Your Extended Leadership Team is a Power Multiplier

Your extended leadership team, or ELT, is a wonderful thing – if you know where to find it and what to do with it. Some companies do, but quite a lot don’t. These relatively senior managers are a hard bunch to identify, sometimes, and they’re very often only engaged as a part of a big, generic group of “leaders” or, perhaps, “managers.”

And that’s a shame because, due to the kind of people they are and the space they occupy in your company, they’re quite different, and uniquely valuable.

So let’s start with who they are. In a company of scale, say a hundred or more employees, the ELT is the next level down from the top of the house. They are the leadership team’s leadership teams. They are the people who manage the people managers. Your company might call them directors, VPs, partners or senior managers.

To illustrate the potential of this group, let’s look at a couple of examples.

We were working a few years ago with a company in the professional services sector. They had a small group of veterans who ran the place, and beneath them a population of several dozen younger senior managers. This group was relatively diverse in age, the youngest being in their early thirties, the oldest maybe mid-forties.

They were exceptionally bright, and had reached that plateau of technical experience and idealistic energy that is hard to reach but exceedingly easy to fall off. They were experts in their craft, knew the business, and understood the sweeping implications of new technologies and profound changes in the way people live and work.

This next-level group of leaders was fiercely passionate about the future of the business, and had a remarkably clear vision for what the ambition and strategy of the firm could be. They were, in short, the secret to the company’s success today and tomorrow.

We ran an event in which they were freed from the usual shackles of politics and deference, and it was obvious that they should be given a strong voice in the direction of the company and empowered to take all kinds of big, important decisions. Further, it made sense for them to be the face of strategy and change to frontline employees.

It didn’t happen. The executive team couldn’t let go. These exceptional young leaders were denied their say. Many of the brightest left. Who knows what might have happened if they had been given the keys to the firm?

Contrast that story with the approach of another organization, this time in the healthcare space and, with thousands of employees, far bigger. In this case, the executive team recognized the potential of this next, up-and-coming generation of leaders and determined to put them to good use.

They saw the potential of turning this disparate band into a cohesive, cross-functional community. They brought them into visioning and strategic planning conversations. They invited them to define new cultural principles, knowing that they would be the most effective ambassadors for change in the organization.

With a mixture of excitement, confidence and trepidation, the executive team relinquished a significant amount of control in order to harness the intelligence and passion of the group.

Today, the organization has new energy, momentum and direction. The extended leadership team – a constantly evolving force – is defining and owning what happens next. They’re the bridge between the executive team and the frontlines, a role they’re perfectly equipped to play because they truly understand the concerns of both. And with their dynamism and ambition they’ve brought a tangible sense of adventure and innovation to the organization’s strategy.

So how do you start to harness the potential of these leaders?

First, make sure they’re a truly cross-functional community. Give them forums – offsites, meetings, online communities – in which they can build a sense of affiliation to each other, voice their concerns and aspirations, and develop shared perspectives. Make being a part of the ELT a thing.

Second, bring them into conversations about the future, the projects the organization is prioritizing, and culture. Give them ownership of the why, what and how of the organization.

Third, invite them to lead change programs. Put them on stage when you’re highlighting successful initiatives. Showcase them in videos. Let them host conversations with their team members. Don’t micromanage what they say – they’re smart enough and experienced enough to translate strategy into calls to action.

To summarize: this group of leaders is smart, responsible, energetic, experienced, passionate, connected, influential, empathetic and vital to your future.

Why wouldn’t you set them loose?

Jeremy Morgan is co-founder of The Narrative House.

The Art of Clear Leadership

As a member of a leadership team, you have a lot on your plate. You have to work with your peers to figure out how to accelerate growth, innovate, elevate talent, find efficiencies, scale faster, be more customer centric and execute better.

These questions are tough. Having authentic and creative conversations in order to answer them is tough. Articulating your strategy for dealing with them is tough.

But this is what your organization needs you to do – see through the fog and align employees behind your approach.

So if your LT is wrestling with a big strategic conversation, what can you do to find clarity?


Listen to the whole organization
We often see leadership teams try to go it alone – frequently because they want to look like they have all the answers. While understandable, this is a mistake.

Without exception, our clients have immense stores of in-house data and expertise. Given the right questions, some good facilitation and a solid process, they can solve pretty much any problem they want.

There are lots of ways you can access company-wide thinking about potential opportunities, barriers and solutions, from online crowdsourcing or surveys to small-group workshops.

However you decide to do it, the most important thing is to listen to and trust in your people. The LT or executive committee can own the final decision, but they’ll be better informed with some degree of up-front employee – or even customer or partner – involvement.

And don’t forget your extended leadership team – the next-level down from your functional heads. These are often some of your most senior and talented employees, and they’re closer to the organization’s everyday reality than most senior leaders. They can provide a wealth of knowledge and expertise, so be sure to carve out a clear place for them in your decision-making process either as ideators or reviewers. Their buy-in to decisions will help you execute better down the road as well.


Start with ambition
Conversations about strategy and execution often spiral because different leaders have different views about the ultimate goal.

