How Do You Lead Leaders?
Whether you are at the top of an organisation or supervising a couple of teams, an often critical yet overlooked responsibility is ensuring those you lead are leading well! This means focusing not just on whether they are meeting the key deliverables but helping them to build their leadership capability so they build healthy and high performing teams. As Linda Hill, professor at Harvard Business School and co author of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, notes, it is up to leaders to equip and empower their “managers to develop the culture and capabilities that their team members need.”
The reality is that the higher you are in an organisation, the more your results are going to be achieved through other people performing well, and that doesn’t always happen automatically. In fact, in my experience, where there is an issue of entrenched underperformance that has been allowed to continue unchallenged, it is not just the direct manager who has dropped the ball – it is their manager, and that manager’s manager, and so on. So aside from the obvious practices such as setting clear expectations and offering feedback, how do you help those you lead develop the right culture and capabilities for your organisation? Based on Linda Hill’s advice and from what I have seen work well, here are a few suggestions:
1. Understand that more is caught than taught – We often learn more from observing and internalising others’ behaviour than we do from being told how we should behave. Give your managers opportunities to see you in action, ensuring you model the behaviour that you want to see replicated, and make time later to reflect with them about the experience to maximise the learning.
2. Change your coaching conversations – Instead of focusing purely on productivity, introduce conversations about relationships. What are they noticing about their team dynamic at the moment? Do any of their team members need support or additional training? Ask them about the coaching conversations they are having with their team and how they are working with their team members.
3. Get to know their team – Managers who establish positive relationships with their managers’ teams are more likely to create a positive culture within the whole group. Have an open door policy, but be careful to avoid scenarios where people start coming to you with feedback they haven’t provided their own manager or where you might be perceived as undermining them.
Moving from a team member to a manager is a significant transition and even if there is formal training available, there is still an ongoing need for you to support your managers through that transition and to facilitate their further development so they become great leaders.