The Most Valuable People are Often the Most Difficult to Manage
As you climb the career ladder, you will find yourself working increasingly with many other powerful leaders—both inside and outside your organization—who hold the key to your success. Often, you may share responsibility and control with a variety of leaders over whom you may lack authority and influence. Compared to others you’ve worked with in the past, many of these leaders will be more talented, ambitious, competitive, accomplished, assertive, controlling, and ego-centric.
According to by Jeswald W. Salacuse’s Leading Leaders (2005), driving change when you lack influence over other leaders requires you to tread carefully. You must employ all the diplomatic and tactical skills at your command. “Your ability to lead other leaders arises not just from your position, resources or charisma, but from your will and skill.”
The Only Way to Lead Leaders is to Do What is in Their Interests
Salacuse’s central idea in Leading Leaders: How to Manage Smart, Talented, Rich, and Powerful People is that your success depends exclusively on your personal ability to negotiate shared and conflicting objectives, and subordinate your interests to theirs. “Move your followers to take action by characterizing a problem or challenge in such a way that it is in their interests to do something about it.”
To do this, you must determine the interests of those you wish to lead and then make it loud and clear to them that you are indeed serving their interests. This requires meticulous listening, reframing of your objectives in terms of their interests, and respecting their authority and autonomy.
Salacuse breaks the challenge down into “seven daily tasks,” each of which takes a chapter in Leading Leaders.
- How to Direct and Negotiate the Vision: To negotiate a compelling vision for your organization that other leaders will buy into, decide on your direction for them and then have a strategic conversation on that subject. Lead an open discussion that allows for their enthusiastic participation. Do not impose your new vision from the top. Through a series of premeditated questions, pilot them to your conclusions. Such collaboration ensures that the leaders will own and support the decisions you select for them. Learn to identify those internally influential people relevant to your objectives and appeal to them. “Beware of becoming so intoxicated by your own vision that you fail to see clearly the reservations that members of your organization may have about pursuing that vision enthusiastically.”
- How to Integrate and Make Stars a Team: Your job as the leader is to make sure that all the members of your organization understand that they have common values, shared history, and collective interests. Focus on communication. Demonstrate both by word and by deed that you put the interests of the organization above your own. Understand the nature of the cultural differences that may divide your organization’s leaders and then seek to find ways to bridge any gaps. “Deal directly with other leaders who are spoilers by converting them or isolating them.”
- How to Mediate and Settle Leadership Conflicts: The more autonomous the other leaders are, the greater the odds of conflict over turf, power, style, and goals. A leader must intervene and mediate when other leaders come to disagreement. When conflicts arise, read between the lines. Observe the adversaries’ interactions, and find ways to improve communication. Look beyond the conflicting parties’ stated positions; probe for deeper interests. Work as a bridge, and find areas of agreement that can resolve the conflict. Consider how you could apply the six mediation power tools (incentives, coercion, expertise, legitimacy, reference, and coalition) most effectively to resolve conflicts. “A mediator, unlike an arbitrator or judge, has no power to impose a solution.”
- How to Educate People Who Think They are Already Educated: Approach your teaching role tactfully. Leaders tend to be proud and sensitive—they may begrudge being treated as unqualified, unskilled, or inexperienced. Before you instruct them, make sure you understand their frame of reference. To the maximum extent possible, do your educating one-on-one, rather than in groups. Actively involve and invite their contributions. The command and control method of instructing them will be ineffective. Instead, use the Socratic Method—ask questions that encourage people to discover the truth for themselves. “In leading leaders, the most effective instrument is not an order but the right question.”
- How to Motivate and Persuade Other Leaders: Learn as much as you can about other leaders—their backgrounds, interests, and their goals. Design the specific, personalized incentives that will accord with their interests—only individualized incentives persuade people to act in desired ways. Agree on future goals for the short term, medium term, and long term, and show how those goals relate to those of your organization. Be open and transparent with information so everyone knows where they are and where they are going. “Motivate your followers by envisioning a future that will benefit them and communicating that future to them in a convincing way.”
- How to Represent Your Organization to the Outside World: As a leader, you are always on the stage. Everything you do will be subject to scrutiny. Your every action and statement, whether in public or in private, can affect your organization’s relationships with the outside world—customers, competitors, regulators, media, investors, and the public in general. Actively manage their perceptions and expectations. If those interests are dysfunctional or unworkable, seek to change or transform them through one-on-one diplomacy. “One of the most important functions that leadership representation serves is the acquisition of needed resources.”
- How to Create Trust to Get the Most out of Your Leadership: People will trust you not because of your appeal, charm, or foresight, but because they’ve decided that aligning with your leadership will move their interests forward. Understand the people you lead and know their interests. Manage their expectations and deliver what you’ve promised. Reinforce your communications during problems and crises. Be consistent and predictable in your actions. “Openness is not just an easy smile or a charming manner; it refers to the process by which you make decisions that have implications for your followers’ interests.”
Tact and Diplomacy Matter More When Leading Other Powerful Leaders
Recommendation: Read Jeswald W. Salacuse’s Leading Leaders. This excellent book’s insights make a great template for the basics of executive leadership. You can especially learn how to gain persuasive skills in situations where you may not have much influence.
Beyond the academic pedantry (the author is a professor of law, diplomacy, and negotiation,) the abundant examples from political leadership are far more multifaceted than the narratives in Leading Leaders tend to imply, but they serve as good cases in point.
Leading Leaders offers a matchless resource in documenting what constitutes effective emotional leadership, which is, in spite of everything, all about persuasive power and influence to get things done through people. The key learning point is, “In developing your leadership strategies and tactics, you need to take account of the interests of the persons you would lead. Leading leaders is above all interest-based leadership. Leaders will follow you not because of your position or charisma but because they consider it in their interest. Your job as a leader is to convince them that their interests lie with you.”