I met a friend for coffee. The first words out of his mouth as we found a place outside to sit was, “Man, it’s lonely at the top!” My first thought was, if it’s lonely at the top, then you are not doing leadership right, but I leaned in and used one of my favorite coaching statements, “Tell me more,” I said.
For the next half-hour, my friend told me how he was leading his team through these tumultuous times; how he was making the changes needed in the business to adapt to the “new normal”; how he was redesigning how his firm served their customers; and how he was building a new go-to-market strategy. When he finally stopped, I asked what role his senior team of department leaders was playing in all these new change efforts. He glanced away as he said, “I’m not sure I trust them to be able to do the job that needs to be done.”
It’s no wonder my friend felt “lonely at the top,” he was going it alone. He had developed a scarcity mindset that communicated there was only room for him at the top. Everyone else could just stand down, and they did. What I shared with my friend was that as a leader, you need to be continually equipping and empowering your team of senior leaders to embrace their roles as change agents in your organization. If they don’t own it, you will, and it will definitely be lonely at the top.
5 Questions to Equip and Empower Change Agents
You can’t wait until times are turbulent to equip and empower your team leaders and department managers. Equipping and empowering should be part of your regular day-to-day efforts as a leader. Consider these five questions to position the leaders working for you to lead change in your organization.
#1 – Do you require your leaders (or team members) to have a point-of-view? If you are the sole-source for thinking and providing a point-of-view, you are setting yourself up for failure. If you are always stepping up, your next level of leaders will, by default, step back. Require every member of your leadership to team to come prepared with a point-of-view and how they would do things if they were you.
#2 – What is the “Share of Voice” ratio on your team? Author and retired nuclear submarine captain, David Marquet introduced this idea in his book, “Leadership is Language.” Marquet says, “As a leader, you don’t need to say a lot because you already know what you think, and when you start talking, you’re anchoring the group.” If the share of voice (how much each person is speaking) in your exchanges with your senior leaders is mostly you, there is an opportunity for you to talk less and listen more.
#3 Do you always speak first and ask others to comment on what you have said? Once you share your point-of-view or opinions on a matter, you make it difficult for others to share an opposing idea. You have anchored the conversation to your view of things. If you want to develop a team of change leaders, get them talking first, and then add your thoughts to what they have said.
#4 Do your team members feel safe challenging your ideas? One test I use for determining if my team feels it is safe to offer ideas that go against my idea was to take note of whether they bring you bad news or not. If all you receive without prompting is good news, more than likely, your team would rather keep the challenging stuff to themselves instead of risk upsetting the boss. Encourage dissension and pay attention to how people think. It makes for more substantial buy-in from the leaders who will be leading change in your organization.
#5 – Do you have a proving or improving team culture? Dr. Carol Dweck mentions this in her book, “Mindset.” Do your people always try to PROVE things to you, or are they trying new things and continually trying to IMPROVE? If you have a bunch of “provers,” you most likely don’t have a group of change agent leaders. To create an IMPROVING environment, ideas must be shared, mistakes and setbacks are a part of everyday striving for excellence and are viewed as learning experiences. If your teammates know they can take a chance on a new idea without penalty, they will become more engaged in the process changes that are needed.
Leading the leaders in your organization so they can lead change requires an intentional approach to equipping and enabling. It doesn’t need to be lonely at the top. There is plenty of room for others to lead, if only you will invite them to the leadership table.
Having a leadership culture is foundational for building trust and leading leaders to lead in your organization. At its core, the 5 Levels of Leadership Workshop offers proven principles that provide a blueprint for developing a strong leadership culture and establishing a common leadership language. This leadership workshop can be scheduled onsite or virtually to meet the needs of your safety requirements. Let us know if you’re interested in developing your team/organization to meet the current demands of an everchanging business landscape.
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.