To influence up the chain of command, make things safe for your boss. Use the Ladder of Leadership, step by step, to earn the right to be heard and the right to have influence over decisions.


One of the most common questions I get is how do I move myself up with my boss, where I’m saying, “Hey, here’s what I . . .”

I don’t just get told what to do, I get to be more human and say what I see, what I think, what I like, what I propose, what I intend to do. And I have more influence over decision making.

Well, you got to be careful because historically and in society, speaking up to your boss with a different opinion has had a long and perilous history. Now, one of the earliest stories comes from the Iliad. This is the story from what was written down by Homer 2500 years ago, about the Greeks who have gone to Troy. They’re attacking the Trojans. And the reason is because the Greek King’s brother ran off with Helen, or was abducted by the Trojans. And a common soldier is speaking up to the king in front of this big gathering basically saying, hey, we’ve been here for nine years, have we had enough? Here’s what he says.

What moves the great king to complain, design, whatever the Warriors breast in flames, the golden spoil and thine the lovely dames, with all the wealth, our wars and blood bestow, thy tents are crowded, and thy chests overflow.

Now, this is the 1899 translation by Alexander Pope. And the dames he’s talking about are the slaves that they take that end up in the king’s tent. And he’s saying, “Hey, isn’t this enough? We’re doing all this for you. What are we getting out of it?”

Then what happens in this society? He’s beaten with a stick until he falls down. And the rest of the people? Do they come to his aid? No. They laugh at him. So not only does the king and his peers not appreciate it, but the rest of the soldiers look askance at this behavior. So you got to be really careful about doing this. I’ve screwed this up multiple times. And what happens is, I predict, the fragile egos of my bosses who couldn’t stand a dissenting opinion. And, in some cases it didn’t really work out so great for me.

But here’s what you can do if you want to do this. You got to make it safe. That’s the key. Earn the right to be heard. Earn the right to have influence. In that order. The way to earn the right to be heard is to make it safe for your boss to hear your opinion, which is going to be a dissenting or an outlying opinion.

In order to make it safe – two things: Give choice, Small steps.

You give choice by saying, “Hey, would you like to hear what we see? Would you like to hear what we think? Would you like to hear what I would do if I were you?”

So you’re going step by step by step. You’re not just saying, “Oh, no, I don’t think that’s a good idea. What we should do is this.” So you’re going step by step and you’re giving choice: would you like to hear? It’s okay. They can say no. I am also okay with prefacing this with, hey, we’re gonna support your decision. It’s your call. This is not the time to vote. This is your call. Make it clear you’re not challenging your boss’s authority.

Now, you might say, “Well, why do I need to make it safe for my boss? If they’re the leader they ought to be interested in dissenting opinions.”

Yeah, I agree with you. But that’s not the way most leaders are. And if you’re asking the question, “How do I influence up?” Then they’re probably already not predisposed to inviting these opinions. But you can go here, here, here. Earn the right. Win at this level, then win at this level, and just slowly and incrementally earn the right to be heard and then earn the right to have influence over decisions.

I’m David Marquet. That’s your Leadership Nudge.

Sandy Wilmer