Leadership 101: Don't pretend you have all the answers

ONE MINUTE BRIEFING: Tom Monahan, former CEO of CEB, shares his lessons from advising some of the world's top CEOs.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 03 Dec 2018

This question neatly summarises the difference between senior and junior leadership: could you do your team members' jobs better than they can? Realising you no longer have all the answers (if indeed, you ever really did) is a defining moment in a senior leader’s career – at least in the good ones.

It’s a lesson Norton Street Capital managing partner Tom Monahan learned firsthand over his 11 years as CEO of HR advisory firm CEB, now part of Gartner. Before he left in 2016, he told Management Today what he’d learned observing and advising the bosses of some of the world’s largest companies, including 99% of the Fortune 100 and 89% of the FTSE 100.


"A great boss doesn’t act as a teacher resolving every issue. Instead, they should recognise the leadership strengths and weaknesses of the team itself, and in so doing acknowledge that yours truly isn’t always the best person to ask.

"One of the toughest things a leader can do is not be the answer for every problem but instead be a connector to other people. What we call enterprise leaders understand the leadership skills of the team and match them up in different ways. If person X has a blind spot in an area where person Y’s very strong, simply connect them."

Be strategic about succession

"The most overused term is 'pipeline', as though there’s a steady stream of people marching endlessly towards the CEO position, in order. That’s usually where people go wrong in evaluating candidates, absent a view of what they want for the organisation.

"Succession planning at the top level is mostly a strategy exercise – taking a forward look at context of the role and what you need, and then matching the right person to it. It’s not ‘who’s the best leader’ – that’s a silly question."

FOR MORE INFORMATION

To find out what a Roman Emperor, a US computer giant and British bank can teach you about how not to handle succession planning, read this article. To read the full interview with Tom Monahan, read this article from November 2016.

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