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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #125: Reinforcing a Leadership Culture: Leaders Leading Leaders

February 25, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #125: Reinforcing a Leadership Culture: Leaders Leading Leaders

When you become a leader of leaders, you discover the new challenge of influencing beyond your current circle of followers. As leaders, we must be able to develop this skill. Today, Chris and Perry will discuss the challenge of extending your influence through other leaders to those on the front line. This is what it looks like when leaders are leading leaders.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holly, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, vice-president with The John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining. Just as a reminder, if you want to learn more about The 5 Levels of Leadership, which we really kind of emphasize and go in as a foundation for leadership cultures, or maybe John’s 360° content, don’t hesitate to visit You can learn more about there. You can leave Perry and I a question or a comment, or even if you want to download the learner’s guide that Perry has created to follow along today, please do that.

Well today’s topic is reinforcing a leadership culture. Leaders leading leaders. And I love this title that you came up with because we’ve spent the last couple podcasts talking about leadership culture and what it is and how to develop it, and I think it’s left off at times because you have to reinforce it. It is something that is ongoing, it is fluid. So we’ve been talking about this in previous weeks, and we’ve shared the importance of learning leadership across the organization, modeling leadership for others, growing leaders so you can have a leadership pipeline or a bench in order for it to be sustainable. So today we’re going to look at the importance of high level leaders leading lower-level leaders and how that can reinforce the culture of which is there.

Perry Holley:    Yes, I have always been fascinated by… Since we teach that leadership is really about your influence, not your position, the higher you go in the organization, you get further removed from the front lines and from the people actually affecting customers and clients and the team. So can you extend your influence through other leaders? I think that’s a critical piece of that. I think a big part of establishing and maintaining a leadership culture, it really is how your second, third line leaders lead those who report to them. I believe you can undermine the best attempts at a leadership culture when your leadership team does not allow the leaders under them to lead. And that’s really what got me on this. Are you doing things to undermine your great efforts at having a leadership culture? We’re tanking them by doing things at the top level. So I wanted to get your thoughts and I snuck this in because I didn’t put it in the title, but I have five actions. I know you didn’t catch that. You see what I’m doing here.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, I like it.

Perry Holley:    Five actions leaders can take to lead the leaders who report to them. And by the way, just so you don’t turn… Well I’m not a top line leader. If you’re a first line manager and only have individual contributors reporting to you, don’t you want them to see themselves as leaders, even if they don’t have the title or position of a leader? I think the five actions apply to a first line leader just as much as it does anyone else.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, that is good. I love the application of that. It doesn’t matter where you’re at in the organization. Based off the title that Perry and I have, this is a behavior that we would like to see modeled throughout the organization. Let me just back up just a minute, because people are like, “What is a leadership culture? How do you define that?” We’re going to give you some simple handles here, but for us, it’s really an organization that values their people and the individual strengths and capabilities that they bring to the organization. And here’s what we find. When you value those people, they value the organization, they value the culture that’s there to a greater level. So I want to encourage you to think about that, and what is the level of value that you’re putting on people and do they feel valued in your organization?

Because if you do that, they will be engaged. You’ll have higher engagement levels, that’s going to drive to better performance. You’re going to be able to serve your clients, your partners better. We like to talk about people over profits, and that is true, and I think that’s really the essence of a leadership culture. So just make sure that as a leader, as someone with influence inside the organization, that is true for your organization. Well, to start us off, I love this five… I think our listeners do as well, because I think by the time they get to three, they go, “Oh good, Perry and Chris are almost done.” So at least they know where we’re at. But let’s talk about these five action leaders can take.

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Perry Holley:    All right. Number one of five actions if you’re a leader leading leaders, say that three times really fast, but number one, we talked about this in previous episodes on this culture topic, but you need to model, train, and coach the leaders that report to you.

Chris Goede:     Number two, empower the leaders who report to you. I want to talk about this and spend just a minute here because this is hard to do. We all have a little bit of a tendency to control that of which we are responsible for. Now leaders, I’m not saying throw responsibility out the door. You are still obviously responsible. But empowering those that report to you is so hard to do. Matter of fact, I was having a conversation with Mark Cole. He and I have worked together for a long time and we know our strengths and our weaknesses and we were having this conversation just last week about this is something in order for our enterprise to go to the next level that he and I both need to work on.

