In an effective “leading through others” conversation, you are communicating with a direct report with the expectation that they will exercise their own legitimate leadership role to get something done further down in the org chart.
Here are the 3rd and 4th key ingredients for a successful conversation (read Part 1 to get the first 2 ingredients).
#3 Ask for Their Perspective
When the boss sends a message down the chain, people instinctively anticipate the negative. Employees have learned to expect that a directive from the top is going to create more work, be hard to implement, or be disconnected from a practical understanding of their work.
You have an opportunity here to surprise them in a good way. In your conversation with your direct report, ask them for their perspective on the problem. If it’s negative, help them consider how to see the issue at hand as an opportunity. An opportunity to learn, a chance to make an impact, an opening for being recognized or creating excellence.
[Note to self: It’s also an opportunity for them to demonstrate to you their own capacity to lead through others.]
Remember, you are not using your people as a human telephone wire, you are influencing people who influence other people. Influence comes when people believe that you value them—so ask good questions and then elevate them by sharing your perspective.
#4 Coach their Scope of Influence
By honoring the chain of command, you are avoiding a leadership mistake (rather than going around your own managers). But your direct reports could easily make the same mistake you just dodged. They probably have not had access to all of the leadership development you have gone through, so now they need your help to do this right.
If the issue needs to be addressed further down, coach them to think through their own legitimate scope of influence (which is their own direct reports). You want them to reinforce the management role of the people under them. Help them to recognize the way you are following the chain and honoring the communication process. And let them know that you expect the same behavior from them.
Tell me again why this is so important?
When you learn to lead effectively through others, you are reinforcing (rather than undermining) the role of leaders/managers/supervisors throughout your organization.
I constantly hear leaders complaining that their people do not show ownership of their work. But those same leaders steal that ownership away when they go around their people to make changes and address issues directly.
You can’t have it both ways. If you want your people to own their work, you’ve got to honor them in their realm of authority.
Your ultimate goal is to have competent, effective leadership at every level of your company. You want your people to make good decisions and own the results. But that will never happen if you keep interfering with the structure.
Keys to Effective Follow Up
You’ve included all four ingredients for your effective “leading through others” conversation, but your work is not done, yet. You have to follow up.
Yes, it would be great if your one conversation was enough to get the job done, but your culture is not that strong in accountability, yet. Managers quickly learn when leaders are just tossing off another idea or complaint that will never be checked on again. They are too busy to go running after every brilliant brainstorm you ever share in a meeting.
You signal that you are serious when you follow up.
Thankfully, follow up is also ridiculously easy. You have only three questions to ask:
- What did you do?
- What was the result?
- What are you going to do next?
If the issue was resolved, make sure that you recognize the people involved for their efforts. If not, the 3rd question sets the stage for another round of “leading through others.
Leadership is complex and dynamic, so I’m sure that I have not exhausted all the ways of influencing through others. Chime in and share how you have seen leaders effectively project their influence through others.
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