A 4-Phase Approach for Leading Leaders  

Being a first-line manager for the first time afforded me lots of opportunities to grow my leadership capabilities. I was managing a group of individuals and learning how to engage the team to drive the outcomes we desired.

When I became a second-line manager and had first-line managers reporting to me, I thought things would get easier. I mean, really, I am now leading leaders who can do all the hard things involved in leading individual contributors. I didn’t realize at the time, but leading leaders requires a higher level of leadership heavily focused on influence and not my position as the boss.

Leading Through Influence

The higher you go in the organization, the further you get from the people actually doing the work. In my case, I went from selling, to being a sales manager, to being a sales executive. At each promotion, I lost more and more control over exactly how the sales process worked and how our customers were being serviced.

If you hope to lead a team of leaders, it is important to develop a strategy for communication, execution, measurement, and accountability. I developed a 4-Phase approach that has served me well for years. It’s not without its challenges, but when I can operate within this approach, I generally get the results I was looking to accomplish.

The 4-Phase Model

1 - Frame it – what’s the outcome we are looking to accomplish. Call it a vision. Call it an outcome. What does a win look like? Show them the picture on top of the puzzle box and show them the pile of pieces. You can even work with them to determine the corner and side pieces, but do not put the puzzle together for them.

2 - Empower & Release your leaders to tackle the “how.” Once they are in agreement with you on the outcomes you are driving toward, you should allow them to develop the execution plan to get there. If you tell them how to get there, it will be your plan, and if it fails, it will be your fault.

3- Track & Measure – establish regular 1:1 communication with your leaders to review progress on their plan. What are their most important tasks that will lead to the outcome? Are they on track to accomplish the quarterly goals that we agreed to with you?

4 - Coach & Mentor – maintain an open door where they can come for help and insight. Of course, if they are not performing and measurements are not being met, then your coaching can become more prescriptive.

For the most part, leading leaders is about putting the right people in the right leadership positions and letting them loose to do the job you hired them to do. Oh yeah, and you need to stay out of the way. For many of us in the second line leader roles and above this can be challenging.

When Things Come Off the Rails

Where most senior leaders make a mistake is in not framing up the vision or desired outcome. They assume that everyone knows where we are going and the road to get there is obvious. They don’t and it’s not. You must constantly be framing the vision so your leadership team can make it their own.

Another shortcoming for senior leaders comes when it is time to empower and release. It is very tempting to hold on tight (evidenced by micromanaging) and not let your leaders lead. If you struggle with delegation or with allowing your team autonomy to do their job, you are going to have a very tough time as a senior executive.