May 9, 2024

Leader of Leaders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With pressures from above and below, a leader of leaders has a lot to juggle. They need to grasp the bigger picture, understand how their role impacts the entire business, fit in with other leaders at different levels, and gain the trust of their colleagues, employees, and the broader leadership team. At this level of leadership, they’re like the glue to enable future change and create sustainable growth,

And that’s not all!

A highly effective leader of leaders takes their own personal development seriously. They’re self-motivated and have strong reflection skills, putting success above their pride. The more skilled and confident they become, the more impact they have on teams and the organisation as a whole. 

However, not all leaders of leaders prioritise their own growth. By neglecting their development, they inadvertently create an environment that not only fails to motivate other leaders to take action but also discourages others from prioritising their personal growth, to the detriment of both themselves and their organisation.

A leader of leaders is often challenged to constantly do more with fewer resources. Although this might appear beneficial, it can lead to burnout. With over half of leaders already saying they feel burnt out, it’s critical to acknowledge this and find ways to prioritise their well-being. 

This blog post will explore the multifaceted role of a leader of leaders. Uncover strategies to overcome challenges, build trust and teamwork across different levels, boost performance, and help your entire team succeed.

Leader of leaders: The challenge is real

Let’s be honest, a leader of leaders is a challenging position. Often termed the “squeezed middle,” they face pressure from top-level leadership to deliver on both strategic long-term goals and short-term performance targets. They also balance demands from lower levels, where there’s frustration with organisational practices not aligning with values and behaviours—all while maintaining team cohesion and effectiveness. 

Without embracing vulnerability, empowerment, collective understanding, and action, an organisation may stagnate, unable to adapt to changing environments or innovate effectively. Failing to embrace new ideas and perspectives can result in missed opportunities for growth, innovation, and competitive advantage. 

Plus, team members may feel undervalued and disengaged if their contributions are not recognised or if they feel stifled by a lack of empowerment and trust from leadership.

Given how crucial leaders of leaders are in driving organisational change and achieving goals, they need support from higher executives. Without this support, their efforts are likely to fail. With their influence, they can remove obstacles to speed up growth. 

This “top-down led, bottom-up built” leadership approach means that leaders set the overall direction and goals (top-down) while employees contribute ideas and solutions from the grassroots level (bottom-up) to achieve those goals.

So, leaders of leaders have some distinct responsibilities.

To encourage higher-level leaders in:

  • Showing vulnerability. By being perfectly imperfect and sharing personal development areas, they send a clear message to the wider organisation that it’s okay not to be perfect. A leader of leaders stays in a continuous learning mode, attempting new ways of working even if success isn’t immediate. With this mindset, the business can experiment, innovate, and grow, learning from mistakes and rapidly improving as a result.
  • Empower others to do their job. By stepping aside and creating space for others to achieve success and drive growth, a leader of leaders gives the freedom and confidence in their people’s abilities to excel. This “top-down led” approach means they have the emotional intelligence to empower others and not get in the way or reject good ideas just because they may not personally like them.

Challenge and support leaders of teams and team members to:

  • Generate new ideas: By applying a bottom-up approach, a leader of leaders enables employees at all levels to contribute ideas for process improvements, product developments, or cost-saving measures through employee listening strategies or online collaboration platforms
  • Create a collective understanding: A leader of leaders makes sure everyone understands the ideal, including processes, behaviors, and achievements, no matter how they’re measured. Teams agree on the ideal so they can work together, recognise and encourage each other when they do well, and provide honest feedback and support when they don’t.
  • Get the job done: It doesn’t make sense to pursue change with different behaviours and processes from the ones agreed upon as correct, Once there’s a collective understanding, a leader of leaders makes sure everyone puts appropriate behaviours and processes into action.

As you can see, being a leader of leaders is no mean feat. 

Navigating cultural norms, relinquishing control, addressing resistance, and managing complexity need patience, perseverance, and a mindset that embraces continuous learning and adaptation.

As a result, to accelerate performance we see 4 key areas of focus for a leader of leaders.

1. Align Teams

First off, let’s look at the negative impact of misaligned teams. It’ll help you to understand why getting everyone on the same page is so crucial for success.

Individuals and teams out of sync create confusion and uncertainty, as people may not understand their goals or how their work contributes to the bigger picture. Without clear direction, teams may duplicate tasks or work at cross purposes, wasting time and resources.  In fact, an overwhelming 97% of employees feel that when a team lacks alignment, it affects the outcome of tasks or projects.

Secondly, misaligned teams often struggle to communicate effectively, leading to misunderstandings, conflicts, and missed opportunities. A lack of understanding and alignment can lead to frustration and disengagement among team members, resulting in low morale and decreased job satisfaction. 

