The Hidden Leader: Discover and Develop Greatness Within Your Company

The Hidden Leader: Discover and Develop Greatness Within Your Company

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Think you can spot the leaders in your company? Do you believe that all the linchpins in your organization can be identified based on the title on their business card? Well, think again. What about the field agent you haven’t bothered to get to know who solves previously intractable problems? What about the service rep you assumed was just another cookie-cutter ear-piece holder who thinks outside the box and creates unshakable customer loyalty? Don’t settle for the traditional feedback that tells you these are “good employees” who deserve a pat on the back and a 3 percent increase at the end of the year. No, these are hidden leaders who have become fundamental to your company’s success. And if they’re not recognized and utilized to the best of their abilities, these linchpins will soon be pulled out by another organization giving them the opportunity they deserve.The Hidden Leader wants to help managers recognize these hidden gems and learn how to utilize them for their greatest impact. Supported by real-world examples of hidden leaders in action--and QR codes readers can scan for instant access to online assessments--this invaluable resource helps managers discover these secret saviors and enable them to deliver even greater value to customers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814434000
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 02/04/2015
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

SCOTT K. EDINGER, founder of Edinger Consulting Group, is recognized as an expert in helping organizations achieve measurable business results. Coauthor of The Inspiring Leader, he blogs for Harvard Business Review and Forbes.
LAURIE SAIN helps businesses develop strategic goals and maximize their innovation, productivity, and creativity.

Read an Excerpt

The Hidden Leader

Discover and Develop Greatness Within Your Company

By Scott K. Edinger, Laurie Sain


Copyright © 2015 Scott K. Edinger and Laurie Sain
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8144-3400-0


The Dynamics of Hidden Leadership

You will see hidden leaders in different phases of their development in your organization. Some will be fully developed; others will need some skill development or a nudge in the right direction to become more capable.

Before you can identify and develop hidden leaders, it's important to know what hidden leadership is. The dynamics of hidden leadership are more than effectiveness, friendliness, and productivity. They encompass specific facets of behavior and attitude that result in these leaders fulfilling the value promise of your organization.

As we've said, these leaders are well known within your organization but usually not seen as leaders per se by their supervisors and managers. This chapter helps you understand what hidden leaders are so you can begin to discover them in your organization.

To discover and develop a hidden leader, a manager must know how to identify the leader through actions and results. In our experience with hundreds of companies and thousands of leaders, these actions spring from a unique dynamic. It begins when hidden leaders demonstrate integrity consistently, even in difficult situations. Beyond integrity—the sine qua non of hidden leadership—these leaders lead others through authentic relationships, focus actions and processes on desired results, and remain highly customer purposed, even when they do not connect with paying customers regularly.

As a result of these four facets of hidden leadership, these leaders fulfill the value promise of the organization in everything they do. Hidden leaders understand the vision and intent of the value promise and evaluate their actions based on that promise. Fulfilling the value promise is sometimes seen as a characteristic in and of itself. It can look like "talent" or "drive" or "effectiveness," the words one might use to unknowingly describe hidden leaders. It is what enables hidden leaders to move from position to position or from company to company and maintain their hidden leadership abilities. They, and the people they influence, transcend the localized interests of job, peers, or department. It is this fulfillment of an organization's true value to its customers that makes hidden leaders such a powerful competitive advantage in the marketplace.


A successful organization promises something of value to its customers. The nature of the customer, and the customer's perceptions, dictates what that value is. Nonprofits promise change to their donors who want to influence the world. For-profit public companies promise earnings and growth to their shareholders by selling something of value to users. Even governments promise value—from protection to services.

But organizations often must consider other stakeholder demands that diverge wildly. Stockholders, for example, may want quarterly earnings and growth, which may conflict with paying customers' needs for an affordable, specific solution, and the board of directors' demands for innovation from R&D. How do organizations reconcile these sometimes conflicting demands for value from their stakeholders?

In our view, the definition of the value promise of an organization is not simply the value that a specific stakeholder wants from an organization. The value promise is the fundamental production of value that is demanded by the customer who is indispensable—the one who pays the bills.

The value promise is rarely a product or service, because products and services are symptoms of the value that paying customers want. For example, electric utilities do not simply sell electricity. If electricity were what they sold, most customers would evaporate, because what can one do with a simple flow of electrons? Electric companies sell a convenient way for end-user customers to turn on their lights, heat their buildings, and run their computers, washing machines, and vacuum cleaners.

Seen in that light, the value promise of a utility company can be provided in many ways beyond the simple production and delivery of electricity. Yet providing that convenience is ultimately the value promise of the electric company: an affordable, convenient, and consistent way to keep our lights on, along with all of our other devices that depend on electric power.

