You’re a leader, so you care about everything that is going on in your organization. Inevitably, you’re going to see or hear about something a few layers down that you don’t like.

In fact, you really want it done differently.

How can you exercise your leadership through others to get that thing done?


How most leaders create an Epic Fail

Most leaders, myself included, have pulled a knee-jerk reaction by diving in to fix the issue themselves. This kind of response constitutes an Epic Fail of leadership on your part. Here’s why:

When you step around a legitimate layer of leadership in your organization, you have just undermined that person’s authority, influence, and trust. You might as well not even have them in your business. You have just signaled to all of their direct reports that there are two cooks in the kitchen, and your people don’t know which one to listen to.

While their heads swivel back and forth like Agassi fans at Wimbledon, you are losing productivity and sowing confusion.

So how do you avoid the temptation to pull an end-around but still get your objective accomplished?

You have to learn how to lead through others.


Leading through others is astonishingly simple

There are really only two steps to leading through others:

  • Have a conversation with your direct report about what you want.
  • Follow up to see what happened.

Seriously. That’s it. Have a conversation and then follow up.

There are four key ingredients to the secret sauce that makes a good conversation. Let’s look at the first two ingredients now. (The next post will explain the second two ingredients and the key to effective follow-up.)


#1 Create Issue Clarity

The first ingredient of a good “leading through others” conversation is to create clarity around the issue of your concern.

What is it that you want to change? Is it an internal process? Is it the way the receptionist answers the phone? Is it a problem with quality control? Take a moment to consider what is bothering you and condense it to the core issue. Then communicate that, and only that.

In the process of coming to clarity, you may realize that it’s not really a big deal. It could be that you are bordering on micro-managing and need to keep your focus on bigger issues. But if you are convinced that something needs to change further down in the org chart, issue clarity will be essential to ensuring that your message arrives intact.


#2 Frame the Approach

One reason leaders go around their managers to address issues directly is because they don’t believe the manager will approach the problem correctly. They are concerned that the manager will be too harsh, too lenient, or emphasize the wrong thing.

If you feel that way, it’s probably an indication that the manager needs more coaching or leadership development. How long are you going to keep doing their job for them? Start now, with the issue at hand, to help them frame the right approach.

I encourage leaders to coach with questions. Instead of barking out exactly how they should do everything, ask them to walk you through the approach they are planning to take to address the issue. That gives you an opportunity to involved them in shaping the most effective approach.


Check back next week for the last two ingredients in a successful “leading through others” conversation and some tips on effective follow-up.

In the meantime, add a quick comment on what kind of problems you have seen created by leaders bypassing managers.

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Dr. Shero believes that leadership can be learned and that the best organizations intentionally develop leadership at every level. Leaders have the privilege of influencing other human lives for the better. That's why Phillip cares so much about learning to lead well and helping others do the same.

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