When leaders of leaders ensure teams have a collective understanding, aligned priorities, and effective communication across all departments, productivity increases. Individuals need less clarity on things like company vision and team priorities. In fact, team members see their colleagues as friendly allies, rather than competition.

This stressful and overwhelming version of busy can be down to a lack of alignment rather than a problem with execution. If you look around you, you’ll see a busy team, people getting things done; it’s just that those tasks might not be taking them any closer to the end goal.  –Julie Lo Certo, Project Manager

By empowering others to allocate their time better, a leader of leaders can focus on strategic initiatives and guide their teams more effectively toward shared goals.

So, what we’re saying is this: A leader of leaders needs to understand how their organisation operates and what it’s trying to do, not just for the here and now but also for the future. More importantly, leaders of leaders explain it in ways that others understand. They use this knowledge and shared understanding to unite different teams, transforming and delivering on future strategies. 

By encouraging people to work together,and forming meaningful connections, teams work together more efficiently to achieve goals faster. A leader of leaders supports teams to step back and see the whole picture, finding common ground and shared goals.

Building relationships based on shared beliefs, goals, and purpose is crucial to ensure everyone is aligned. This means alignment should extend from top to bottom of the organisation, ensuring everyone shares the same goals, whether that be team goals, other departmental goals, or wider organisational goals, and understands their role in the bigger picture. It’s not just about sharing information; it’s also about understanding processes and preferences and taking the initiative to help shape them, rather than waiting for direction from others.

To accomplish this, a leader of leaders must detach themselves from their primary team and operate across the business, holding multiple perspectives—a concept known as “dynamic centrality.” They need to learn to “see the whole system” to identify points and opportunities for enhanced connection across silos, enabling the company to learn at a faster rate–accessing insights from diverse communities, both inside and outside an organisation. .

Why does this matter? 

Well, to start with, it cuts out wasted effort from inefficient processes and conflicting team priorities. It speeds up learning and growth, encouraging innovation, creativity, and accountability among teams working together.

Secondly, leaders of leaders serve as crucial connectors for team collaboration and effectiveness, accounting for 70% of the variance in employee engagement. This means that their leadership style, communication, and support significantly influence how engaged and motivated other leaders are in their work.

Let’s put all that into perspective and consider leaders of leaders in Manufacturing.

With a less transformational leadership style, some manufacturing leaders of leaders may primarily focus on optimising their department’s processes. However, effective and visionary leaders of leaders also broaden their perspective–aligning teams across the entire organisation meaning that they streamline communication and decision-making between departments, breaking down silos and driving positive change across the organisation.

2. Amplify the culture

At LIW, our purpose is to improve lives by transforming the experience of work through leadership. The experience of work is the culture that exists. 

Since leaders of leaders are best placed to support the growth of the ideal organisational culture, they amplify the positive experience of work for all by actively demonstrating and promoting the behaviours and values they want, sharing personal stories that reinforce the culture, and championing the initiatives that support it. 

Others look to them for guidance and inspiration, so they need to align themselves and role model the behaviours they want to amplify in the new desired culture, and this may be different from how they have operated in the past.

Sound good?

Our 3 W’s framework can help provide a structured approach for leaders of leaders to engage with their team, helping them to develop the desired culture amongst them and the teams they lead. It is a simple way to structure powerful conversations to encourage and constructively challenge, teams to ensure they are actively adopting the desired culture.

In the context of amplifying culture, the 3 W’s conversation could be described as:

  • What do we want to achieve and why?: A chance to build clarity and align on the desired culture. What is the desired culture, and why? Bring conversations to life by talking about what people will see, hear, and feel when it is displayed across the organisation and the role leaders of leaders play in enabling it. 
  • Where are we now?: Next, exploration of the culture they are experiencing right now across teams? And in the context of the desired culture, explore what is working well  and what is working less well ?. 
  • What next?: With clarity from the first two questions, the final question is to explore the actions required to start to close the gap between the desired state and the current reality.

Working through the 3 W’s with the team, secures not only great input, but also builds ownership and accountability amongst the team to be the change they want to see in the organisation.

