Numerous textbooks and white papers and blog articles provide tips for leading employees in any form. From the mindset to methods, there is now a lot of knowledge in the world. But what if executives lead other leaders?

While reliability, self-organization and the completion of the agreed work are often the main priorities for employees, it is commitment, responsibility and entrepreneurial thinking for managers.

The leadership of department heads or directors is very different from the leadership at team level. The following recommendations will help you lead other leaders efficiently and be a good role model. Since 2019, I have also had such a departmental management and incorporate some of my personal experience.

What makes a boss?

Executive leadership needs one thing in particular: communication and politics. They must act as good communicators for top management and as mediators and motivators for implementation. It is a balancing act, as you have to be close enough to the base on the one hand, but also act at high altitude with the board. Some days it is also very hard for me as a department head to get these differences in altitude. The job is not easy and requires the highest discipline. However, I enjoy this work a lot and I have worked long and hard to get one.

The role requires being close enough to the board to negotiate and understand decisions and be able to pass them on to your team leaders. They must be able to identify objectives and the resulting tasks and then communicate them in such a way that they can be implemented!

Recommendation 1: See that your executives also lead!

Managers in particular often like to sink into everyday life. As a guideline, your team leaders should use the time as follows:

  • 20% administration
  • 30% leadership
  • 20% escalations
  • 30% improvement of processes and management topics

Make sure your team leaders don’t get lost in details. On the one hand, it is important to ensure that the team leaders act in line with the company’s goals and, on the other hand, have enough room for strategy and management tasks. If this is not the case, then you should remedy this with coaching or changing processes!

Recommendation 2: Provide advice at the process level

One thing is most important when it comes to team management: the team leader can motivate projects that build on your goals, design processes and encourage employees to comply with them (ensuring the completion of the tasks).

You need to help team leaders design processes. There are no ready-made solutions. Team leaders need to know for themselves how to design these projects and define processes. Often, however, you help the team leader to find the right processes and problems in the organization. It is about recognizing and solving the processes that make sense to solve and introduce them.

In the long run, the team leaders should learn to report the goals and measures to you regularly and to produce effective results on their own.

Recommendation 3: Control the dynamics

Basically, you give team leaders some of the power you’re given. See the mood and problems the team leaders have. Look, you can assess them. Discuss ways to realize your visions.

The team leaders should not only simply implement your ideas, but also help you with their own suggestions and show you concretely: how can I implement this concretely in my team. The important thing for me is that I notice that the team leader is signaling to me that he believes what he is doing.

Recommendation 4: Create knowledge

John F. Kennedy once said that “leadership and learning are mutually dependent.” So start by analyzing your own level of knowledge.

I make sure that my team leaders are drivers of innovation and change and do not solve tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s methods. Also share ideas and knowledge between the team leaders. I realize that leadership is already a lot of training on the job.

Recommendation 5: Be open and honest

Often you report meaningful information from the board members to the team leaders. But be open and tell more than too little. Critical and confidential discussions are also important in difficult times. Teach that team leaders can also contribute and grow to new challenges. Give team leaders a project that is cross-departmental and on which you can grow.


Your team leaders are the most important gears in my department management. It is only through you that I can ignite an immense potential for great results. It is important to work together with the team leaders and to involve them in a meaningful way. The basis of the success is that you are able to convey complex company goals for the team leaders in a comprehensible way and to help them define concrete work packages.

Do you want to know more about operational and daily management as head of department? Then take a look at my reading tip.

Reading tip: What do agile managers have in common with a gardener?

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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