Navigating your role as a leader of leaders

Simply, you must unlearn what used to work for you and learn new work practices that will enable you to not just do this new, bigger job, but also flourish in it and open possibilities for greater impact, influence, job satisfaction and life balance. You can grow your role into healthy hard work, instead of soul-destroying busyness.

Liked this post? Share with others!

It’s only 9:30am on Monday and Amani is already stressed out by the constant stream of emails, phone calls, meetings and the ‘have-you-just-got-a-minute’ conversations with her team leaders. Amani had been so excited when she got the promotion from team leader of three analysts to manager of all four analyst teams. She thought this was her big career breakthrough. ‘Wow,’ she thought, ‘I am the manager of a total team of more than thirty people!’

But one month in, Amani found herself dreading Monday mornings by 3pm on Sunday afternoons, when she was supposed to be relaxing with family and friends.

When Amani was leader of the analyst team, she felt confident, enjoyed her team and loved the work. She really enjoyed pulling together the insights that she could generate through her analytical skills and her deep knowledge of data and systems.

But now, Amani’s days and weeks feel chaotic and out of control.

Every day is a constant stream of questions, problems, people not getting on with each other, and team leaders that are paid nearly as much as she is who ask the same questions over and over again.

And then there are the meetings she must go to now: the senior leadership team meeting, the Culture Change Initiative meeting, the Innovation and Improvement Project meeting, and the Future of the Business planning sessions. Amani sits in these meetings listening to people drone on about hypothetical stuff that has nothing to do with getting the actual work done.

Amani’s team leaders, who were so friendly to her on her first day, now sit in meetings looking at their phones with sullen expressions on their faces. When she requests information or asks a question, the response is deathly silence. So, Amani gives them the answer or just tells them what they should do because she can’t stand the long, awkward pause. 

At 11pm each night, when she finally logs off, Amani sits in the silence of her now-dark home and wonders, ‘What has happened?’

I’m betting that your experience in your first role leading leaders has more than a little resemblance to Amani’s.

When you move into a position where you’re leading other leaders for the first time, you are doing a totally different job from anything you have ever done before.

So how is it different? And what is a ‘leader of leaders’ anyway?

Here’s some quick definitions so we know what we’re talking about. There are three types of roles we discuss through our workshops:

Professional contributor is a role where you use your professional skills and knowledge to get work done – for example, a finance professional using their accounting knowledge to prepare and interpret a profit-and-loss statement.

Team leader is a role where you supervise and coordinate the work of other professional contributors. Usually, you become a team leader in a field where you have previously been a professional contributor, which is why, most often, you will continue to do your own professional contributor work in your new role. An example might be a team leader of a finance team who produces and interprets financial reports.

Leader of leaders is a role where you have multiple team leaders reporting to you. These team leaders typically manage three to ten professional contributors. You now have team leaders reporting to you who are focused on shaping results through their own leadership. In this role, you may not actually do any professional contributor work anymore. You may not even have a background in the work your team leaders supervise. Team leaders lead other people, but leading other leaders is a totally different job. For example, a leader of leaders could be someone who runs a finance operations group. Under them, there are six team leaders supervising different aspects of the organisation’s accounting and reporting systems.

Your new job has a much bigger span; there is a lot more going on. Often, people making this career change end up working ridiculously long hours. They get home, make dinner, eat, then log back on and keep going until 11pm, and sometimes later. They say to themselves, ‘If I just work late tonight, I will get on top of everything.’ But you never ‘get on top of everything’, and so your one night a week of working becomes two, and then three … you know exactly how it goes.

Is this your life? Take a moment to complete this checklist to see.

Even when you are not working, you are thinking about it. You get phone calls, text messages and emails at all hours, and you feel you must deal with them right then or they will just pile up.

The leaders that report to you seem to be incompetent and incapable of solving problems, or even thinking much.

The leaders that report to you are forever coming to you with problems in their teams and work they can’t get done, and they seem to dump it on you to sort it out because you are the boss.

There seems to be an endless stream of tasks to get done – often big ones that you never seem to get to, and they keep piling up.

You feel like it’s important for you to be fully across everything that your team is doing.

The problem is that you have moved into a completely different job, but you are still trying to do it using the mindset and work practices that you have learned in the past and that worked for you as a leader of individual contributors. Some of the skills you have developed in your previous role will be useful in your new role as a leader of leaders, especially people skills like coaching and giving feedback. But relying on these will not be enough to make the change.

If you keep doing your new leader-of-leaders role the same way you did your previous role, you will crash and burn. The impact this may have on your career, your health and your life can be devastating.

But if you understand that being a leader of leaders is a totally different job, different from anything you have ever done before, then there are some important and powerful steps you can take to make meaningful changes in your life. Simply, you must unlearn what used to work for you and learn new work practices that will enable you to not just do this new, bigger job, but also flourish in it and open possibilities for greater impact, influence, job satisfaction and life balance. You can grow your role into healthy hard work, instead of soul-destroying busyness.

The leader-of-leaders role is all about constantly trying to make sense of what is going on, work out what is most important, and then determine actions within the range of what’s possible.

Being Leaders offers a leadership program that provides the practical and helpful tools to effectively make the transition into a leader-of-leaders role. With tailored workshops, self-reflection tools and leadership coaching, the program will equip you with new practices that enable you to succeed in bigger leadership roles.

Transform your people from overworked to incredibly impactful.

Contact Being Leaders to find out more.

Subscribe to the Being Leaders newsletter

Be the first to know when we share new leadership insights.

Is your way-of-being impacting your leadership?

The answer is yes. Leadership happens in moments; moments of sense-making, moments of relationship-building, and moments of decision-making. Your way-of-being is your overall state at any moment of the day. It determines how you adapt, respond and lead at any given moment.

Read More »

Podcast: Leadership as a neural network

The leader-of-leaders role is the most significant position in any organisation. With design and decision rights and the ability to influence broadly across an organisation, and even beyond to external stakeholders, the leader-of-leaders role is at the epicentre of staff morale, discretionary effort and staff retention – it can make or break an organisation.

Read More »

Ready to up-skill your leadership team?

Find out how Being Leaders can meet your organisations leadership development needs. 

Got a question? Let us know.