Michael Useem makes a compelling case for when and how “followers” ought to lead their bosses. Since roughly 70% of organizational leaders report to higher-ups, Useem’s book Leading Up isn’t aimed just at low-level employees. I often coach leaders who must lead upward and downward in their organizations. It’s no easy feat, and it’s nice to have models to follow. Useem provides quite a range, some who succeeded and some who came tantalizingly close: Lincoln’s cabinet members, United Nations workers trying to prevent the Rwandan genocide, Mount Everest climbers, Argentinian economic advisers. The story that resonated the most with me was about a mid-level worker who convinced the CEO, Chairman, and Board of Charles Schwab to commit to online trading (with billions of dollars at stake).
I met Michael last month when we were both presenting to the American Consulting Firm in New York at the Union Club. By chance (and Kindle), I had just started his book. Michael energized and inspired the consultants at his presentation, and he inspired me to carve out time to finish his book. He’s brilliant! Not surprising, considering he’s a professor of management and the director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Like Malcolm Gladwell, Michael shares rich, detailed insights into fascinating and transformative people and events. He rewards patient readers with a taste for history, in particular.