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Influencing Up

We have a responsibility to influence the people in our lives to be the best possible people they can be: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up”


Every decision in your company is made by the person who has the power to make that decision — not necessarily the “right” person, the “smartest” person, or the “best” person.

If you can influence the key decision-makers in your organization, you can make a positive difference.  If you cannot influence decision-makers, you will make much less of a difference.

Once you make peace with these facts, you will become more effective in influencing up.

Influencing Up

Influencing up is when you take the time to cultivate a productive working relationship with decision-makers by understanding their strengths and weaknesses and then use that relationship to affect their decision-making process.

For this blog, influencing up is with superiors or peers in a business relationship.  But influencing up works in all facets of life.  Children constantly attempt to influence the decision process of their parents.  Voters are constantly working to influence the decision process of those in office.  Spouses are vying to influence the decisions of their partners.  So influencing up is a constant process in our world.

Effective Influencing Up

What stands between you and your ability to solve problems or create change it’s not a lack of knowledge, resources, or time — but rather, the inability to gain buy-in from those in a specific decision-making position.

You may know exactly what needs to get done — whether it involves addressing a culture issue or enacting a new initiative for your team — but the decision-maker on that project just isn’t on board.  At best, they’re disinterested, and at worst, they’re tough to convince.  So, here are several suggestions for effective influencing up.

1) Focus on how your objectives support organizational goals.

It’s hard to say “no” to someone who ties their objectives directly to your goals.  If you can convince your boss that your idea is going to help them do their job better, look better to senior management, or support the organization’s larger mission, then you can get your idea greenlit.

2) Emphasize how the benefits outweigh the costs and risks.

Pushback often stems from risk aversion.  Your initiative may be in direct alignment with your boss’s goals — but when there’s risk involved, it might eclipse any potential benefit in their mind.  That’s why you need to conduct a thorough cost/risk-benefit analysis to dissect and explain the stakes to your boss clearly.

3) Problem-solve with your boss.

Always leave some room for the decision-maker’s input.  While you should be able to defend your idea with evidence and research, it’s okay if there are still some gray areas that you’re working out.  Work on problem-solving together early on so the decision-maker can put their “thumbprint” on the ultimate decision.

4) Adopt an “unless directed otherwise” mindset.

Here’s how this works: Send your boss an email sharing background on the issue and say, “Unless directed otherwise, I intend to [state your proposed solution].” Now, the ball is in your boss’s court.  At this point, they can either wait or agree with your solution.

5) As a last resort, ask probing questions.

A few questions you might ask are:

  • What is the source of their hesitation around this idea?
  • What are the competitors doing in this area?
  • If we were to change the way we’re approaching this issue, what would that look like?

The Bible

First, Proverbs 11:14   says,

Where there is no guidance the people fall,

But in abundance of counselors there is victory.

First, as part of a larger team, it is your responsibility to help influence and guide decisions.  If you have the knowledge, aptitude, and awareness that can impact the outcome of a pending decision, it is incumbent on you to use those God-given skills to benefit whatever you are working on.

Second, leadership is a lonely position, and many who find themselves in this role are not suited for the tasks it demands.  As believers, we can influence up by encouraging those in leadership roles.

I Thessalonians 5:11 says,

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”

And 2 Corinthians 1:4 says,

“…who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

And finally, we can influence up by confronting our leaders when they become susceptible to the moral temptations that beset many leaders today.

Galatians 6:1 says,

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Business leaders and entrepreneurs know well that we all are involved in the decision-making process of others.  Therefore, we can and should positively influence those decisions where they impact us personally or directly affect our businesses. 

Follow the lead of the Bible in selecting how and when to influence up.