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The Leader’s Role in Leading Leaders

by Sean McDonald

As the leadership communities grow across our client organizations, we’ve witnessed several effective approaches in leading other leaders.  We’d like to share a few, as we are also aware that they can be quite different from those that helped us earlier in our careers.  For each approach, we have included practices that you can work into your weekly routine to further unleash this collective energy in leading leaders.

#1. Focus

Your team is pulled in many different directions. Demand outstripped capacity long ago.  You need to guide their decision making in terms of how they spend their most precious resource: time. Here are some ways to bring focus and alignment to the important versus the immediate:

  • Transparency into priorities.  Provide your team with an ongoing reminder of the most important priorities for your group or function. On a regular basis, keep your organization’s priorities visible. This becomes a guide for the team’s weekly work. Remember, if it is a challenge for you to prioritize the activity in your organization, imagine how your front-line team members must feel?
  • Goals and Results. Make the goals and timelines clear and viable.
  • Ongoing strategic thinking. Make the strategic thinking process a regular part of team meetings and all staff gatherings.  The continuous evolution of trends around us makes the desired future state a moving target. Strategic thinking will inform your evolving priorities.
  • Proactive outreach. Monthly, prepare a short write up on results and share the scorecard. Praise the people that contributed to these results and use the opportunity to again reiterate the priorities.

#2. “Let them lead”

You trust your people.  You know you need to let them step up.  And yet, sometimes we can be our own worst enemies in letting go of control.  Let your leaders spread their wings.   Use the mantra “let them lead” and align these three practices in your weekly routines:

  • Build in self reflection into your week. Ask yourself on a regular basis, “What am I doing to encourage this behavior and what am I doing to block it?”
  • Create an ongoing filter. For each incoming request of you, ask:   A) is this something only I can do?   B) is this something I can train someone else to do?   C) is this something I just should not be doing?
  • Ask for feedback. We won’t know how we are doing unless we ask.  Make it a practice to ask how am I or how are we doing?

When your leaders are trying things for the first time, mistakes will happen. Recognize these mistakes as a learning – as an evolution.  Doing so will influence whether the next person takes a risk or stretches beyond a comfort zone.  This approach will create a community that learns and grows together.

#3.  Encourage Talent

The talent on your team must continuously evolve.  You should be the catalyst for this evolution.  Here are three things you can do to help with this:

  • Stretch and challenge.  Give your key talent assignments that are just a bit outside their current capability.  Every day, canvass your team and ask, “Who will I encourage to step up today?”
  • Assign important projects to teams and distributed networks of people using a defined fast cycle process. Let them know their ideas and initiative are welcome.
  • Make coaching a habit. When someone asks you for an answer, you should have a repertoire of open-ended questions at the ready, such as, “What do you think we should do?”  Avoid the temptation to respond to their question.  Coaching will help build capability and confidence across your team. 

Good luck, best wishes for the holidays and call anytime if we can support you in this effort.