Because when we empower people, we’re asking them to think for themselves, we’re asking them to devise the plans and then to allow them to execute on that. A lot of times we say we want to empower people. We let them do that, but then we don’t actually follow through on that. So this for me is probably one of the toughest ones to do is to be able to empower those that report to you. You’re ultimately responsible, but you got to be able to trust them in order to empower them.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, we should probably do a deeper dive sometime on empowerment, because I’m finding in coaching calls, people like that word. It’s very leadership-y word. People like to talk about it. But I’m not sure a lot of us know how to do it, and what are the obstacles to empowering someone? Is it a trust issue? Is it my own insecurities issue? What’s going on? We could probably . When you talk about empower, I worked for a CEO once I felt like had it down. I felt empowered. We would all agree as a leadership team where we were going and the outcomes that we were responsible for, what we wanted to create, and then he released us to make it happen. He did however, have a weekly one-on-one to really check progress against anything that I had declared were my most important tasks, things that we were… I was working to get to that outcome.

He would ask, “How are you doing on your most important tasks? Do you need any help?” But he did not try to micromanage me or try to tell me another way to do it. He was a high level smart guy. He probably could have thought of 10 ways to do it. But he let me have the ball. I ran with it. So I love that when I think about being empowered, I actually felt empowered. Actually, we didn’t ever talk. Unless he needed something specific, I never heard from him. Except for our weekly one-on-one, it was on Mondays at four. I knew I’d better be ready to tell where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, and he could see the results of that.

Number three, step back so they can step up. I think this one sounds hard to do, but if you’re the big boss, people have a tendency to step back so you can step up and then you provide all the answers, and you gladly take the bait because, “Well, I’m the big boss. I have all the answers.” When you can reverse that a bit and you step back, requiring them to step up, I think you get a much better understanding of where they are as leaders and how they think. And that just opens the door for all kinds of opportunities for growth.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, I love that. I want to say this as you let us down this point over the last couple of sentences, as you were sharing with us, you have to set the expectation as a leader. When you empower them, you have to set the expectation. When you step back, you have to set the expectation properly in order to do that with success. One of the ways that John does this in our organization is he calls it the 10-80-10 rule. It’s where he will have an idea, he will have a responsibility, he’ll have whatever it might be and he’ll say, “Here’s where we’re at. Here’s the initial 10%. Now go run and develop the 80%, and when you get there at 90% complete, come back and let the leadership team, let me speak into that last 10%.”

So it allows leaders to kind of cast the vision, here’s where we’re going, set the proper expectation, now run, now have autonomy. Go do what you do. Then let’s come back and let’s just up-level that. It may be changed. It may just be adding value to it. But in a way that 10-80-10 is doing the last two points, two and three, empower, and then what we were just talking about, in order to step back so that people can step up and we want people to have autonomy. We hire people for the skillset and the gifts they bring and then we want to try to control that. All right, number four, ask meaningful questions. There was this guy one time that wrote a book called Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. So I think that the better that we can become as leaders of asking questions, the more influence that we will be able to have, but also it’s a natural progression for us to begin to develop an add value to our team.

Perry Holley:    What do you think about that though? You’re a leader leading leaders. What is the value of asking the question and what is the opposite of that? Give me a little more on that, because I think you do this really well, and I think a lot of people shy away from, “Why would I ask questions? I give direction. I don’t ask questions.”

Chris Goede:     Now asking questions takes a little bit of time. But I think it’s so powerful because number one, it allows you to understand how your team think.

Perry Holley:    That’s what I thought, yeah.

Chris Goede:     And it allows you, when you understand that, it allows you to lead them more effectively. That’s the first thing. Because everybody needs to be led a little bit differently. The second thing that I think is so important and why say it takes a little bit of time, is that you are helping them think differently. You’re helping them get to a certain solution. Versus, to your point, coming in and saying, “Okay, look, here’s the answer. Here’s what we got to go do.” If you allow them to think through that process themselves by asking the question, what you’re doing is you’re building a behavioral pattern in their mind that allows them to get there quicker next time by themselves, maybe without even coming to you. So I think that’s the beauty behind it, is being able to sit in any type of meeting, any type of situation, and be able to ask questions that will lead you down where the team wants to go or where that individual wants to go.Perry Holley:    Well, I think about it with our kids, I can tell my son what to do, or I can ask him what he thinks he should do and ask him why he thinks he should do it and ask him what are the risks in doing it that way. And what are the benefits in doing that way and really get him thinking through what… Because I can’t be there all the time. Same thing with the people at work. I’m not going to be there while you do your job. But I have a vast amount of experience. I’d like to leverage my experience and learnings through you, but how can I get you to grab onto that and make it yours?

