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Posted: May 14, 2014

Unleash your latent leaders

And maximize performance and potential

Bob and Gregg Vanourek

Many managers are overworked and burned out because they have not unleashed the latent leaders in their organizations.

Too many people think about leadership from the top down, conflating leadership with authority. Leadership that achieves excellent results in an ethical manner and, accordingly, endures through time (which we call the “triple crown” of leadership) unleashes the extraordinary potential latent in people that languishes in far too many organizations.

David Barger, president and CEO of JetBlue Airways, advises, “Be mindful that there is incredible leadership all around you. Go find it. Go tap it. Go mine it.” Once activated, such leadership can be transformative for the organization and life-changing for the people involved.

Unfortunately, this leadership dynamic is all too rare. For decades, leadership observers have known that the quest for a brilliant or heroic leader to save our organizations is a false search destined to disappoint. Yet we continue to await such saviors. We focus too much on the traits and skills of the people at the top and their leadership style, whether it be directive, empowering, authentic, transformational, or whatever. This way of thinking is profoundly limiting and has damaging consequences.

Too many workers forego their own initiative and leadership potential as they defer to their leaders, awaiting direction.

Too many leaders step on the initiative and leadership potential of their workers, assuming that, as leaders, they must always have the answers and provide direction.

Mike Critelli, the former CEO of Pitney Bowes, told us, “There were many decisions that I consciously did not make. Before I arrived, there was clearly a preference from employees for the CEO to make decisions. But building organizational capability requires a CEO to bite his or her tongue.”

Without unleashing the leadership latent in people, organizations underperform. Most organizations tether leadership responsibility to authority positions. Most leadership models focus on CEOs or departmental heads. They treat leadership as if it were an individual sport, or an executive aristocracy.

Bob Hatcher, the CEO of MidCountry Financial Corp told us, “If you have to lead everything, you’re just aggrandizing yourself. The real world needs empowered project teams, individual leaders, all kinds of folks, to have success in their professions and their lives.”

Bill Drayton, the CEO of Ashoka, a global network and funder of leading social entrepreneurs, told us, “The old organizational model where a few people decide things, and then ‘manage’ everyone else, just can’t function in today’s environment…. A team is characterized by the fact that every single person takes the initiative and is a ‘changemaker.’”

Empowering Leaders through Shared Values

The most impactful leadership gives people in the organization an irrevocable license to lead by the organization’s shared values.

People in these organizations operate in a more developed state of empowerment in which the freedom to act is not granted by a higher authority, or a thick manual of corporate policies. Instead, leadership is expected throughout the culture and enabled by the shared values. People in the organization, regardless of title, have a license to act and lead, as long as they do so in accordance with the organization’s shared values. Armed with such triple crown empowerment—backed with the resources, training, and support they need—they can achieve exceptional results, not to mention find much more fulfillment in their work.

This leadership ebbs and flows dynamically from person to person—up, down, and around—depending on their knowledge, skills, passion, and the nature and urgency of the challenge at hand.

Leaders in these organizations give their colleagues progressively more challenging leadership assignments, coaching them along the way, letting them learn from the best leadership development tool of all: practice.

Core Concept Leadership that endeavors to be excellent, ethical, and enduring empowers multiple leaders throughout the organization, using the shared values to guide them.

“Triple crown” leadership is a group performance, enlisting anyone and everyone to lead at times, regardless of the organizational hierarchy.

Practical Applications

  1. Are you overloaded with work and decisions?
  2. Are you the only one you trust to lead?
  3. Have you collaboratively developed shared values for your organization?
  4. Have you given your colleagues a license to lead by the shared values?
  5. Have you coached your latent leaders to develop their leadership potential?

Bob and Gregg Vanourek, father and son, current and former Colorado residents, are co-authors of "Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations," a 2013 International Book Awards winner. Bob is the former CEO of five companies and was recently designated as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior 2013. Gregg has co-authored three books and teaches entrepreneurship at the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship. Web: http://triplecrownleadership.com/ Twitter: @TripleCrownLead

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