What Do We Need From Leaders?

To change organizations we need direct & indirect leadership

🎧 Speaking of leadership…if any of you watched the debates last night and wonder how we got to this dumpster fire, I encourage you to check out this episode of the Freakanomics podcast: “America’s Hidden Duopoly.” The Democrat and Republican parties control the biggest monopoly you’ve never heard of and they are tearing the country apart.

I think about leadership in two ways: direct and indirect. A direct leader is someone with a title or a position that immediately conveys authority. An indirect leader is someone who leads primarily through influence.

For example, a VP of Sales is an executive leader with power and influence that derives (at least initially) from their title. On the same sales team, you can have several individual contributors who can be just as influential - they are indirect leaders. These individual contributors have influence and authority from several sources - tenure, personality, connections, etc.

We can be strong, direct leaders with all the right moves but if we neglect to recognize indirect leaders or account for their influence, our efforts will fail. Strong leaders lead by building relationships and influence.

The cumulative effect of direct and indirect leadership can lead an organization to sustained growth, or it can lead to decline.

What Do We Need From Direct Leaders?

Thanks to a growing body of research, we know that excellent leaders engage in these behaviors: 


Direct leaders have an enormous responsibility; every minute of interaction with their team is an opportunity to be a force for positive or create a toxic environment. Strong leaders hold themselves and their teams accountable. They are inclusive and humble; they articulate and share their vision and strive to be consistently authentic, optimistic, and high-energy. 

Communication & Transparency

How we communicate and what we communicate has a significant impact on our teams.

Our co-workers and teammates are adults, and its time, we start communicating with them like adults (we need to start treating them like adults as well but more on that in a later essay). That means being as transparent and open as we can be. It means providing context because the more people know, the better the results.

We see the opposite of this when organizations make significant changes that impact hundreds of people and give little to no context to the people affected. The resulting gossip is an unnecessary distraction, and the lack of context means people are operating in a vacuum. 


The best leaders help their people by removing obstacles and supporting their growth and development. Supporting a team takes many forms:

  • Getting the tools and equipment, they need to get their job done– sometimes, that’s as easy as approval, and other times, we need to push back on the bureaucracy.

  •  Lift up your team— no organization is perfect, and you will always have bad days. A good leader provides perspective and recognizes the team’s hard work.

  •  Get out of their way — If you feel like you’re micro-managing, you either have the wrong people or the wrong mindset. Remove the obstacles, and let your team go!

The above is just the beginning of my exploration of leadership and its importance in building modern organizations. In next week's post, I'll dive into indirect leadership. In the meantime: 

What do you think? Did I miss any essential qualities of leadership? What would you add? Remove? 

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