If I tell you, it’s mine, you just take mine. If it doesn’t work, it’s my fault. But if I can ask questions and get you to own it, it makes it yours and you go do your job, and if it doesn’t work, you figure it out. And I just love that idea of developing that bit of curiosity around why people do what they do and how can you help them do it better. The last one, number five, I just felt like… I called it failing forward. Of course I know a guy that wrote a book about it.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, it’s a common theme on this podcast.

Perry Holley:    It was one of John’s books on failing forward, but the message applies, I think, when you’re leading leaders, is that when you accept failure as part of learning to lead, I think people will take more risks, they’ll try more new things, they’ll learn faster than they would if you tried to maintain this perfect mistake free environment. And I want to get your comment on it. But I think if you set up… I did this as a parent, I did it as a first line sales manager. I made myself look perfect, like I had done it right and that’s why I’m here, and no one wanted to confess their struggles or their failures. My children nor my sales associates. And once I said, “You know what? I messed that up as a teenager too son. Come here.” And he goes, “You really did?” And then you tell the sales person, “I lost many big deals for that exact reason. Let’s talk about it. Let’s do an after action review.” All of a sudden barriers come down and failure is not considered failure, it’s considered a step forward.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, it goes to a word we talk about, authenticity. As a leader. We all make mistakes and we all fail. It’s funny because I was just listening to John yesterday. He is right now on a book tour and change your world book’s getting ready to come out and he was teaching, and I’ve heard him say this a hundred times, but it’s so true. He said it’s really not the experience, either successful or failure. It’s really not the experience that’s important. So he just lumped in in one sentence it’s okay to fail. It’s great if we are successful, it’s great. That’s not important to him. What’s important is the evaluated experience both from a failure standpoint and from a success standpoint. So I think you have to be able to do that.

So just to piggyback what you were just saying, it’s not only to say, “Man, I failed,” but then what I loved you said, which was, “Hey, but let me tell you what I learned from that and why I lost that customer, why I made that mistake.” And I think when you can share that, that’s called standing on the shoulders of giants that have gone before you. And I think that’s the power of accepting failure. Again, we do want more successes than failures, whatever. But I think if you go about it the right way and you evaluate all your experiences, you’ll learn far more from your failures than you do your successes.

Perry Holley:    I completely agree. And I think before we close, I’m going to add one more, maybe call it 5.5. Have we ever done a 5.5?

Chris Goede:     I see where you’re going with that. Okay, two fives.

Perry Holley:    5.5 is when I think about leading leaders and reinforcing this leadership culture that I’m trying to build, a word that I had to learn the hard way a little bit, but I really talk about it a lot to the people we coach is boundaries. And boundaries can sound like a limitation you’re putting on your leaders, but what you’re really doing is setting them free to be empowered and work within, in an autonomous way, within a space that you have designed for them to work. Think about a boundary. My yard is small, but I have a fence around it and I know that I can operate and do anything I want within that backyard. I can actually go outside of it, but I need to take care of my things first inside this space. And I just think that boundaries are something that we don’t think about enough and it actually frees me up. I don’t have to worry about where the edges are here. Now, if I’m going to push an edge, and I like that in a leader too, but I also want to set them free to operate in a certain space.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, I love that 5.5 that you added for boundaries. So as we get ready to wrap up, let me just do this. Let me give you the 5.5, the five and then the half that Perry gave you, as you begin thinking about where you want to go and how do we help sustain this leadership culture? How do we reinforce it? Number one, model training coach. Number two, empower. Number three, step back so they can step up. Those two that I just said, two and three, again, remember, we’ve got to set proper expectations for this to work. John talks about the disappointment gap, and that gap is the difference between the expectations and reality. So don’t set expectations that you’re giving this autonomy and letting them run outside, and then all of a sudden the reality is complete… You will have frustrated leaders and you’ll have a lot of disappointment. Number four, man, ask meaningful questions. Are you asking more than you’re telling? Number five, it’s okay, fail forward. Make sure we’re evaluating that. And then 5.5, make sure you set the proper boundaries. So that’s good. Thanks, Perry, I appreciate it.

Perry Holley:    Fantastic. Well, thank you, Chris, and thank you all for joining us. As Chris reminded you at the front, if you want to know more about The 5 Levels, 360, see the learner guide. You’d like to leave us a comment or a question. If you like a topic that you’d like to hear us talk about, we always love hearing from you at And as always, we’re grateful that you’d be here with us. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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