Successful Supervisor 100 Your Leadership Legacy

November 3, 2018

The legacy left behind by a departing leader reflects the caliber of leadership. John Maxwell summed it up in “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”:

“When all is said and done, your ability as a leader will not be judged by what you achieved personally or even what your team accomplished during your tenure. You will be judged by how well your people and your organization did after you were gone. You will be gauged according to the Law of Legacy. Your lasting value will be measured by succession.”

Pass your legacy of exceptional leadership skills to future generations by becoming a grower of other leaders. Doing this not only helps the new generation, but it also enhances the performance of your current team.

Modeling and teaching outstanding leadership skills is the most effective way to bring your organization to the pinnacle of success and keep it there. You need to make this investment, but it is a joyous one because it enhances the quality of work life for everyone. As a leader, you will have more success, more joy, more followers, and more rewards.

When leading an organization, large or small, you can’t do it all. Running the details of a business must be done through others. In large organizations, there might be thousands of others. You need an organization of trusted lieutenants to accomplish the work. To do this, you need to shift your focus from manager to teacher.

The best leaders are those who believe it is their highest calling to personally help develop the leaders who work for them. A large portion of their mindset is spent evaluating, training, and reinforcing leaders under them.

The training is not centered on classes or consultant seminars. There will be some of that, but the bulk is personal coaching and mentoring by the leader. The best leaders spend 30-50% of their time trying to enhance the caliber of leaders on their team. Why is this? When you improve the capability of leaders working for you, the whole organization is improved. You are leveraging your leadership.

In my line management role, my job title was Division Manager. I saw my function, just as I am doing in this series of articles, as “growing leaders.” I found that spending time and energy on growing leaders gave a better return than spending time inventing new HR practices or supply chain procedures. John Maxwell, in “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” called it the Law of Multiplication. He makes the distinction between developing followers or leaders as:

“Leaders who develop followers grow their organization only one person at a time. But leaders who develop leaders multiply their growth because for every leader they develop, they also receive all of that leader’s followers. Add ten followers to your organization and you have the power of ten people. Add ten leaders to your organization, and you have the power of the ten leaders times all the followers they influence. That’s the difference between addition and multiplication.”

Develop leaders in as many layers as you have under you. If there are three layers between you and the masses, then develop three layers of leaders. It is not enough to work on the group closest to you. They will get the most attention, simply by proximity and need for interface time. To be effective, you need to work at all leadership levels and make it a personal priority.

Jack Welch is probably the best example of this in industry. At his famous School of Leadership at Crotonville, he was personally involved in mentoring and coaching the thousands of leaders in General Electric. Jack believed that teaching was what he did for a living.

“It was easy for me to get hooked on Crotonville. I spent an extraordinary amount of my time there. I was in the Pit once or twice a month, for up to four hours at a time. Over the course of 21 years, I had a chance to connect directly with nearly 18,000 GE leaders. Going there always rejuvenated me. It was one of the favorite parts of my job.”

Do the mentoring and development yourself. Do not hire a consultant to do it. It is fine to have help for certain specific skills, but is a big mistake to let the professional trainers take over. Leadership development must be your passion, one that you take seriously enough to consume a significant part of your time. You don’t send people to a one-day seminar and expect them to come out good leaders. The combined snake oil of 100 consultants cannot transform your team into effective leaders as well as you can. Warren Bennis summed it up as follows:

“True leaders… are not made in a single weekend seminar, as many of the leadership-theory spokespeople claim. I’ve come to think of that as the microwave theory. Pop in Mr. or Mrs. Average and out pops McLeader in sixty seconds.”

Teaching must cover all aspects of leadership. Modeling the way, as well as doing formal training, is the balanced approach that pays off. I always considered leadership training a great way to engage in serious dialog with my team about things that really mattered. I would always come away with new insights. Frequently, it felt like I was receiving more than giving. It is a way to “sharpen your own saw” while you mentor others, a real win-win.

As you use this technique, keep notes on what works best and what you are learning about leadership. Keep a file and develop your own trajectory of leadership. Share this with your team and gain further insight through the dialog. Try different situations and reactions, keeping track of your success. In other words, manage your own leadership progress. You will become fascinated with this and gain much from it.

If you are a young leader, you may not feel qualified to mentor others. My advice is to start as soon as possible anyway. Since this is part of your lifelong pursuit of leadership, the sooner you begin teaching, the more you will know. Teaching is the best way to learn something. I suggest you teach what you already know and seek to learn what you need to know. Don’t come across as a know-it-all in your mentoring, especially if you are inexperienced. Rather, ask people to go on an exciting journey with you toward more effective leadership.

I hope you have enjoyed this series on “The Successful Supervisor.” I have tried to cover topics that would be helpful for incumbent or aspiring leaders at the supervisor level. I am not inclined to compress this series into a book or video series. I think it is best left to posterity as a blog series of articles that can be read and re-read and passed around to others at no cost to you. Best of luck to you on this wonderful journey called leadership.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at, or 585.392.7763

Improving Leadership Transitions

November 23, 2013

Passing the batonIt should come as no surprise that organizations take on the personality of their leaders. After all, the leader sets the tone for everything that happens in an organization.

It depends on management style how much the culture evolves toward the style of the leader. In some cases, a particularly hands-off leader will allow a culture to define itself, but those situations are rare exceptions. This article gives two examples of how the culture shifts when a new manager takes over and provides some tips about how a new leader can efficiently define the culture after taking over from a predecessor.

