Leading the Leader: 11 Ways To Manage Other Team Leaders

Leadership is not a matter of position but of relationships, and one-on-one, personal encounters are vital in building those relationships. In the end, people follow you because they believe it is in their interests to do so, not because you claim to be a leader, because others have designated you as leader, or because you have the resources and position of leadership. There’s no better illustration than the actions of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Unless you are a total megalomaniac, you recognize, readily or grudgingly, that many of the people you are supposed to lead are smarter, more talented, richer, or more powerful than you are. Many of the people you lead, whether you like it or not, are themselves leaders. This article describes the important steps leaders must take to lead other leaders, whether they are within their own organizations or on the outside.

The challenge of leading leaders arises particularly in managing high-talent organizations — organizations with heavy concentrations of persons whose education, skills, wealth, and influence are substantially above the average. Managers of professional service firms face the task of leading leaders every day as they seek to manage lawyers, management consultants, physicians, investment bankers, research analysts, accountants, and portfolio managers, to name just a few, whose talents are the firm’s principal assets and who as partners may also be its owners. Heads of academic institutions, research organizations, and think tanks confront a similar task in leading professors, scientists, and scholars.

The challenge of leading leaders is also found in traditional corporations. Not only must CEOs learn to manage an increasingly educated and specialized work force, but as chairmen they must also effectively lead their companies’ boards of directors, leaders who have been chosen precisely because of their achievements, reputations, connections, wealth, or special expertise.

What characterizes all of these situations is that the leaders have limited authority over the persons they are supposed to lead. On the other hand, other situations require individuals to lead others persons over whom they have no real authority whatsoever. Chairpersons, presidents, and presiding officers of committees, commissions, boards, and numerous other deliberative bodies face the challenge on a daily basis.

Lack of authority does not necessarily mean lack of power. If power is the ability to determine the course of events, then your power to lead other leaders lies not in your authority but in your effective application of leadership techniques. The first step in mastering those techniques is to understand the special nature of the people you are trying to lead.

Stop Managing, Start Leading | Hamza Khan | TEDxRyersonU

Why is it important to lead the leader?

It is important to lead the leader because that individuals performance affects the performance of everyone else on their team. Effective leaders can elevate the quality of work and morale of their employees and colleagues. As a manager, you should also help the leaders on your team grow professionally so they can advance into more senior positions and contribute positively to the organization. Leaders who have good mentorship and leadership often make better decisions for the well-being of the company.

What does it mean to lead the leader?

When you lead the leader, you provide support, direction and encouragement to employees in leadership positions. You help them continue to develop their leadership skills for the benefit of the team and company. This leader could be a top-performing individual on your team or someone with direct reports who reports to you.

11 tips for leading leaders

As a manager or supervisor, you can take steps to guide and influence the natural leaders on your team. Here are 11 tips you can use to develop your leaders:

1. Recognize top leaders

The first step toward creating effective leaders is to recognize them as such. Treat your leaders like they are in leadership positions: with respect, trust and freedom. When you communicate and act like someone is in a position of power, they might be more likely to elevate their performance to match your expectations. Give them more responsibility, and trust them to complete those tasks effectively. Share your vision or objectives with other leaders, and encourage them to help you reach those goals. Treat them as partners and equals.

2. Empower them

Rather than delegating tasks to the leaders on your team, enable them to make decisions and complete projects how they see fit when possible. Give your leaders a goal and some direction, then step out of the way to let them achieve it themselves. They might take a different approach than you would have, but it could be effective or inspire new ideas.

Other ways you can empower your leaders include giving them control over certain projects or responsibilities. You might also ask them to attend a meeting or a workshop on your behalf. These actions show how much you value their leadership, increase their confidence and give them more visibility within and outside the organization.

3. Become a mentor

Mentor the leaders on your team by sharing your knowledge and the experiences you had advancing into a senior position. Answer their questions and give them guidance rather than instructions. Your goal as a mentor is to help someone who is already a natural leader expand their leadership skills and perform to the best of their abilities.

Customize your mentorship style to the individual. Some leaders welcome as much advice as they can get, while others prefer more independence. Know when to offer guidance and when to wait for the leader to ask for it.

4. Build on their strengths

Identify and focus on what your leaders do well, and build on their strengths. If you give them more responsibilities in the areas where they work best, their performance should only get better. To allow the leader to improve aspects of their work, find ways to use their strengths to do it. If you reinforce and encourage what they do well, they might be more welcoming of your feedback and critique in other areas.

5. Believe in them

Believe your leaders can lead effectively. One of the biggest confidence-builders and most powerful ways to improve a leaders performance is to show you believe in them. Give them autonomy, and encourage them to do things independently. Give them praise and positive feedback for good work. Tell them you trust in their ability to lead, and reinforce that belief frequently.

6. Say yes

Be comfortable saying “yes” to a leaders request, even if you have doubts. Yes is a powerful word that can give a leader confidence and motivation and increase their loyalty to you. It also allows them to try doing something their way and learning from the outcome. Give a leader permission to experiment, and if it does not go according to plan, let them know you can resolve the issue together.

7. Set guidelines

While you want to give a leader the freedom to lead, you also want to set guidelines so they clearly understand their role. Review with the leader their job duties and the limits of their responsibilities. Give them the independence to work within those guides while still respecting your authority and that of other senior leaders in the company.

8. Give feedback

Help your leaders grow and learn by giving them productive feedback. Feedback can be positive and encouraging as well as constructive so the leader knows how they need to improve. Deliver your feedback fairly and directly while still showing you are confident in the leaders ability to perform the task or resolve the issue.

9. Provide challenges

You can also help leaders grow professionally by giving them new challenges. Encourage leaders to develop new skills, such graphic design, or try things they might not be comfortable doing, such as public speaking. Challenges can be motivating for leaders and also add to their skill sets, making them more valuable employees.

10. Encourage innovation

Allow a leader to brainstorm and be creative with their vision. Let them try new ideas without penalty if it does not go according to plan. You should reward risk-taking within reason to encourage leaders to be innovative. Doing so can help motivate them to be more confident and creative leaders.

11. Share your knowledge

Create a collaborative work culture that embraces knowledge sharing. Let your leaders know you want to share your ideas and plans with them and are excited to learn from their ideas, as well. You can teach them valuable leadership traits and thought processes they can use in their careers. At the same time, they feel like you value their input and opinions.

General leadership tips

Whether you are trying to lead a leader or a team of employees of all levels, these general good leadership tips can help you get the most from your team:


How do you lead a leader?

9 Ways to Lead Your Leader
  1. Lead yourself exceptionally well. …
  2. Lighten your leader’s load. …
  3. Be willing to do what others won’t. …
  4. Do more than manage – lead! …
  5. Invest in relationship chemistry. …
  6. Be prepared every time you take your leader’s time. …
  7. Know when to push and when to back off. …
  8. Become a go-to player.

What does it mean to lead up in leadership?

“Leading up is the act of working with people above you – whether one boss, several bosses, a chief executive, a board of directors or even stockholders – to help them and you get a better job done,” says Useem, whose book, Leading Up: How To Lead Your Boss So You Both Win, is to be published in October by Random House …

How do you help leader lead?

In this article, we provide 11 tips for leading other leaders so they can improve performance and best support your company.

11 tips for leading leaders
  1. Recognize top leaders. …
  2. Empower them. …
  3. Become a mentor. …
  4. Build on their strengths. …
  5. Believe in them. …
  6. Say yes. …
  7. Set guidelines. …
  8. Give feedback.

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