Leadership Development

Leading through…“YOU’RE NOT MY BOSS”

Closeup of young business man yawning during meeting with colleagues in background

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of LEADERSHIP is leading those who are not accountable to you.


Have you ever been placed in a situation where you had the proverbial “dotted-line” responsibility of leading a group of people who just assume you go away and not bother them? Well, I have and it certainly tests your leadership capability…two-fold. A few years ago I had a consulting opportunity where I was pretty much made the general manager of a product that was long in the tooth having been on the market for over a decade, and the company wanted to squeeze as much water out of the rock as they could. I was tasked with rejuvenating and growing any additional dollars I could out of what was really a loss leader. What came with that “attractive” opportunity was a marketing team low on ideas on how to rebuild a brand and extremely protective against any outside influence appearing to have more experience with failed brands. So, in comes this guy (yours truly) a complete stranger full of energy, with plenty of out of the box strategies to work on what most would say is an impossible initiative…with a  marketing team who pretty much shut the door on me. Looking back on the situation I perhaps could have handled my arrival a bit better which I’ll detail later on in providing tactics you should implement when leading those who are not accountable to you. Nonetheless, through trial and a lot of error I managed to receive full cooperation from the marketing team who implemented a “comeback strategy” that APPLE would blush over. In today’s cooperate environment especially those companies with massive infrastructure and multiple reporting channels often times leadership ambiguity is a big problem. I’ve never been a big fan of “Matrix Leadership Systems” however companies like Boeing which I researched for my whitepaper (“Cross Functional Leadership”…leading across the ambiguity aisle: http://www.slideshare.net/aharrell2000/cross-functional-cross-functional-leadership-best2-p-whitepaper) have done a wonderful job implementing one of the best matrix leadership model processes this country has ever seen. But, Boeing is the exception as many companies attempting to copy their model have failed miserably and created a terminal leadership crisis for themselves. In its strictest definition a matrix organization structure is where people have more than one boss; you could simply define a matrix team as a team where individuals on the team report to more than one boss. Again, as you can assume when a leadership platform like a matrix system is not fully organized and mapped out…all h*ll can break lose.  

“Cognitive Dissonance” Leadership

An area where leaders have a false sense of reality when in positions of authority…is thinking they have unconditional “Authority”. We all can agree the “My way or the highway” leadership style no longer works in today’s business environment and I would argue it never worked in yesteryear’s business environment, but there still remains this hubris thinking that because I’m the boss people will fall in line. All the rage these days is how you manage/lead the “Millennial” the population some say will look at you like you’re crazy if you give them direction (LOL!). The current workforce is demanding their leaders earn their leadership badge and if that means insubordination on a smaller scale they’ll test the mettle of today’s leader. “Cognitive Dissonance” is the new indifference when it comes to the behavior of the employee, and in my humble opinion corporate leaders have not made that adjustment to their personal skill set. The Leading of an individual or team of individuals who do not have a direct line of accountability to that leader will not innately make that leader’s priorities theirs…that’s a reality.  It’s not to say that there’s some nefarious purposeful refusal to act in accordance to that leader’s direction, it’s really the ambiguity that causes the cognitive dissonance to occur. There has to be a cogent expectation of how roles within a relationship are going to operate whether it’s a direct or dotted line reporting structure. Such as the case of my personal example above when I was selected to lead a marketing team from a management consulting angle, there wasn’t a clearly defined set of expectations among the parties. Companies often make the disastrous mistake in assuming just because they give someone the title of “LEAD” that everyone should follow lock step, when in reality it’s not that everyone is in disagreement with the arrangement they’re just not certain of the expectations which causes cognitive dissonance. One of my favorite authors on “Coaching”/”Leadership” is Ferdinand F. Fournies (“coaching for improved work performance”- http://www.amazon.com/Coaching-Improved-Performance-Revised-Edition/dp/0071352937), Mr. Fournies outlines the critical importance of providing expectations when leading through “Cognitive Dissonance”:


One of the most prevalent responses managers give to the question, “Why don’t employees do what they are supposed to do?” was “They don’t know what they are supposed to do”. There are four parts to this not knowing problem. Employees may not know what specifically they are supposed to do or when to begin it or when to end it or importantly what they are doing it for. Has an employee ever done a job for you that turned out to be less that what you expected, and when you described how much more work had to be completed, his/her response was, “Oh, I didn’t know that’s what you wanted…I’ll be glad to do that”. Too frequently, employees are given direction but the only one who can recognize when an expectation is completed is the boss. The result is that employees keep bringing what they believe to be a completed expectation to the boss and are repeatedly told, “No, that’s not what I wanted.” Keep in mind I’m not talking about those ridiculous but common situations where the boss clearly identifies to the employee what the proper expectation looks like, but when the expectation is completed, the boss decides something else should be done rather than what was previously agreed upon. This happens quite frequently when there’s ambiguity and improper communication with regards to the manager’s expectation.

The responsibility of leading those who aren’t directly accountable to your “authority” is tough enough, not clearly defining the roles, and expectations makes it impossible.

From my experiences and those I’ve had the pleasure to be mentored by, below are steps you can take to properly engage and lead those who may think to themselves…”You’re Not The Boss Of Me”:

  • Show Empathy: Right out the gate develop a “We’re all in this together, success depends on all hands on deck” philosophy. Credibility is not gained…unless there’s mutual trust.
  • Demonstrate Competency: Telling someone you’re “Smart” is not going to cut it. Do your homework, make sure you have a thorough understanding of what needs to get done and importantly know the “Landscape”.
  • Create Value: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Creating mutual value between yourself and team creates a positive “WIIFM” (What is in it for me”) environment that empowers and breeds accountability toward completing the desired goal.
  • Forge A Partnership: Develop a “Connection Session” strategy which each indirect report. Discuss working relationship, accountability, and importantly “VISION”.
  • Inspire Commitment: “Leading by Example” is the soup of the day. The best way to inspire those not directly reporting to you is to get in the “mud” with them, demonstrating your commitment to their success and the overall team success will definitely inspire.
  • Grow Skills: If there’s an opportunity to “Teach” take it! If people feel like their growing under your direction they’ll wish you were their official boss…rather than an ambiguous one.
  • Shape the Environment: Perhaps the most important is developing and molding an environment based on “TRUST”. The corporate environment is chocked with “snakes” and the immediate cognitive dissonance between a dotted line leader and employee is “Can I Trust You”? If the top bullet points are followed to mastery then shaping the environment of trust should come naturally.

Leading through…“YOU’RE NOT MY BOSS”


Thank you so much!


Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting







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