Last week a client shared that she is really good at dealing with “challenging” leaders, the Steve Jobs sort who are change agents but are often abrasive or polarizing. A strong people person who is also forward thinking, this client is good at shaping a vision around the change, and excellent at selling the abrasive leader to the rest of the team. She helps the organization leverage the team’s talents. Without that, a disruptive leader’s vision struggles to move forward and essential innovation doesn’t happen.
It’s common for organizations promote disruptive leaders. It makes sense — change leaders love results and they tend to be good at managing up. But too often organizations don’t consider the layer around these leaders and critical team members either leave or are so disengaged as to be ineffective. In the first four of Kotter’s 8-Steps for creating change, you can feel how essential the #2 supportive leader is.
How do you identify these change supporters who have the unique ability to enroll others? They often self-identify by saying that they themselves are not leaders. They recognize that they thrive when they are partnered with someone more objective and unbending. They are often “people people” — more likely to get up from their desk and visit with others than to sit behind the computer. They are practical and good at breaking down change so that the team can take it on step by step.
When thinking about roles and responsibilities, it’s normal to put knowledge and expertise first. To find this first follower role, look instead for approach and unique abilities.