We define the value promise as the benefit that paying customers receive from an organization's efforts. As sales professionals know, the value promise is completely different from customer needs, features, or benefits (see Figure 1-1).

* Needs are what customers acknowledge as something they want. In our utility example, the customer need is to be able to affordably use electrical devices without thinking about it beyond flipping a switch. Customer needs are often the linchpin of a company's efforts, but as Apple has shown, it's not the customers' responsibility to know what all their needs are.

* Features are the characteristics of a product or service that are instrumental to addressing the customers' needs—or, in the case of Apple, for providing an unexpected and cool experience. This is where many organizations get caught in thinking about what they sell. For electric utilities, features are power plants, power lines, outlets, wiring, and switches, all the physical elements that help keep the lights on.

* Benefits are the positive experience or economic value that customers receive for doing business with a company through its products and services. Let's face it: We don't need more wiring in our lives. But who among those of us with electricity doesn't want two things from our electric utility: not having to think about power and getting it to our homes by flipping a switch, all at an affordable cost? At the same time, the earnings that electric company stockholders receive are also benefits, albeit of a very different nature than those of the consumer. The benefits for employees because of all of this activity are reliable, consistent jobs within a culture that matches their personal cultural needs.

* The value promise goes one step beyond benefits. The value promise is the sum total of benefits that are valuable to the customer who pays the bills. Essentially, the value promise is met in the mind of the customer not by a specific feature or benefit. This customer may or may not be the end user. For example, for nonprofits, the customers who pay the bills are the donors. Meeting those people's needs is sometimes more important than addressing the social ills to which the nonprofit is devoted, because without donors the desired social change will not occur. (This explains many universities' propensity to run extravagant football programs to support educational ones, because alumni who donate money to their alma maters tend to love a winning football team.) For utilities, the value promise is the convenience and affordability of keeping the lights on for the paying customer—in this case, the end user. Stockholders are a part of the equation, but without paying customers, utilities would be hard pressed to provide any value to people who own their stock.

This definition of a value promise seems intuitive, but we see many companies, and some whole industries, that are confused about who pays the bills. Some insurance companies, for example, seem to forget who provides the money they use to invest and settle claims. Collecting money from customers and making it difficult for them to receive compensation for valid claims in order to please stockholders with more earnings is not an indication that the company understands what a value promise is, yet we often hear horror stories about insurance companies that appear to do just that.

There are, of course, insurance companies that are reasonable and honorable when it comes to claims. In 2008, the one-hundred-year-old historic wooden building in Lander, Wyoming, where Laurie had had her office for fifteen years, burned to the ground through no fault of her own. Within hours of the fire's start, Laurie's local State Farm insurance agent, Leslie Calkins, called her to say she had begun the claims process (the fire wasn't nearly out yet). Within days, State Farm sent Laurie a check for part of her total claim amount while she worked through the shock of losing thirty years' worth of work and art and began a list of items she could remember. Over the course of a year, the company helped Laurie create her list and calculate a value for her lost stuff, and paid without question up to the amount of Laurie's insurance.

State Farm's response made dealing with a business catastrophe as easy as could be expected. It also made Laurie a State Farm customer for life—for her vehicles, home, rentals, and office. She's also sort of become a walking ad for the company among her friends and acquaintances (and now readers). This long-term loyalty will lead to State Farm recouping at least part of its claim costs throughout Laurie's (hopefully long) lifetime.

State Farm knows what its value promise is: to help its paying customers cope with financially devastating events without having to fight for support. That is the value that drives the company's success and helps it meet all other stakeholder needs—including those of investors and employees.

As we looked at the hidden leaders we have experienced over thirty years, we discovered that the most obvious characteristic of hidden leaders is that they consistently and courageously act out the value promises of their organizations. We see this commitment to the value promise with existing and potential paying customers. Hidden leaders may not be able to articulate it, but they clearly understand at a gut level what it is that drives the organization's success. But these actions don't happen automatically. Let's investigate closely the dynamics of hidden leadership, which begins with demonstrated integrity and results in these leaders acting out the value promise consistently.


Hidden leaders clearly display four facets in their behaviors and results: they demonstrate integrity, lead through relationships, focus on results, and remain customer purposed whether or not they work directly with paying customers.

The fundamental characteristic that enables hidden leadership to bloom is demonstrating integrity. Sometimes that integrity means taking a stance that is not immediately lucrative, helpful, or easy to discuss. But it is held because the hidden leader is committed to her integrity.

For the hidden leaders we have seen in action, visible integrity isn't an optional stance. It is the foundation of their being, of feelings of self-worth and satisfaction. We believe that demonstrating integrity is indispensable for hidden leaders. Through it, they clarify their other critical skills. While many hidden leaders can work within companies and cultures that don't support these other skills, few will remain where their integrity is either dismissed as irrelevant or made impossible to express.

