Leading Leaders: The 3 Mindsets Critical for Engaging Your Leaders

Published March 16, 2021


ExecutionLeading Others

At the 2016 Global Leadership Summit, Chris McChesney presented the 4 Disciplines of Execution. In April of 2021 Chris and his co-authors will release the 2nd edition of their best-selling book. In this edition they take a deeper look at the unique challenges of executing when you are leading other leaders.

Chris McChesney wrote 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney.

The most surprising aspect of our 20-year journey is how critical human nature is to successful execution. This is particularly true when it comes to unifying leaders around a new strategic direction.

In this except from Chapter 8, we look at three essential leadership mindsets for engaging the hearts and minds of your leaders.

Note: In chapter 8, of the 2nd Edition of The 4 Disciplines of Execution, we cover both mindsets and skillsets. In this article we will cover the mindsets.


Here is the challenge.

You, and three of your closest senior leaders have spent hours determining a critical objective that must be achieved this year. This objective will require a breakthrough beyond how the organization normally performs (what we call a Wildly Important Goal or a WIG). The problem is, the 18 other front-line team leaders in your organization (who report to the four of you) have not been involved in these discussions. Moreover, your success will require their commitment.

The four of you (the leaders of leaders) will need to explain the “draft” Organizational WIG that you have been considering. You will need to listen to their ideas and concerns. You will need to make a final decision on the Organizational WIG and most important you will need those 18 leaders to create their own Team WIG at their level, to ensure the success of the Organizational WIG. If that doesn’t sound challenging enough, many of those 18 leaders have their own, contrary, ideas on where the organization should be going.

It won’t be easy to maintain the following 3 mindsets, but if you can, you will not only get alignment, you will get commitment.


1. Transparency Mindset

When presenting new ideas to a broader leadership team, most leaders can’t resist the temptation to advocate the new idea as the “right answer”. They don’t even question the need to convince the others. They do this by emphasizing how “critical this WIG is to our success”, or how this WIG represent “the only effective option for moving forward.” While it is important to communicate the logic of how you got to this draft Organizational WIG it is also important to communicate the other options that were considered and rejected, and any lingering concerns or questions you still have.

Leaders with a Transparency Mindset share their concerns openly, freely acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers, and actively engage feedback from others no matter where they reside on the organizational chart. Speaking to your fellow leaders with this level of transparency not only shows respect—it endears respect. It also demonstrates openness and invites openness from others. Don’t let your strong desire for unity slip into pressured advocacy.

The most visible aspect of a Transparency Mindset relates to how the final decision of the Organizational WIG will be made. This is critical. Even though the 18 leaders of your front-line teams are essential and highly valued in the discussion, the final decision on the Organizational WIG will be made by the 4 leaders of leaders. The best approach is to make this clear from the beginning. When you do this, the leaders of front-line teams understand that they are there to gain understanding, as well as offer their insights. But they are not there to be sold on the WIGs nor are you going to take a vote, or debate endlessly trying to reach consensus. Showing this level of transparency up front helps to build high trust and sets the stage for the leaders of front-line teams to choose their own Team WIGs later in the process.


2. Understanding Mindset

The key to influence is to first be influenced. An Understanding Mindset means that the leaders of leaders truly seek to understand the concerns and ideas of the leaders of front-line teams before making a final decision on the organization’s WIG. Wise leaders continually remind themselves that there is much they do not know, and the active feedback of others is not only necessary for gaining insight, it’s essential for creating buy-in.

Your sincere intent to understand the concerns and ideas from the leaders of front-line teams is essential. Remember, you can understand even if you don’t agree. In fact, it’s particularly important on ideas or insights where your first reaction is to disagree. When leaders are unwilling to adopt an Understanding Mindset, they often project an air of ego or insecurity.

The greatest need of the human soul is to be understood. In the end, it’s far more important to the leaders of front-line teams to feel understood than it is for their own ideas to be adopted.


3. Involvement Mindset

Most conscientious leaders understand the importance of involvement. What is less understood is when and how to create that involvement.

When the final decision is made on the Organizational WIG, leaders of front-line teams have an essential role to understand, and hopefully, improve the WIGs. But the final decision belongs to the leaders of leaders.

However, after the Organizational WIG is finalized, and Team WIGs are chosen, leaders of front-line teams make their own decisions, subject only to final validation by the leaders of leaders. As a leader of leaders, you “can veto but don’t dictate.” You let them choose, and veto only when you must.

The good news is that when the organization’s WIG is clearly understood, vetoing of a Team WIG is seldom necessary. And when it is needed, the leader of the front-line team is then given an opportunity to rethink their choice and present a new Team WIG for consideration.

One of the most intriguing elements of this work has been observing the reaction of front-line leaders when they are allowed to choose their own Team WIG. Where there might have been strong disagreement, even animosity, around the choice of the Organizational WIG, it seems to disappear when the leaders of front-line teams face the challenges and in the choice of their own Team WIG.

It’s fascinating to see the leader of a front-line team resisting and debating the choice of the Organizational WIGs in one moment, and in the next, fully engage in creating Team WIGs to achieve it. For years we would witness this and wonder, “What just happened? Where did all that animosity go?”

And then we realized that the conversation on the Organizational WIG had simply ended. The leaders of front-line teams had offered their best arguments, their most insightful analysis, and the benefit of their own experience. But now, it was over. They felt they had been heard, that they were respected, and most importantly, that they had been understood. In the end, they knew a decision had to be made.

Once the leaders of front-line teams began to create their own Team WIGs, they realized that their contribution was essential to the success of the entire effort. Even if they disagreed with the overall direction, the invitation created through their involvement was compelling. And the answer to the clear, but unspoken request was, “Of course I’ll help.”

Had the leaders of leaders spent their energy trying to convince the resistant front-line leaders, they would have received begrudging compliance at best and open defiance at worst. Instead, they were now on their way to the most powerful outcome of all: willing commitment. Human nature is a curious thing.

About the Author
Chris McChesney

Chris McChesney

Executive; Wall Street Journal #1 National Best-selling Author

Franklin Covey

Chris McChesney is a Wall Street Journal #1 national bestselling author of The 4 Disciplines of Execution and is the Global Practice Leader of Execution for Franklin Covey. Known for his high-energy and engaging presentations, McChesney has consulted with many of the world’s top brands and leverages this practical experience to help leaders from the boardroom to the front lines of an organization get better at executing the ideas that matter most.

Years at GLS 2016