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Leaders Who Lead Leaders
By Kenneth A. Tucker
What the best chief executives do differently
Gallup Management Journal
The success of any organization is largely dependent on how its top
leader inspires and leads other leaders. For organizations to thrive,
chief executives must know how to get the most from senior managers, who
in turn must drive performance throughout the organization.
Simply put, great leaders know how to lead other leaders.
Take a moment to think of the chief executives for whom you've worked.
What impact did those leaders have on their senior management team? Were
those top managers inspired to achieve ambitious goals because of their
leaders' influence? Were they more productive? Did they have a clear
understanding of their own unique talents? What observable, positive
difference, if any, did the chief executives ultimately have on the
leaders they led?
The effective leader of leaders makes the kind of difference that
improves individual performance and organizational outcomes. To discover
how these top leaders create this impact, The Gallup Organization has
studied "C-level" executives in organizations and how they respond to
their top leaders. We asked chief nursing officers, chief operating
officers, chief financial officers, senior vice presidents, and people
in similar roles to describe their experience as a part of their
leadership teams. Their candid, sometimes brutally honest, responses
during interviews highlight a growing problem in organizations:
Effective leaders are scarce. And leaders who are effective in leading
other leaders are even rarer.
Few respondents in our database had glowing things to say about their
leaders. Far more expressed sentiments similar to these:
"I feel like I am back in the days when a woman
was expected to be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen," said one chief
nursing officer of her boss' attitude toward women executives.
A COO lamented, "I came into this position with
years of confident leadership under my belt. I leave it now questioning if I
was ever a leader. I know it is partially my fault for staying with a
president whose idea of leadership included coercion, subservience, and
threats. He beat his senior team down on every occasion. His edicts were
accompanied by threats and penalties. He rarely recognized good work. When
he did recognize someone, it was used to point out where others on the team
Sadly, in many organizations, stories like these are all too common.
Every day, behind the closed doors of plush administrative offices and
boardrooms, many senior managers are suffering the devastating impact of
a "leader-bashing leader."
The effective leader of leaders, however, is able to inspire senior
executives and get superior performance from them. Here is what these
great chief executives do differently.
They maximize the leadership capacity of senior
Effective leaders of leaders are keenly aware that as chief executives,
they are ultimately accountable for the organization's performance. They
are also aware that they cannot achieve those outcomes alone. In their
book, Co-Leaders: the Power of Great Partnerships, David A. Heenan and
Warren Bennis sum it up this way: "In our hearts we know that the world
is more complex than ever and that we need teams of talent -- leaders
and co-leaders working together -- to get important things done."
Important things get done, and done in a powerful way, when great
executives create an environment where they capitalize on every ounce of
talent of the leaders they lead. Take Bill for instance. The president
and CEO of a large organization, he is one of the most insightful and
innovative leaders in our study. When Bill took over a new team some
time ago, he found that the executive team was, in his words, "Trampled
down and depressed because they had been disrobed of the dignity,
respect, and sense of calling that leaders need in order to succeed."
Bill immediately set out to change that. He did what the most effective
chief executives do: He fostered an environment in which natural leaders
could come to the forefront. In a short period of time, Bill helped his
senior managers understand their unique leadership talents, how to
maximize risk taking, and how to clarify and implement their vision.
Leaders who had been depressed, disillusioned, and performing under
duress for years found new hope and incentive in Bill's promise to them:
"We will build a culture of excellence, where talented, engaged
employees are recognized and rewarded for providing a healing, caring
environment for our patients, their families, physicians, and each
They banish the "leader-in-training" mentality
Effective chief executives expect -- in fact, they demand -- that
co-leaders actually lead. They quickly rid themselves of "leaders in
training" -- executives who are just waiting for the real leader to tell
them what to do next. Instead, they seek out people who have inherent
leadership ability. Great chiefs are enthralled with those who have the
talents -- the natural wiring -- to lead, who are anxious to lead, and
who think like leaders.
To discover which members of his executive team were natural leaders,
Bill took three very important steps. First, he spent a day with each of
his senior managers to discuss their job functions, direct reports, and
perception of their roles and to review the results they were achieving.
