Leader-to-leader is easiest explained by contrasting it with leader-to-follower. It’s common for people to unconsciously divide people into leaders and followers and make assumptions about what each group can do. These assumptions will influence the way we think and act and have an impact on performance.

In the “leader-to-follower” model, leaders tell followers what to do. The leader becomes the bottle-neck and the single point of failure. Given time, it’s a sure-fire way to make enthusiastic and engaged employees disengaged and disillusioned.

The “leader-to-leader” model recognizes that everyone has the ability and potential to lead. Some people lead groups of other people, some people lead themselves and their actions. It taps into each individual’s potential in an organization and reduces dependency on any one person. It allows senior leaders to step back and encourages junior and middle leaders to step up.

The leader-to-leader model requires three components to work: control, competency, and clarity. Control is the root component, with the other two acting as supporting pillars. Without competence and clarity, decentralized control will quickly bring chaos.


To decentralize control is a core feature of the leader-to-leader model. Each individual needs the freedom and authority to decide why, what, and how they’re going to work. The goal is to delegate decision-making as far as possible in the organization. 

  • As a person in a traditional leadership role: Give up control by delegating. Make it clear that even while you’re giving up control, you are maintaining responsibility. 
  • As a person not in a traditional leadership role: Don’t expect “a leader” to solve your problems for you. Think of yourself as a leader of your specific domain, and act like it. A practical change to make is to rephrase “Can I…?” to “I intend to…!” when you have found something that needs to change.


Every person at every level must have the technical competence to make the right decision at any given time. Things will quickly fall apart if people are given control without having the required knowledge and resources. 

  • As a person in a traditional leadership role: Make sure that people you delegate to have the skills required. Be explicit about your expectations and talk about the skills needs of the person you delegate to. 
  • As a person not in a traditional leadership role: Look closely at the responsibilities you are given. Do you have the skills needed to handle them? If not, be explicit with what skills you need to develop. This is not a failure. Finding and closing gaps in our skillset should be a celebrated accomplishment.


For people at all levels to make effective decisions, they must be aligned with the organization’s purpose. They need to have a complete understanding of the goals and decision-making criteria. 

  • As a person in a traditional leadership role: Make sure that the purpose, goals, and decision-making criteria are known to everyone. Communicate about them often and clearly. Have explicit conversations with your people about them. 
  • As a person not in a traditional leadership role: You need to fully understand the purpose, goals, and decision-making criteria that you are to operate within. If you’re unsure about any of the three, act as a leader and go find them.