You Need Two Leadership Gears



  • Author: Lindy Greer, Francesca Gino, Robert I. Sutton
  • Full Title: You Need Two Leadership Gears
  • Document Note: The most effective leaders are able to shift between two different leadership styles to meet the demands of the moment. They use their formal authority and respect to guide their team when to switch between these two power modes. The research shows that teams who switch back and forth between hierarchical and participatory models outperform those who remain in one mode. Leaders must be mindful of their words, body language and participation in meetings to effectively shift between the two styles. They must also set expectations for their team before meetings and use tools such as assigning a devil’s advocate to encourage open debate. Knowing when to get in the way and when to get out of the way is key to successful leadership.
  • URL: you-need-two-leadership-gears


  • Our research shows that when leaders and teams get stuck in either “exercise authority” mode (in which the leader holds tightly on to power) or “flat” mode (in which the leader levels the hierarchy and shares power), they run into trouble. (View Highlight)
  • Leaders who are adept at shifting power modes let everyone know when it’s time for divergent thinking (during idea generation, for instance) and when it’s time for convergent thinking (to, say, map out next steps). They send clear signals about when their teams should offer suggestions, raise concerns about problems and risks, and argue. They also make it psychologically safe for people to speak up—ensuring they feel they’ll be heard, respected, and valued. And when it’s time to end the discussion, make a decision, and act, skilled leaders signal that they’re taking charge again. (View Highlight)
  • Members of the best teams don’t treat rules and roles like a musical composition that’s played exactly as written. Instead, like jazz musicians, they improvise, trying new things and constantly making adjustments in response to one another’s moves, while still being guided—and often constrained—by the original theme. Jazz bands routinely rotate leadership, giving each player a chance to have a solo or develop a musical idea while others play a supporting role. This ability to support another musician is known as comping—listening and responding without overshadowing—and it’s one reason jazz players are so respected by other musicians. (View Highlight)
  • Look at how much airtime you get. We’ve found that leaders often talk too much in meetings where everyone is supposed to contribute. Like good jazz players, successful leaders excel at both exerting their power and relinquishing it at the appropriate times. (View Highlight)
  • Leaders who know when and how to cede power earn respect and commitment. The best people want to work for them, and the team member with the most pertinent expertise sways decisions. For all those reasons, their teams perform better. (View Highlight)
  • It’s also good to actively seek feedback from people close to you who see you in action and are willing to be candid with you. Ask them to let you know whether you’re too dominating in conversations that would benefit from a diversity of perspectives and whether your presence stifles discussion because people don’t feel comfortable speaking their minds. (View Highlight)
  • A good way to do that is to specify “debate” under an agenda item, with the amount of time that will be devoted to the discussion, followed by “commit and act,” with the name of the decision-maker. If a meeting is being held to announce a decision and answer questions about what it means for the team, state that in the invitation, and make it clear the meeting is not a brainstorming session or an occasion for input. (View Highlight)
  • When coaching leaders we use the hippopotamus as a metaphor: Leaders have to know when to rise out of the water and exercise their power and when to cede it to others and sink down, leaving just their eyes above the surface to discreetly watch their teams. (View Highlight)
  • Tell people that right now it’s time to change modes, using simple, clear language and maybe even raising your voice a bit. The CEO of a global technology company we work with does this well. He routinely announces, “Let’s create a moment for brainstorming” or “We’ve heard many perspectives; let’s now turn to making a decision.” (View Highlight)
  • If you’re the most powerful person in the room, no matter what you do or say, your mere presence can be intimidating. Your authority alone can squelch comment and debate and create awkward silences after someone offers an idea and everyone waits for you to express an opinion (View Highlight)
  • Kennedy gathered some 20 experts with diverse viewpoints and knowledge. To encourage them to express their opinions and avoid groupthink, he divided them into smaller teams and asked each team to develop possible solutions. Then, following the advice of his brother Robert Kennedy, who “felt there was less true give-and-take with the president in the room,” JFK deliberately chose not to attend some of the team meetings. (View Highlight)
  • Managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly, you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it. (View Highlight)