Leading through relationships enables the hidden leader to build trust and a strong base of people who are influenced by and willing to help the hidden leader. It's the personal, or "people," aspect of hidden leadership and one that an effective leader needs no matter the position in a company.

Hidden leaders' relationships are authentic ones, where both parties value the connection. Hidden leaders are far from nice guys or manipulative, so-called friends. Hidden leaders truly like and strive to understand people and act in ways that benefit both whenever possible. If relationships involve conflict, which they inevitably do at some points, hidden leaders have skills than enable them to work through potential land mines and deepen the relationship for both people.

Focusing on results is the process aspect of hidden leadership. Hidden leaders who keep the end result foremost in their thoughts can adjust processes and procedures effectively. By focusing on results, hidden leaders evaluate their actions against the goals they want to achieve. For hidden leaders, the ends define the means, they don't justify the means. This critical difference results in hidden leaders' striving to meet the end goal and addressing conflicts or challenges with thoughtful, coherent actions.

Finally, hidden leaders are customer purposed. This facet animates the purpose aspect of hidden leadership. Determining how to address customer needs to benefit both customer and company makes actions purposeful and thus meaningful, and not just for the hidden leader. Because of the leader's relationships and the trust engendered by them, this purposeful enthusiasm spreads from the hidden leader to others. Individuals in the organization trust hidden leaders and, knowing their deep integrity, more easily embrace the same sense of purpose and meaning.

As a manager, you must understand each of these four facets in depth, including what drives them in hidden leaders and what undermines them in terms of systems or support. You will then be able to discover hidden leaders in your organization and develop them appropriately to strengthen your company's competitive opportunities.

Demonstrates Integrity

In the 1997 film Grosse Point Blank, John Cusack plays a hit man, troubled by his past, who describes himself as having a "certain ... moral flexibility." As the audience, we laugh, because certainly someone who kills others for a living is nothing if not morally flexible.

But we laugh for another reason: Morals, and the actions we do according to them, can be flexible for most of us in many situations. We have each told a white lie to protect someone's feelings, or justified "borrowing" a pencil from work because it wasn't "really" stealing. Our morals are often codes of conduct that we adjust to demands of specific moments in our lives.

But if the film's writers had characterized Cusack's character as having a certain "flexibility of integrity," we would not have gotten the joke. Because integrity, by its definition, means adhering consistently to a strong, reliable code of ethics, whatever that code is. (It also, by the way, describes the sound structure of something, like the integrity of a boat's hull. That image reminds us of integrity's moral strength and importance as well.)

Note that integrity doesn't mean someone believes in and acts on the same moral or ethical code that we believe in. It means a person maintains a cohesive, strong, personal definition of what is right and wrong and consistently acts in accordance with those principles. Whether or not you as a manager agree with a hidden leader's principles is another matter. For example, some hidden leaders may have a much stronger sense of what is fair or honest than most people. That doesn't mean the hidden leader is somehow right and others are wrong. It does mean that the hidden leader is more likely to raise issues around those principles that others will have to consider.

Demonstrating integrity is the absolute bottom-line requirement of hidden leadership. In our experience, hidden leaders are known for their integrity and for acting on it in difficult situations where some might forgo commitments and lean on moral flexibility. But hidden leaders do not. Their integrity shows consistently along the way. An observer can identify it in actions, words, and attitudes.

We believe that to demonstrate integrity, a person must have the courage to consistently adhere to a strong ethical code, even in difficult situations (see Figure 1-2). Let's investigate that idea, beginning with the notion of a strong ethical code.


Excerpted from The Hidden Leader by Scott K. Edinger, Laurie Sain. Copyright © 2015 Scott K. Edinger and Laurie Sain. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


List of Tools, ix,
Foreword by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, xi,
How to Use This Book, 1,
What Is a Hidden Leader?, 3,
Chapter 1: The Dynamics of Hidden Leadership, 7,
Chapter 2: Identify Hidden Leaders, 37,
Chapter 3: Enable Integrity, 55,
Chapter 4: Build Essential Relational Skills, 79,
Chapter 5: Create a Focus on Results, 119,
Chapter 6: Instill Customer Purpose, 133,
Chapter 7: Measure Performance, 157,
Chapter 8: Engaging Hidden Leaders, 171,
Epilogue: Making the Hidden Visible, 187,
Acknowledgments, 191,
Appendix: Tools to Discover and Develop Hidden Leaders, 195,
Notes, 211,
Bibliography, 215,
Index, 217,
About the Authors, 223,
Free Sample Chapter from Lead with a Story by Paul Smith, 225,

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