Take Step One to Lead A Direct Report

[Approximately twice a month I will be focusing Read2Lead on the specific context of LeadingX2.]

Every manager has the capacity with every direct report to build a relationship in which the two: “lead by two.”  The advantages of turning a direct report into a peer are enormous: the “lower” person is set free to invent, think, question, encourage, inspire and otherwise act like a leader – even towards the authority figure.  I try to do just this, to fully unleash the agency and initiative of students and clients, and when I do I get way better in what I can deliver to them, and they are more motivated to “play the game.”

A few years back, I realized that the diagram below depicts the job of parents and managers.  We ought aspire to lead by two in this way.  We begin with a small child – or a new staff person – in a vertical position of dependency, and our job is to continually push our side of the bar down and to the right, as in the blue arrows, to arrive at a horizontal position.  From there, we elevate each other up that vertical bar, improving each other through appreciation, perspective, respect, challenge, and more appreciation:

At its most simple core, leading by two results when both parties strive for an equal, adult-to-adult relationship. 

We have to recognize that structures of organizations seldom promote this equality, as a boss is almost always:

  • Paid more
  • Able to hire, fire, demote, promote, assign interesting or awful work, etc.
  • Able to set the agenda for the year, quarter, week, project and meeting
  • In possession of information about the larger structure, and with access to higher-ups

A simple visual way of looking at this is the manager can much more easily push their report to the margins, or even outside the margins of the organization, while the subordinate can do no such thing.*

Perhaps as powerful as these organizational imbalances, and working right along side them, are the internalized aspects of egoic human nature. Bosses consciously but especially unconsciously, think of ourselves as we have experienced other authority figures:  parents, teachers, judges, doctors. As bosses we mimic them, assuming a kind of superiority in knowledge, judgment, mental processing, and other faculties.

Bottom line:  It takes a continuous effort to tip the scales, to give away information, choice, and power; it takes conscious effort to “not know,” and not say or imply, “because I said so.” It takes admitting mistakes, asking questions, and appreciating others’ support. 

It takes so very much more than saying you have an “open door policy,” to truly

Lead with your best self!


*There are rare exceptions where the “lower” individual has some or a lot of leverage.  Examples include: If the report has hugely valuable technical skills or has economic advantages (e.g., they can sell!), or has powerful social relations up the chain (e.g., family/legacy, a champion in power, etc.).