In addition to using the 3 W’s to drive clarity, alignment , ownership and action, we have 5 further tips to amplify the culture across the organisation: 

  1. Regularly communicating with teams about the importance of the organisation’s core values and how they translate into everyday actions. 
  2. Check out understanding by asking open questions, such as, “What do our core values mean to you?” and “How do you see them reflected in our daily work?”
  3. Leading by example, consistently showing behaviours that reflect workplace culture, for instance, transparency, collaboration, and innovation–breaking down silos and promoting teamwork.
  4. Empowering other Leaders to have autonomy, take ownership of their work, and contribute to the culture. This could include providing opportunities for skill development and growth to increase confidence and capabilities or involving them in decision-making processes that shape their work or the wider organisation.
  5. Celebrate and define what qualifies as ‘good’ behaviour, setting the benchmark for others to emulate. Overcome inertia and catalyse a transition toward a new operational approach. By acknowledging and championing the positive aspects of the culture, others are inspired to adopt it on a broader scale.

Through these efforts, a leader of leaders creates a culture where everyone feels engaged, motivated, and aligned with the organisation’s mission and values–improving productivity.

But don’t take our word for it. One Regional Manager implemented the 3 W framework and increased staff retention by 8% and customer retention by 19% year on year!

3. Grow leadership

According to LinkedIn’s 2023 Workplace Learning Report, leadership skills rank among the top four skills most companies require.

As a leader of leaders, individuals shift their focus from their own leadership development to fostering the growth of other leaders. They concentrate on helping other leaders of multiple disciplines build strong teams, relying less on their own expertise by creating the right environment for their teams to learn and grow.

While the main focus is ensuring team leaders are highly effective and aligned, this can also apply to emerging leaders. For instance, mentoring emerging leaders in other departments and providing them with opportunities to lead projects and initiatives independently while offering guidance and support as needed. This is essential for building a healthy pipeline of future talent, retaining talented departmental leaders, and attracting top talent. 

All this requires solid soft skills and an approach that prioritises the human first and the professional second. In fact, over three-quarters of senior leaders believe empathetic communication and listening skills are the most important for their role. 

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Take action to broaden impact and have a continuous stream of capable leaders ready to step into key roles, fostering a culture of growth and development throughout your organisation. 

Attract high-potential individuals eager to join a company that invests in its employees’ professional growth, strengthening your ability to stay competitive.

4. Scale performance!

Organisations have evolved with increased complexity and interdependencies, where teams rely heavily on each other, and conditions constantly change. 

Consequently, achieving performance requires a shift in thinking. In other words, getting off the dancefloor and onto the balcony.

At the core of this shift, we believe it’s essential for leaders of leaders to cultivate an environment that builds collaboration among teams to scale performance. By facilitating collaboration and aligning efforts with a fresh mindset, the leader of leaders can:

  • Find innovative ways to share resources and talent. For instance, pooling staff with particular skill sets for new projects. Transferring employee skills to areas where needed most can boost efficiency.
  • Identify and remove obstacles that may hinder other leaders of teams from achieving their objectives. Whether it’s bureaucratic red tape, duplication of work, resource constraints, or other barriers, eliminate roadblocks and create an environment for success.
  • Represent the interests of different departments and reduce conflict within the broader organisational context. They advocate for departmental needs and priorities in strategic discussions and decision-making processes.
  • Support a leader of leaders to monitor performance, providing feedback and support as needed.  
  • Embed learning across teams to foster continuous improvement and innovation, ensuring that knowledge and best practices are shared and applied throughout the organisation.    
  • Maintain focus and high alert by constantly scanning the horizon for challenges and opportunities. For example, taking responsibility for keeping up to date with new legislation or potential disruptions within the industry.
  • Organise departments around the broader vision and strategy, By promoting cohesion and synergy across the entire organisation, leaders of leaders ensure every department contributes to the overall vision and strategy-maximising collective impact.
  • Mitigate risk factors by considering the knock-on effects of decisions that affect the entire organisation, such as assessing changes in product sales and customer service before implementing new product launches. This approach minimises financial risks and optimises resource allocation.
  • Empower other leaders to take ownership and drive initiatives forward in their absence, In turn, this creates a culture of accountability and autonomy, wherein leaders at all levels are encouraged to make decisions aligned with the organisation’s growth strategy and values

While enhancing performance is vital, it’s equally important to encourage teams and individuals to think differently, try new approaches, and take risks. Embracing experimentation is key to scaling performance, often leading to success and encouraging other leaders to view it as a natural part of growth.              

Develop the skills of a leader of leaders 

There’s no doubt that a leader of leaders is critical for driving organisational success and achieving optimal performance.

By considering the four key elements we’ve shared here, you create connections and share learning across the entire organisation. Through influence, challenge, and disruption, you can nurture leadership growth at all levels, ensuring your business is ready to tackle challenges, seize opportunities, and thrive both now and in the future.

We hope this Blog has provided valuable insights and would love to hear from you. If you have thoughts you would like to share or would value a conversation about leadership, feel free to contact us anytime!

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