Build Community Of Leaders Not Loyal Lieutenants

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It is common when leaders go into new organizations to beef up their teams with the right people possessing the right skills. Building a powerful coalition to execute the organization’s vision should be foremost on each leader’s mind.  

An effective coalition should be built on a community of leaders not on one character all the time. 

What do I mean? Let me introduce you to the newly appointed Head of Marketing who I will call Virash. 

Virash worked in 5 companies as head of marketing. In almost all these companies without fail, it took him less than a month from the date of joining to find fault with the existing staff including the most talented people. He would make the situation unbearable for the talented people so that he could make way for two of his trusted lieutenants that he had worked with before. Effectively, everywhere he goes he brings these two people.

I asked myself, aren’t these two people ambitious? Don’t they have plans to become heads of functions if they are always following  Virash? A topic for another day. 

Getting to the bottom of the issue, it became clear that Virash suffered from what authors Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck calls “The Psychological Comfort Factor”.  

The authors argue that many jobs are filled with the wrong people because leaders who promote them are comfortable with them. It becomes a serious problem when loyalty is based on wrong factors. They contend that, “….the leader may be comfortable with a person because the person thinks like him and doesn’t challenge him, or has developed the skill of insulating the boss from conflict. Or the leader may favor people who are part of the same social network, built up over years in the organization” 

It became apparent in our coaching that this seems highly likely to apply to Virash. It is an approach that is not helpful to him, his two trusted lieutenants or the organizations that he has worked for. He has robbed the previous organizations of the opportunity to build their succession pipeline. He breaks the spirit of the talented people he finds in the new organization by instilling self-doubt in them so that they can leave and make way for his people. 

He stays for 18 months at the most and goes for the next conquest. 

Where does Virash start to turn the situation around?  His leader needs to coach and hold him accountable on the following: 

  • Purpose alignment: interrogate his alignment and commitment to the purpose of the organization. One leader I reported to, used to say, I am not here to fix what is not broken but to promote the greater good of the organization. 
  • Build trust: starting any job by finding fault breeds mistrust especially if the leader bases his decisions on inadequate information. Trust is predicated on open, frank and non-judgemental conversations. The point of departure should be trying to understand and not pretending to know all the answers
  • Appreciate diversity: Bruce Lee summed it well when he stated that “people try to hold onto the sameness. This holding onto prevents growth”. Building a team with people looking like you, talking and thinking like you is a recipe for disaster.  
  • Embrace leadership responsibility: each leader needs to think about how they impact their employees at work and beyond. The idea that people cannot bring their problems from home to work and vice versa is misplaced, you cannot separate people from their joys and sadness. Leaders need to know how to support their employees and increase engagement. 
  • Boss to coach: develop coaching skills to help people grow in their jobs, harness their strengths and talents. 
  • Grow pool of leaders: the challenge for each leader is to build a reasonable pool of people who will be in a position to take over from them and leave the organization in the best place. Anything short of that is a failure of leadership mandate. 

My clarion call to organizations is to tighten their assessment processes and never take lightly the glaring signs suggesting huge gaps in the leader’s journey. Coaching and mentoring cannot always be the panacea to poor recruitment decisions. Leaders are central to the engagement levels of their employees. 

Tex Hlalele is a Personal Mastery, Leadership & Organisational Effectiveness Specialist. Book Tex to help you and your team gain insights and possibilities for individual learning and organizational advancement on +2764 656 6174 or visit He is the author of the book, Face the person in the mirror.

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