The Unique Challenge of Leading Leaders
Effective leadership is never easy. But it can feel exponentially more nuanced and delicate when you’re faced with leading other leaders — people who, themselves, are comfortable with influence and responsibility.
The challenge of leading leaders, essentially, is to lead without authority. This is a common situation in academia or professional services sectors like law and accounting. In these situations, those being led are used to having a high level of professional responsibility, and perhaps less accustomed to looking to other professionals as a source of guidance and authority.
But with sensitivity, confidence and a willingness to listen, you can lead other leaders effectively, using strategies like feedback, mentorship, active listening and building psychological trust.
Here is our leadership development advice for mastering this unique management challenge.
Communication is key
An authoritative, top-down leadership style has fallen out of favour in recent years. It’s especially ineffective — and even harmful — when leading other leaders.
Instead of asserting authority, emphasize persuasion and active listening. Whether you are working with other leaders or not, effective leadership isn’t about issuing orders — it’s about getting people in genuine alignment and showing them that you’ve taken the time to consider their perspective.
Facilitate group discussion and healthy debate. Make your case persuasively enough to get everyone truly aligned, rather than simply obeying your choices and commands. This isn’t a population you can lead by simply sharing your decisions and expecting everyone to follow along.
Trust and autonomy
Leaders are confident and informed, and they trust in their own abilities. To lead them effectively, they must see that you trust them, too.
Give leaders clear goals and expectations. Then step back and let them work independently, without micromanaging.
Don’t be afraid to entrust your leaders with difficult situations or challenges that you, yourself, are unsure how to overcome. This gives these advanced workers space to rise to the challenge, flex their creativity, and come up with innovative solutions and strategies.
Help leaders develop
Leading anyone is about helping them become the best version of themselves — developing their skills and expertise so that they are empowered to do their very best work.
Why shouldn’t that be equally true for other leaders? Recognize your leaders’ wins, big or small. Zero in on where they excel, and how they can develop those strengths further. Detailed, consistent feedback and ongoing coaching and mentorship are two excellent vehicles to help your leaders develop.
Master every leadership challenge
Leading and managing others is a complex task — and the field has never changed more dramatically than over the past two years.
At LC Extension, it’s our mission to help leaders thrive in this changing world. Our professional and leadership development resources are designed to help leaders unlock their potential and surpass their professional goals, wherever they are in their leadership journey.
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