Second, Bill conducted in-depth Gallup leadership interviews with them
to assess their inherent leadership talent capacity and to give them
Third, Bill set aside two days for a leadership development retreat.
During this time, a management expert used data collected from each
leader (Bill included) to outline the individual talents of each
leadership team member and the collective talents of the team and to
suggest how the team could work together to achieve maximum results.
Through this process, Bill made two important discoveries that inspired
some crucial decisions. The first discovery came from the interviews,
which revealed that most of his leadership team members were instinctive
leaders in their roles. Three team members, though, were more like
leaders in training, waiting for him to tell them what to do. Bill
re-assigned them to areas where they could assume ownership -- where
they knew exactly what to do and wanted to do more of it -- without his
constant support and direction.
The second discovery Bill made was that his leadership team members had
been oppressed for years by their previous leader. Simply put, they were
not acting like leaders. Bill made a significant decision to give them
the opportunity to design what their job functions would entail and how
success in their roles would be measured. In fact, Bill was doing what
other effective leaders of leaders do: He was creating the opportunity
for his senior managers to develop their vision of the future.
They fire up vision and imagination
The effective leader of leaders looks to see whether his or her
co-leaders have a big enough vision for their areas of responsibility.
Great leaders know that the size of the vision determines the magnitude
of the outcome -- and the smaller the vision, the smaller the outcomes.
By spending time with his top executives, Bill came to understand that
the previous leader had punished them for failure. What's more, Gallup's
study of this organization revealed that the previous chief executive
had coerced senior managers into spending too much time micro-managing;
he had expected them to be involved with every decision, no matter how
small, within their areas. One top manager stated that he was chastised
for not knowing what time a staff member took lunch. At the time of the
incident, he had five directors reporting to him; they in turn had 25
managers reporting to them. The staff member in question reported
directly to one of the managers.
Bill realized he needed to re-ignite his senior managers' willingness to
act boldly before they could claim a big enough vision for their
leadership area. He did this by removing the element of risk. "I told
them that going forward, the only failure they needed to worry about was
the failure to do something. 'Do something; do anything, but do it big,'
I told them. 'The risk is on me,'" Bill recalls.
Given this freedom to dream big, these newly emancipated executives
identified more aggressive performance targets for their teams than Bill
would have set for them. "I always wanted to set 'out-of-the-park' goals
and felt that I could achieve them," says Peter, one of Bill's senior
managers. "But I learned quickly that there was little reward for
risk-taking and a lot of punishment for failure."
They surrender control
The effective leader of leaders steps back and allows co-leaders to
"own" their decisions for their organizations or departments. The
hardest thing for many leaders to do is to let go of control. The most
effective leaders, however, prefer to invest their time preparing their
senior managers to take control.
Bill gave himself 90 days to shift responsibility and control to his
direct reports. During that time, he worked to learn their talents,
skills, knowledge, and experience, because, he says, "I need to know in
whose hands I am willing to place my trust, my job, and my future."
The effective leaders of leaders develop a team they can trust
unequivocally. They don't do this to be magnanimous; they do it out of
necessity. Great leaders know that their success depends on the ability
to identify co-leaders who are more talented, knowledgeable, and
experienced than they are in their specific areas of responsibility.
As Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus noted in Leaders, "The problem with many
organisations, and especially the ones that are failing, is that they
tend to be overmanaged and underled." Absolutely! This is especially
true when so many chief executives fail to create an environment that
encourages co-leaders to spend their time expanding and deepening their
vision for the future of the organization. Great leaders understand that
by positioning the leaders they lead for success, they help guarantee
the success of the organization.
Kenneth A. Tucker is a Principal Consultant with The Gallup
Organization. Drawing on vivid stories, real-life examples, and
data-driven research, he consults with the world’s leading organizations
on how to develop strategies for improving performance. He is the
coauthor of Gallup’s book Animals, Inc.: a Business Parable for the 21st
Century (Warner Books, February 2004).
2005 The Gallup Organization, Princeton, NJ. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by GovLeaders.org with permission. Visit The Gallup Management
Journal at http://gmj.gallup.com