Examples of How Leaders of Leaders Differ
from Leaders of Followers

by Herb Rubenstein


In a related article I make the distinction between what a "leader" typically does in organizations and what a "leader of leaders" does. Today, many leaders in America are primarily problem solvers. "Leaders of leaders" have a different role. They develop a platform upon which the organization and the organization's "leaders" set the tone, ethic and direction of an organization as well as figure out the best answers to systemic challenges and entire classes of problems an organization can face. This article includes examples of what a typical leader would do in a situation and compares that to what a leader of leaders would do in the same situation.

Example 1

A group of people travel long distances to resettle in an area where they were ousted many years before. As we learn from sociology, while people are displaced and while they travel back to their "homeland," there is usually little infighting. However, once they get back to their homeland there is significant internal strife.

Leader: What a leader does in this situation is meet with the people, generate their trust, declare that he or she will help the people live in peace and adjudicates their disputes one at a time thus promoting a better life for the people.

Leader of Leaders: What a leader of leaders does is analyze the nature of the disputes, writes a code of laws to cover as many situations as imaginable, recruits well respected, honest and intelligent people in the community to become judges and establishes a system to adjudicate all of the disputes.

Source: Exodus 18:13 through 18:27.

Example 2

A group of people are hired to "write up" a conference. Three people are assigned to the job, with two to cover the room and one person to interview each speaker. Everyone expects that all people at the conference will be in one room for the two days. There are 60 people attending. In the first session, a person suggests that the groups break up into three rooms for most of the two days and that the number of speakers be tripled. This is done.

There are no more than three people to cover this conference and write it up. They cover the three rooms and the conference ends on Sunday and their report is due on Friday. At a meeting on Monday with the three people and their boss, the three people tell the boss about how big a challenge it will be to get anything written by Friday summarizing the conference and ask for advice on how to integrate what was said in each of the three rooms.

Leader: What a leader does in this situation is listen to all of the challenges that the group faces to help them figure out what they can do and how the leader may be supportive. A leader may also begin to ask, "So when do you think you could get the report written and do you need more people to help you.

Leader of Leaders: A leader of leaders will say, we have a budget that only calls for three people and we have a deadline on Friday. The leader of leaders will say that he picked the three people on the team because he thought they could rise to whatever challenge the conference raised and that they knew of the budget and deadline when they took the assignment. The leader of leader will then ask the three, "Can you make the deadline with an excellent product."

Source: W. Victor Rouse, American Institutes for Research

Example 3

There is significant evidence that early pregnancies, substantial illegal consumption of alcohol and drugs among junior high and high school students is associated with negative life outcomes including poverty, incarceration and longer than average spells of unemployment.

Leader: What a leader does in this situation is join an organization or school as a teacher, coach or administrator and participates daily with young people to teach them positive work, social and cultural habits and to help give meaning to their lives.

Leader of Leaders: What a leader of leaders does is create an entirely new platform for education, a new curriculum, a new message, a new organization and enrolls thousands of people to help fund, support and run their organizations which teach character, education and gives young people right after college the opportunity to teach for two years in public schools in impoverished areas.

Sources: Elayne Bennett, Founder and CEO, Best Friends Foundation. Wendy Kopp, Founder, Teach for America.

Example 4

Research shows that young people with poor communication skills, low self-esteem, poor team building and few significant mentors or role models in their lives often do not do as well as people who are better or more fortunate in these areas.

Leader: A leader volunteers in the community, in the schools, mentors and provides one on one guidance to those in need to assist them along their way.

Leader of Leaders: A leader of leaders writes books that change the rules of games like tennis and soccer to make them less competitive, more team oriented, where all players can win, and injects communication exercises into fun filled sessions designed to alleviate the deficiencies and lack of opportunity to gain these skills which these young people face. Then he creates an international organization, with a world class board and begins to offer these programs through Boys and Girls clubs, military bases, schools and other outlets.

Source: Andrew Oser, Founder and CEO, Joy of Sports Foundation.

Example 5

In the early 1800's people interested in creating a better understanding of how societies worked knew their ability to gather sufficient information (data) was very limited. And the mathematical tools were getting stronger so that when data were generated correlations and associations could be identified.

Leader: A leader faced with this situation would improve the theories of social science since they were generally not trained or had the resources to gather accurate data for proper analysis. The leader would expect that by creating a better theory it would guide future social science leaders.

Leader of Leaders: A leader of leaders took one of the most private areas of life, suicide, where there were accurate data, analyzed the data from the point of view as to figure out what in society at large caused suicide rates to rise and fall and proved a strong mathematical connection between social events at large and what most people thought at the time was a purely private event.

Source: Emile Durkheim, father of modern sociology.

Example 6

In the late 1970's air transportation was expensive, had very uneven service between differing cities and was completely regulated.

