Tips for managing employees in any form can be found in numerous specialist books and whitepapers and blog articles. From mindset to methods, there is actually a lot of knowledge in the world by now. But what if managers lead other managers?

While reliability, self-organization and the completion of the agreed work are often in the foreground for employees, for managers it is commitment, willingness to take responsibility and entrepreneurial thinking.

Leadership by department heads or directors is very different from leadership at the team level. The following recommendations will help you lead other leaders efficiently and set a good example. Since 2019 I have also had such a department head and let some of my personal experience flow into it.

What makes a boss boss?

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

The role requires being close enough to the board of directors to negotiate and understand decisions and to be able to pass them on to your team leaders. You must be able to determine goals and the resulting tasks and then convey them in such a way that they can be implemented!

Recommendation 1: Make sure that your executives lead too!

Managers, especially team leaders, often like to get lost in everyday life. As a guideline, your team leaders should use time as follows:

  • 20% administration
  • 30% leadership
  • 20% escalations
  • 30% improvement in processes and management issues

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

Recommendation 2: Provide advice at the process level

One thing is particularly important in team management: The team leader can motivate projects that build on your goals, design processes and motivate employees to adhere to them (ensuring that tasks are completed).

You have to help the team leaders to design processes. There are no ready-made solutions. The team leaders themselves have to know how to design 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 problems and introducing meaningful processes.

In the long run, the team leaders should learn to report the goals and measures regularly and to produce effective results independently.

Recommendation 3: control the dynamics

Basically, you give team leaders some of the power they have been given. See what mood and problems the team leaders have. See that you can assess them. Discuss ways to implement your visions.

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

Recommendation 4: Build knowledge

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

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

Recommendation 5: Be open and honest

You often report useful information from the board members to the team leaders. But be open and tell more than too little. Even in difficult times, critical and confidential discussions are important. Make it clear that the team leaders also make a contribution and can also grow with new challenges. Give team leaders a project that is cross-departmental and on which you can grow.


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

Would you like to know more about operational and daily management as a department head? 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 influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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