My brother used to say that the secret to success is “Keeping your boss’s boss off of your boss’s a–.” Roughly translated: if you make your boss look good, you look good, and success is sure to follow. And as Derek Severs teaches us in this brilliant TED Talk, if something is true, its opposite can also be true. So what if we turned my brother’s wisdom around?
It’s hard to deny the logic in my brother’s thinking; after all, he retired a multi-millionaire in his early 50’s. But what does this thinking mean for leaders going in the other direction of the food chain? Try this: As a leader, your job is to make your leadership teams look good to the people who report to them. Consider communication as an example. If there’s a big announcement that affects the whole organization, should the CEO share it with the whole company all at once? Or should they just share it with their team leads, who in turn share it with their individual teams?
At first blush, it might seem like the more obvious choice is to announce it to the whole company all at once. Why not? It’s more efficient, it makes sure the message gets delivered clearly, it skips unnecessary delays and bureaucratic layers…and sometimes it is absolutely the right thing to do. But not as often as many leaders seem to think. There are a few problems with this ‘obvious’ choice, especially for larger organizations where getting everyone together isn’t always easy. Some are in the office, others are on the road, some are on vacation, and if you have shift work it’s even more complicated. Everyone’s just not always together and it’s too easy for some of those people to fall through the cracks.
Worse than that, however, is that this practice blocks a key opportunity for building trust. Every leader of every team wants to be the brilliant, connected, “in the know” resource for those who report to them, and if each lead is allowed to give the announcement to their own people, it empowers them to become the expert in the eyes of their team. It shows their team who they can turn to with questions or issues. If, however, my boss’s boss is always talking to us about the big communications, and my boss is sitting next to me learning the news with me, clearly I can’t go to her for more information or questions; they seem to only know what I know. Hence, it can be very easy for a boss’s boss to undermine the authority of a boss in the eyes of their team.
One of the secrets of leadership is to behave in a manner that allows each level of authority to be seen as an expert and viable resource for the people who report to them. Every time you bypass them, you undermine their ability to lead their team. Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule. Yes, we want to hear from CEO. But not every time — not every day. CEOs don’t always need to address the entire company; they can just address their own team, and trust their own team to relay the message accurately and insure that everyone gets the news.
Great leadership empowers great leaders. This is one simple, but effective, way to accomplish that.