Probably the most-watched transition of CEOs in decades was the transition at Apple from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook. Steve Jobs’ style was so different from Tim Cooks’ that the entire culture of the company had to adjust.

Jobs was abrasive, demanding, no comprise, micromanaging, and secretive. Cook is more methodical, thoughtful, consensus loving, and transparent.

The organization is still trying to adapt to the different leadership style while at the same time keeping up the blistering pace of innovation that was the hallmark during the Jobs era. By most counts, things have slowed down a bit.

The embarrassment of the Apple Maps fiasco was an unwelcome speed bump for the new CEO. (Note that Apple Maps was actually engineered during the Jobs era, but it was introduced as a product after his death). Things are settling out now, but few people believe the mature corporate giant will ever get back to the cocky, scrappy, bold innovation pioneer it was a decade ago.

Another famous transition occurred at GE in 2001 when Jeff Immelt took over from the powerful icon, Jack Welch.

Jeff’s style was more collaborative than the combative style of Welch. Jack liked to solve problems analytically by getting information and making very edgy choices.

He would berate leaders in public if they did not measure up to his standards. Jeff was more approachable and liked to work out issues by getting everyone involved. Welch created a combative atmosphere where the winners survived and the losers were out. Immelt tried to bring the best in everyone to the workplace every day.

Both leaders were successful in their time and both struggled with situations as they worked through the inevitable challenges of running a huge multinational organization.

These two examples are from mega corporations, but the same phenomenon takes place in smaller organizations, not-for-profits, government, and even volunteer organizations.

Whenever a new leader replaces an incumbent, you will see a rapid change in the culture that is reflective of the change in styles between the two leaders.

The transition from old to new is fascinating to watch, and there are ways to do it well. There are also potential major mistakes that will hurt the chances for the new administration.
When a new leader takes over an organization, what happens in the first few days, or even the first few hours is important to do with great care. A weak opening gets the new culture off to a waffling start, yet parachuting in with combat boots can lead to fear and rejection. Here are five tips for a new leader to consider during the critical first few days on a new assignment.
1. Introduce yourself consciously
Do not make the mistake of thinking that people will get to know the “real you” in due time. Be more proactive, and set up a meeting where you can share your values, style, expectations, biases, and idiosyncrasies.

Make sure to set the stage where people feel encouraged to ask questions and take the time to answer every question thoughtfully. Be as engaging as possible without being insincere or condescending. Let people get to know the best side of you first. If time allows, these meetings are better if done in small family groups than a mega Town Hall format.
Walk around a lot during the first few days and shake people’s hands. Act and truly be interested in their personal lives. Try to find one common bond with each person you meet, so you can ask her about her sick dog or new house at a later date. Specifically focus on remembering names.
2. Listen a lot at the start
Unless you are taking over for a field commander who has just been killed (or the equivalent), it is a good idea to understand how the current organization works before barking out orders on how you expect to run the place.

It is so tempting to impress your ideas on the group as a leader right from the start, but you will pay a heavy price if you are too overbearing. Some experts recommend an immediate “take charge” approach for a new leader. I admit there are some circumstances when that urgency of command is called for, but in most cases I favor a more metered approach.
A wise move is to heed the words of Stephen R. Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when he wrote “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” By establishing yourself as a good listener first, you will gain much more cooperation, trust, and respect.

3. Refrain from talking about your prior organization
New leaders often make the mistake of referring to the great things done in their prior organization too often. Too much emphasis on a past success will turn people off when a new leader takes over. If you keep saying, “Well, in the XYZ organization, we used to have a daily briefing to keep people on board,” people will eventually roll their eyes when you walk into the room.
When I would promote or move a manager, I would ask him or her to refer to the prior job only one time in public. Once that chit was played, I suggested the new leader refrain from other references for at least 2 months.

This gave the new leader the opportunity to appreciate the good things that were being done in the new area before giving a lot of suggestions for them to be more like his old area. The people never knew the difference; they just seemed to like the new leader quite a lot.
4. Ask for feedback and advice
A wise leader has the Emotional Intelligence to ask for frequent feedback, especially at the start of his tenure. Asking how things are going and how people are reacting during the first several days signals a kind of humility that is cherished by people who report to the leader.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins and his team found two common denominators for what they called level five leaders (the best). They were, 1) passion for the organization, mission, and vision, and 2) humility. The reason being a bit humble at the start is that you will be approachable and coachable, so you have the highest potential for trust to kindle.
If the advice you get is not what you wanted to hear, be sure to be truly grateful for it anyway. Often constructive comments on how things could be done better are the most helpful. When you reinforce people who tell you what they really think, you go a long way toward building trusting relationships.
5. Suppress your ego

You have been given an opportunity to start with a new group. Do not get a swelled head over it.

Make sure people view you as grateful for the opportunity to join their team instead of inheriting all of them onto your team. The ability to establish a helpful mindset before exercising command will put people on your side, and the benefits will accrue throughout your tenure. If you establish yourself as a narcissist from day one, you will never fully win the hearts of those who report to you.
These five tips may seem like common sense, but I see them violated quite frequently by leaders taking over a new situation. If you follow these ideas, you will be off to a great start that will pay big dividends for your organization and ensure you will be viewed as an elite leader by everyone.