Leaders maximize the leadership capacity of senior executives
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 other.
Leaders 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 feedback.
- 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.