How to Thrive as a Strong Leader Under Another's Leadership

I had had it!

So, I stood there and told her exactly what I thought about her leadership and how it was affecting us all.

It was about time someone stood up to her! So, I did.

It did not go well with me. Within a month of that exchange, I chose to resign, and a month after that, I was gone.

This is how I started my leadership journey as a strong (more like immature and opinionated) leader under another’s leadership.

If you knew what we went through, you would have celebrated me as a martyr who took one for the team.

But if you are indeed a strong leader, you would know that I had numerous other options to work and thrive as a leader under another’s leadership, as bad as it was.

In this article I share three strategies to do just that - thrive as a strong leader under another's leadership.

But first, the definition of a strong leader, just so that we share understanding.

According to the Purpose-Driven Leadership Development (PDLD) Framework:

a strong leader is a leader of great character, competence, and self discipline. A person that exhibits a high level of emotional Intelligence, in handling self and dealing with others, and as such, is deemed to be a safe, stable, trustworthy ally to all around them.

Strong leaders are great influencers and often the movers and shakers in their spheres of influence. Self-starters, they take pride in getting the job done, and often know just how to do it.

This is all good and well when your leadership contribution is aligned with your leader's, but not so much when it is not.

Allow me to share three strategies to thrive as a strong leader under another’s leadership.

1. Align Vision & Values

Before taking on a role, do your own due diligence to get to know the vision and values of the organization (both official and unofficial, as evidenced by the prevailing culture), to decide whether or not this is a community you could thrive in.

If you can find out the same do about the leader you are about to serve under, that would be great.

What if you are already working under another's leadership?

In that case, align with the official organizational vision, values and standards of operation, and as far as is practical, where they require it, adjust your communication and delivery to your leader’s preferences.

2. Manage Expectations

Your job description, company values and competencies, onboarding directions, and annual performance objectives usually spell out what is expected of you in your role as a leader under another's leadership.

It is imperative that you clarify your understanding of what your leader expects of you, both at the beginning and during scheduled review meetings.

Do this also: request periodic check-ins to hear your leader confirm your alignment with, or deviation from, their expectations of how you are leading your people, unit, results, and most importantly, cooperation with them as your leader.

3. Defer to Your Leadership

I have watched a few episodes of Crown, a series based on the life and leadership of the current British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

In the episode where Queen Elizabeth II's father, King George, died, and Elizabeth was about to be crowned Queen, her grandmother wrote her a letter to say that in matters of personal preference and the Crown, “the crown must always win.”

How is this relevant to you thriving as a strong leader under another’s leadership?

Here’s how:

When you signed up to work for the organization you work for, you signed up to submit to the vision, values, structure, culture, and as "old school" as this concept may sound, leadership.

Do what you can to influence a healthy, honest, honoring, and helpful working relationship with your leader.

Like any relationship, this requires emotional intelligence as you adjust to accommodate them. It will mean that you will do your utmost to communicate, collaborate and cover your leader so that together you can deliver across the leadership structure.

However, if there is a difference in opinion on how things should be done, defer to your leader.

What? But what if they are wrong? Advise them diplomatically, making a persuasive case for your recommendations. If they still choose to have things their way, follow their lead. They will have to assume ultimate responsibility for that decision. Just make sure you have it on record that you are doing so.

Kill The Ego

We have too many egos knocking into each other at the workplace. Thriving under another's leadership, ought not to be as challenging as it is often made out to be, even if you too are a leader and a strong one at that.

As long as nothing illegal nor immoral is asked of you, it is your job to either follow your leader or leave because you choose not to.

To do anything else is insubordination.

In the words of my tyrannical leader (but my leader still) 20 years ago, “you either respect corporate hierarchy or …”

As I see it, you have four choices when you as a leader do not see eye to eye with your leader:

1. Leave

That's the end of that. You do not have to stay in a toxic environment. Before you do however, ask yourself if the situation truly is untenable, or if there are areas you can invest in growing in so that you can better manage yourself and them.

2. Stay and Sabotage Your Leader

This will amount to insubordination and may cause a full-frontal war between the two of you, which, by sheer position authority, would most likely work against you, the subordinate.

3. Stay and Comply

Depending on the gravity of your differences (which is often a question of interpretation, and of the ego, at that), this may make it difficult for you to work and lead others when grieved by another's leadership.

4. Stay and Influence

You can choose to stay and manage up by being the source and influence of positive working relations between you and the leader you commit to connect with, support, and faithfully serve until the day you leave.

What will you choose to do?


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