A Leader’s Boss: The Key to Success

Roller Coaster

Everyone has a boss. Even the CEO answers to the Board of Directors. The BOD answers to the employees and shareholders. In the workplace, one’s boss can be a key ingredient to the performance of a leader and their team.

We’ve all heard this phrase:

 “A leader is only as good as the people who work for them.”

Successful Leadership

In order for a leader to be highly successful, they must also have support from their boss.

This is true:

  • No matter the role
  • No matter the size of the organization
  • No matter the position

So what do you do if your manager does not provide a sufficient support infrastructure?

What if your boss or leader doesn’t have your back?

A Story of Teamwork

In 2004, I took the role of managing an organization that very different for me and my experience. It was vastly different because, for the first time in my 15-year career, I didn’t actually know the intimate details of what my team did.

Fortunately, my manager at the time was one of my biggest fans and had faith that I was up for the challenge.

Historical Perspective

Previously, I had always started as an individual contributor and grew the program into a worldwide organization.  I had done this several times in my career.  This was easy because I had a natural progression knowing the ins-and outs of every facet of the business unit.

However with this new position, this was the first time that I actually had to rely on my team to get the job done and take the high road on leading versus being a program manager who also happened to manage.

The team had tremendous growth and achievement in their first two years under a much more collaborative management style than they had previously.

As time went on, I ended up with a new manager after two years; someone I didn’t know.  She was not the same as my previous boss who supported me unconditionally.

As we all know… at most big companies, organization changes are inevitable. Some are good, and others come with more challenges…

Changing Gears

I could tell this new boss was extremely passionate about her people,  but had many misperceptions about my team and how we drove our business.  For a team who had come a long way in customer orientation and optimizing a hugely complex program that touched most of the company, having a general manager who didn’t “get it” became not only a challenge, but a roadblock.

After struggling for a few months and seeing the impact on the team, I decided the only way to educate my manager was to do this:

Bring her along for the ride!

Game Plan: Leading Up

I had her attend every kickoff meeting, post-mortem, and site visit.  I spent the time with her openly discussing what was working well, the challenges and what the team was doing about it.

After the fourth round, she started to see the team the same way I did.

She saw us as a group of dedicated, talented individuals highly committed to their craft.

Enjoying the Ride

Since that experience, I have kept this recipe for bringing support from above along for the ride:

  • Provide the leader every opportunity to observe the team in action.

Give them the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Understanding a team’s challenges is as important as understanding the successes.  A leader can only help if they know what is needed.

  • Make them part of the process.

Ask your manager to kick off face to face meetings, attend important working sessions, meet 1:1 with your team members and with every opportunity, deliver the team’s elevator pitch above, below and sideways.

  • Show them, don’t tell them.

A presentation is only words on paper.  “Actions speak louder than words” (Fran Lebowitz).

  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

Keeping a leader informed, not too much, not too little, but just the right amount keeps them engaged and committed.  If you don’t inform them, someone else will or they will make up their own perceptions.

  • Coach your team on executive interaction, expectations and team representation.

Knowing how to manage up isn’t knowledge given at birth, it needs to be taught and role modeled.  Make your team aware that the spotlight is always on.

  • One unsatisfied customer who escalates is 100 times louder than 1000 satisfied customers.

Treat everyone the way you want to be treated regardless of the reciprocation.

Implementing these actions not only ensures your manager has your back but it provides clear expectations on not only what you expect from your team, but clearly lets your team know what your manager expects from you.

The benefit is a healthy team led with transparency!

Cheryl Dilley
is a Program Director at Intel Corporation
She is a transformation leader, coach, and program strategist
Email | LinkedIn | Web| Facebook

Image Sources:  farm4.static.flickr.com

6 responses to “A Leader’s Boss: The Key to Success

  1. Thank you Aditi, I appreciate the feedback, especially since this is my first leadership blog. Thank you for the comment on writing from the heart. Leading from the heart is also good advice! Thank you!


  2. Thanks for writing this nice article. There is so much written on being a great leader but not much on how to make a great leader better. Your approach is interesting and genuine that would help create better leaders through teamwork.


  3. Such valuable insight from a practical perspective! This was so good I shared it with my boss. She could have been the model for this article. Sometimes it takes one person to believe in you and that makes all the difference!


    • Excellent, thanks for sharing Michelle. I am glad you have that person who believes in you. Sometimes I think it makes all the difference in the world not only in job advancement but satisfaction. Thanks again!

      Cheryl Dilley


  4. An excellent article, Cheryl. So absolutely true.

    It should be a no-brainer for managers that their performance affects their staff. I’ve worked at companies where the managers have gotten things hopefully wrong, but blind to that fact, they’ve blamed – and even fired – the staff, which is awful, as it was the managers’ fault!

    The buck stops with them. The employees can be the best in the world, but if the managers are hopeless in executing their plans and ideas, then there’s no hope at all…


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