Friday, June 14, 2024
CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Agenda - Leader or Ringleader?

CEO Agenda

Leader or Ringleader?

Leo Bottary
Leo Bottary

Many years ago, the owner of a Florida-based advertising agency told me a story about her daughter’s soccer team that I’ll never forget. As the story goes, her daughter wasn’t thrilled with how the coach led the team, so she began to share her feelings with her teammates. As she lobbied others to support her point of view, it triggered a groundswell of descent among the other players. Upon learning what was happening, the mom offered her daughter a brilliant piece of advice. She said, “Your team needs you to be a leader, not a ringleader!”

Peers wield enormous power, especially in today’s workplace. This power can be a force for good (leader) or breed negativity and toxicity (ringleader). Let’s look at how CEOs can better leverage both.

Peers as a Force for Good  

Peer Influence represents the impact the people around us can have in shaping our behavior. It’s a force we intuitively understand and have experienced for as long as we can remember. Peer Advantage occurs when, as leaders, we are more selective, strategic, and structured about how our employees engage one another in the workplace. Our peers can lift us up, hold us at bay, or drag us down. On the positive front, they can help us lead successful change in our companies.

One way to combat the rather unimpressive organizational change success rate is to identify the key influencers in your company, no matter where they are in the hierarchy, and tap into the unique gifts they bring to your organization. In my previous CEOWORLD Magazine piece, Horizontal Leadership, I stated:

“The next time you decide to change a policy or embark on a new strategy, consider those key influencers. Identify them and seek their input on any upcoming changes you plan to make. You’ll likely receive helpful feedback on the substance of the change itself and the messaging that would resonate best among the employees.”

At the very least, these key influencers should understand the “why” behind the change because when (not if) your employees engage one another to make sense of a newly announced initiative, you want advocates who will promote giving the new strategy or policy a fair chance. McKinsey and others have reported that lack of employee support is among the leading causes of change failure or underperformance. In a world where by 2030, 75% of the workforce will comprise Millennials and Gen Zs (generations who are not naturally trusting of leadership), leaders would be wise to engage in the horizontal dynamics in their organizations.

Peer-to-Peer Toxicity  

Unfortunately, the advocates or ambassadors for change are frequently forced to battle the ringleaders – this is where they could use the CEO’s help. Ringleaders are the people in your companies who actively undermine employee support so that whatever you are trying to do never stands a fair chance of success. When that happens (being the self-fulfilling prophecy that it is), it proves the ringleaders to be correct, which can boost their standing among many of their colleagues. The problem with these employees is that they are not simply dissenters; they are organizational terrorists.

Dissenters or skeptics can be invaluable in identifying problem areas, and when leaders engage and challenge them to find solutions, they can be quite effective. The ringleader, however, has no interest in improving conditions for success. They are far more comfortable trafficking in other people’s stories, spreading rumors, and watching real leaders from the cheap seats. In a world where companies will depend on implementing successful change with greater frequency, there may be nothing more critical to your company’s health and its culture than rooting out the ringleaders.

What If the Ringleader is a High Performer? 

Some CEOs tell me that “their toxic person” is a top salesperson or otherwise excellent solo performer and that getting rid of them could jeopardize the company. They see someone leaving and their clients going out the door with them rather than looking deeper to grasp the ripple effect of that person’s behavior and how it infects the culture of the organization – the crippling impact on morale, the good people who quit because they couldn’t take it anymore, or the performance drops in other areas of the company. Not to mention the change initiatives you’ve tried to implement that inexplicably performed poorly or failed outright.


The leaders in your companies can be such a positive force for good and can exist at every level of the org chart. The more you see your organization as a vertical and horizontal construct, the taller your company will stand. Tom Peters once said, “Leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.” As we brace for unprecedented change, now is the time to show these leaders that ringleaders won’t be tolerated. Let’s save ringleaders for the circus.

Written by Leo Bottary.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Agenda - Leader or Ringleader?

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Leo Bottary
Leo Bottary is the founder and managing partner of Peernovation. He is a sought-after thought leader on Peer Advantage and Peernovation, emerging disciplines dedicated to strategically engaging peers to achieve personal and organizational excellence. A popular author of three books, including Peernovation: What Peer Advisory Groups Can Teach Us About Building High-performing Teams (Archway; October 16, 2020), he is also an author, keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, and thought leader on the topic of peer advantage.

Books by Leo Bottary:
Peernovation: What Peer Advisory Groups Can Teach Us About Building High-performing Teams.
What Anyone Can Do
The One Advantage: Introducing a Peer-Powered Culture of Agility to Your Organization
The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth, and Success

Leo Bottary is a member of the External Advisory Board (EAB) and Executive Council at the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn, for more information, visit the author’s website CLICK HERE.