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.