Leader: A leader would become a CEO of an airline and find new ways to economize, to expand market share and to provide better service.

Leader of Leaders: A leader of leaders decided to push for the deregulation of the airlines, allow and promote large scale innovation, price management by the airlines and would direct the government on a successful course of action to greatly expand air travel in the United States.

Source: Alfred Kahn, father of airline deregulation.

Example 7

For most of the nation's history, the United States did not have a national newspaper.

Leader: A leader would work within the larger dailies, like the NY Times, Wall Street Journal and other similar newspapers or buy up as many local newspapers as he or she could, profiting within and improving on the current system of how newspapers were made and sold.

Leader of Leaders: In 1982, USA Today became the first national newspaper. Losing millions in its first few years, the leadership of this paper listened to its customers and cities, created new features and now is both profitable and gives the United States a national newspaper.

Source: Allan H. Neuharth, Chairman, Gannett, Inc.

Example 8

Government programs are often criticized for not being customer responsive and not being efficient.

Leader: A leader would get into a management position in the government, set standards for efficiency, accountability and improve the operations of the agency where he or she works.

Leader of Leaders: A leader of leaders would study all areas where government was improving, catalogue them, find their common nucleus and develop a strong set of publications that showed the government how to improve itself. Today, there are over 48 books with the term "Reinventing Government" after the first such book in the early 1990's that have contributed significantly to the improvement of government services, especially at the local and state levels.

Sources: Gaebler and Osborne, co-authors, Reinventing Government and many related titles.

Example 9

Under generally accepted accounting principles "people" (workers, advisors, board members, etc.) are not listed on all financial records as "costs" or "assets" in any way even though it is the people of an organization that are the ultimate source of its success.

Leader: A leader would work in an organization that has thousands of workers (or possibly a union) and strive to get the management of the company to treat the workers well and invest in their education, training and work conditions to improve the potential for success for the organization.

Leader of Leaders: A leader of leaders would measure the actual statistical relationship between a company investment in the education and training of its workers and the company's future stock price, even though Wall Street does not even take into account how much a company is spending on educating and training its workers as a factor in evaluating a company's future expected stock price. This research and the proof of a causal relationship between investing in workers and future financial performance of a company will lead the accounting profession, kicking and screaming, to begin to list people (human capital) as an asset rather than as a liability and change the entire way companies invest in their workers.

Source: Dr. Laurie J. Bassi, Ph.D., Founder, Human Capital Capability, Inc. and Knowledge Asset Management, Inc.

Example 10

In the 1960's African American citizens in Louisiana had to drink out of separate water fountains, use separate bathrooms (and many times they were not even allowed to use bathrooms in stores since they were for whites only). There were separate schools and no admittance to whites only pools even when they were located right next to predominately African American neighborhoods.

Leader: A leader, if he or she were white, would see that a fundamental injustice was being perpetuated. This leader may set a personal example by drinking out of the water fountain labeled "colored", would argue for changes in the United States so that all Americans were treated equally and given equal access to "public" facilities like schools, restaurants, pools and buses. A leader would work for African Americans running for office and live life in an "integrated" manner.

Leader of Leaders: A leader of leaders would draw the nation and the world's attention to the violence, atrocities, debasement and subjugation of African Americans throughout the United States throughout its history through the 1960's. He or she would create a message, a platform, communicate a vision of equality as being good for all Americans and he or she would build the organizations supporting this idea to force the government to change the laws, to prosecute the guilty and to make one standard, a nationwide standard, requiring every state to fulfill the mandate of the United States Constitution.

Source: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


These are examples of world class leaders of leaders. Among our midst there are thousands of people who have created platforms, garnered and managed resources to achieve a breakthrough in improving this world. This article should stimulate your thinking in three ways. First, being a leader is a good thing. Being a leader of leaders is a much better thing. This article gives you a glimpse of a path you can blaze to becoming a leader of leaders in your own lifetime, starting now and never giving up.

Herb Rubenstein is an attorney and the CEO of Growth Strategies, Inc., a leadership and management consulting firm. He is co-author of Breakthrough, Inc. High Growth Strategies for Entrepreneurial Organizations (Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 1999). He also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Strategic Planning and Leadership at George Washington University, is a founding director of the Association of Professional Futurists, and is the author of numerous articles on boards of directors, leadership and strategic planning. He has his law degree from Georgetown University, his Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs, a graduate degree in sociology from the University of Bristol in Bristol, England and was a Phi Beta Kappa/Omicron Delta Kappa graduate from Washington and Lee University in 1974. His email address is herb@growth-strategies.com and he can be reached at (301) 718-4200 in Bethesda, Maryland or (202) 236-7626 in Washington, D.C.

Many more articles in Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2004 by Herb Rubenstein. All rights reserved.

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