Taking time at the start of a decision-making process to frame a very explicit statement of ambition for an initiative will save you a tremendous amount of swirl later on. It’s the only way to avoid ambiguity or unaligned interpretations of what’s required.

When you’re framing that ideal outcome, give space for people to speak up, air concerns and ask questions. You need everyone on the LT to be fully clear, and fully bought-in. The last thing you want is to march forward with a plan of action only for grenade throwers to derail it later on.

Dissenting opinions need to be aired freely and early. We’ve seen many times that leaders will fall-in behind a plan, even one they don’t fully agree with, once their concerns have been thoughtfully considered and vigorously debated. Ideally, of course, the leadership team will find a better answer than they would have as a result of the contrarian viewpoints.


Let good enough be good enough
It can be really easy to wait until you feel your strategy is perfect.

The problem is, it won’t be. Ever. There will be stakeholders who aren’t getting what they want. You’ll have incomplete data for some elements of your plan. You may not have the systems or talent in place to execute an idea exactly as you’d like to.

Our most successful strategy development efforts have been conducted with leadership teams who accept that nothing can be finished or perfect. They know that the most important thing is to move fast, learn and adapt. Detailed three-, five- or ten-year plans are a thing of the past. They’re just PowerPoint decks that gather dust on the shelf.

Craft your high-level ambition or goal, then evaluate your efforts to achieve it every month or quarter. If something isn’t working, figure out why, then try something new. Only firms with this kind of agile mindset can compete in a fast and fluid marketplace.


Focus focus focus
It’s not uncommon to find an organization with about fifteen priorities and dozens of KPIs. But when everything’s a priority, nothing is. This is the best way to confuse and overwhelm your people – and to achieve very little.

Prioritization is hard. There’s always another great idea that you want to pursue, or something that seems valuable that you can’t let go. But you have to. Your people need you to. How can you expect them to make smart decisions about where to spend time and money if you haven’t given them clear guidance on what’s important?

Here’s a tip: gather a team and create an inventory of everything you have going on in your organization. Then write each project on a Post-It and put it up on a two-by-two chart, with “impact” on one axis and “urgency” on the other.

If a project isn’t in the top-right quadrant – that is, if it’s not both urgent and important – end it, postpone it, or at the very least dramatically reduce the resources you commit to it.

The beauty of this approach is that you don’t need to quantify impact and urgency in order to prioritize initiatives. You just debate how they compare to each other. A second advantage is that it gives you real empathy for employees who are trying to make sense of the confusion and chaos in your system.

Applying a draconian focus to planning has a third benefit: it makes strategy far easier to understand.


Make strategy accessible
Imagine The New York Times writing an article about your strategy. A good business editor would use everyday language to distill your approach into a desired outcome and three to five key themes for how you’re trying to achieve it. They would give you a narrative.

But as a leadership team, this is really your job. Only by embracing the role of storytellers – paring decisions down to their essence, piecing them together into a coherent story, and resisting easy corporate cliche – can leaders expect employees to listen, and to know what they should consider most important.

Finally, consider making strategy accessible by communicating using creative and storytelling techniques used to great effect in advertising and marketing. This will save everyone time by making strategic decisions easier to learn about and digest.

It’s our belief that these five ideas – inclusive decisions, clarity of ambition, comfort with imperfection, ruthless focus and great storytelling – can help any leadership team provide better, clearer direction for employees, and transform the performance of their teams.

Jeremy Morgan is co-founder of The Narrative House.

Introducing The Narrative House: co-creating ambition, strategy and culture with clarity and humanity

Today, we’re extremely pleased to announce the launch of The Narrative House, Inc., a creative consulting firm that helps companies of all sizes co-create ambition, strategy and culture.

Founded by Layla Kajer and Jeremy Morgan, both formerly of Bonfire and Lippincott/Oliver Wyman, The Narrative House will service healthcare, technology, energy, hospitality and financial services clients from our offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and Denver.

We established The Narrative House to address some of the most common challenges facing leadership teams today: how to create a clear, distinctive and purpose-rich statement of ambition; where to focus time and resources against this North Star; and how to foster a vibrant, agile and inclusive culture that engages great talent while supercharging execution.

The Narrative House uses skilfull facilitation to align leadership teams around strategic decisions – then turns those decisions into narrative-driven content and beautiful creative that inspire employee commitment. We also have deep experience in the creation of employee participation programs, from manager communities to crowdsourcing.

Layla and Jeremy are building on a track record of success with a diverse array of companies including Genentech/Roche, Merck, International Hotels Group (IHG), Gore, Bank of the West, T. Rowe Price, Salesforce, Informatica, GE, 3M and many more. We’ve also worked extensively with individual leaders and leadership teams to define and improve group relationships and dynamics.

At the heart of The Narrative House’s ambition is the desire to make corporate culture more effective by giving it greater humanity. In particular, we want to improve employees’ sense of personal impact and productivity by advocating for empathetic leadership, clearer communication and more inclusive workplaces.

For more information, email us at or visit