Throwing down the gauntlet

In a recent Fast Company article, ex-Apple Exec Paul Donaher explains Why it finally may be time to hire a Chief Leadership Officer. I agree in principle. Placing people leadership as a core executive function with C-Suite backing is a powerful symbolic gesture. However, for most of the small-to-medium-sized companies that drive economies, a 6-figure executive compensation package and symbolism won’t solve their leadership challenges. What those companies need is hardcore practice.


I posit that instead of companies hiring a Chief Leadership Officer, they instead engage in what I am calling the People Leader Challenge of 2022.

What is the People Leader Challenge?

The People Leader Challenge is straightforward – but not simple. Good things rarely are.

Step 1:

Owners, boards, and executivesreview discretionary leadership training, retreat, coaching, and consulting budget for 2022 – and carve it off.

Since volumes of research demonstrate that you do not believe these line items have any provable value to your business, pull that number off to the side. Great examples of your disbelief in the effectiveness of such expenditures are highlighted in the Donaher piece. I think Rumsfeld would call this a “known-known”.

Did your company’s slice produce a chunk of dough large enough to pay for what may be the most important hire in the history of your business? (If not, I will talk about this soon)

Depending on your industry and location, this amount is likely quite variable, but almost certainly has six digits. Your mileage will vary.

Step 2:

Commit to using the previously carved out budget for finding and hiring a true people leader. This person’s job is to develop, produce, and replicate leaders. Their responsibility will be to install repeatable proven practices that continuously sharpen the leadership saw. They will not be producing TPS reports or slowly crushed by automatable management tasks or required to attend your totally avoidable status meetings.

Are you ready for this? Are you done with short-term dopamine hits from the latest leadership books and the mind-numbing of LinkedIn posts about how empathy is the number one skill possessed by good leaders? Would you know an amazing leader if she was standing right in front of you? Leadership is tough…that’s why most of us have to scratch and claw and fight our default behaviors to do it well. Get over yourself. I’m OK. You’re OK.

Most companies have moved far away from having people leaders in favor of working managers because they are really bad at hiring for and measuring outcomes of people leaders (hint: People Analytics is super crucial here but we’re taking it slow).

What we need are results, not a bunch of overpaid empaths who do a lot of presentations but not a lot of real work.

– Most Executives, Always

Step 3:

Develop a one-page operating plan in partnership with your people leader that contains specific accountabilities for them.

These are the must-haves and frankly, adding more may be counterproductive.

  1. Conduct one-on-ones weekly with aligned leaders. Changes to scheduling and misses should be for real life issues – not convenience.
  2. Conduct individual and group role playing. Use IRL (in real life) scenarios like delivering feedback, setting expectations, and being transparent and direct with one another.
  3. Deliver a bi-weekly survey and publish the results. The survey must ask the following questions:

  • I am absolutely clear on my role, what’s expected of me, and what success looks like each and every day. Yes or no.
  • My leader knows me and hears me and is invested in my success. Yes or no.
  • I encourage friends and family to work at this organization without hesitation. Yes or no.

I’m pretty sure that these three questions cut to most of the core issues facing your teams today. Here’s a snapshot of some basic people stats. Leadership is hard because people are hard.

Expect a lot of NO at the beginning of this effort. Your team must also prepare for turnover and role shift once people figure out they really don’t want to accept what people leadership entails. By engaging in Leadership Challenge 2022, you are setting a transformation in motion – but please do not call it a transformation and make it out to be anything more than it is. This is you getting serious about fixing the root cause of so many different challenges.

There is too much drama and far too many LinkedIn posts about great resignations and talent gaps and hybrid work today. Worry about what you can change and what you are in control of. You don’t need massages and dry cleaning. You must drive consistent behavioral modification. You need leadership. And you probably are not ready for it.

In future posts, I will provide more specific criteria, curricula, and beautiful leading indicators and success metrics for your new people leaders that will not require a data scientist, so never fear, we’re in this together.

Copyright © 2021 The Mitchell Group, LLC & Doug Mitchell who types stuff here. All thoughts, opinions, and anything else that shows up on this site are mine and not those of my employer. I am a human being and have flaws just like you.