an inside edge.

First, let’s clarify: leading up is not telling your boss what to do and never being the boss of your boss. And it’s far from the stereotype that you lead up by kissing up to your boss.

To be truly effective at leading up, first figure out what good performance actually looks like to the person evaluating your performance.

Find out what you must do in your work role so that you’re not only rocking it and meeting expectations but also supporting your manager to rock it in his or her job.

The point of leading up is to help your own boss look good in the eyes of his or her boss. When you do this, you put yourself in the great position of improving your own chances for success.

Most bosses I know want to have value added to them. If you take the approach of wanting to add value to the person who manages you on the org. chart, you have the best chance of increasing your influence with them.

Here are five smart and emotionally intelligent ways of practicing leading up.

1. Take things off their plate.

Find out what your boss doesn’t do well and find a way to get it away from him or her. By adding this kind of value, and doing it with good intentions, tensions will ease and things will begin to shift to the positive.

2. Connect with your boss.

Those in higher positions won’t go along with you, your ideas and suggestions, if they don’t know you or can’t get along with you. So connect with your bosses. And don’t wait for them to initiate that chemistry. Make the first move and reach out. And be a champion of what your boss desires. That, in itself, shows your leadership.

3. Be tactful in your timing and approach.

When you can make the right move at the right time with the right motive, you’re leading up. This requires the crafty skill of feeling out the atmosphere, reading your boss’s mood well, and knowing when to push and when to back off.

4. Anticipate your boss’s needs.

When you ask for what your boss needs before he even thinks to ask you for it, you’re adding value and leading up. But first, get a firm understanding of his goals and top priorities so you’re in a good spot to anticipate his needs. For example, if his goal by month’s end is to close four pending sales, check his calendar for meetings with prospective clients and find out what he needs from you to be ready, locked, and loaded.

5. Offer wise counsel.

If you’re boss is like most bosses, he is probably juggling a million things, thinking about big picture stuff, and carrying around a fire hose to extinguish flames. Others may be faced with so much pressure to meet a deadline, they’re laser focused on what’s in front of them and miss picking up things on the radar screen. By having the foresight to point out opportunities to pursue or obstacles to avoid, and ask good questions to expand their thinking, you’ll put yourself in the influential role of a trusted advisor. And if you present a new problem, be ready to show up with potential solutions.