Develop Leaders: Three Effortless Steps for Transforming Employees into Leaders

Has this ever happened to you? 🤔

You’ve been waiting to get a design project done all week.

You submitted it on Monday, and as soon as you get feedback and approval from each of the different team managers, you’ll finally be able to complete this task that’s been haunting you since two Thursdays ago.

The project has been passed along from team lead to team lead, but the ‘assembly line’ seems endless, and you know there are still two more approval processes to go.

You sigh as you look at your calendar and realize that this task will be delayed yet another week.

We all know the frustration of bottlenecked feedback too well, but not many of us have an answer to eliminate it.

But guess what? … I do.

Your projects are backlogged because you have a bottleneck. And that bottleneck is caused by the hierarchy in your organization.

That means the solution to your problem is interdependent leadership. Not sure what that means?

Keep reading to find out. 👇

In this article I'll explain: 

  ✔️ What a culture of leadership looks like. 

  ✔️ Why you need a culture of leadership that is on your startup team. 

  ✔️ How you can create a culture of leadership in three effortless steps.

What culture of leadership does your organization have?

There are three ways a culture of leadership can be expressed: dependence, independence, and interdependence.

A dependent culture of leadership is a traditional style of leadership in a corporation.

It relies on a hierarchical system where the team believes that only people in authority are responsible for leadership.

Dependent leadership is flawed as employees are pigeonholed into restricted roles that prevent them from taking action in their own position of expertise.

The next form of leadership culture is independent leadership. This form of leadership believes that employees take leadership based on individual expertise and heroic actions.

Independent leadership culture is ineffective because it fails to recognize that leadership is not only for heroes but can also be found in small, consistent actions.

To change your perspective on leadership check out my video: By only rewarding heroic action, independent leadership prevents employees from taking up leadership in their roles and being engaged in their work because they find it unmotivating to not be rewarded for their important contributions.

That’s because employees realize their everyday activities will go unnoticed and only when they do something extraordinary will they reap the rewards.

Instead, a culture of leadership needs to be based on a shared and genuine belief that anyone on the team has the capacity to be a leader.

This type of leadership culture is identified as interdependent, or fluid.

Interdependent leadership culture operates with the belief that leadership is a collective activity to benefit the entire company. 

This kind of leadership culture is not only motivating but inspiring to work in. Employees feel empowered by the fact that they know that they are the leaders in their field of expertise.

Why is interdependent leadership so important on a startup team? 

In an interdependent culture of leadership, leadership is seen as fluid.

When leadership culture is fluid, it’s understood that anyone can lead.

All team members are recognized as having a capacity for leadership, and the role of the leader is passed to them during their times of strength.

Let’s use an example of planning a leadership development retreat for your team. Questions around the budget can be directed to the finance team, while questions around retreat programming can be directed towards the human resources team who understand which leadership competencies your team needs to improve on at the retreat.

Through this fluid form of leadership, we understand that anyone can and should lead.

By allowing employees to take charge in their areas of expertise, they become more engaged in their work.

They understand the importance of their work to the company and realize they are recognized for the effort they invest.

Another advantage of a culture of interdependent leadership is that it creates a flat organization.

By creating a flat organization, bottlenecks are drastically reduced as employees can make their own checks on their work because they are trusted to be the experts within their fields.

This kind of trust first comes from the foundation of psychological safety and employee empowerment

With more trust, empowerment, and leadership you will see improved decision-making within your startup.

Not only will better decisions be made on behalf of the company (as the true experts will be the ones making the calls), but there will also be a more efficient decision-making process in place that comes from the flat organization.


How do you create interdependent leadership?  

1. Fluidity

The first step to creating a culture of interdependent leadership on your team is to ensure that leadership is viewed as fluid.

Leadership becomes no longer synonymous with management, it’s no longer a title or a position. Instead, leadership becomes action, initiative, and those willing to step up for the challenge. Fluid leadership eliminates hierarchies. It is dynamic and can change when necessary.

Different people take on leadership opportunities when they have the strength and pass it to others under different specialties.

When one member of the team is not an expert in a particular subject, they allow other team members who are to lead.

When the right people lead under the right specialty, your company improves because better ideas are generated, and better decisions are made.

Different people take on leadership opportunities in moments where they have the strength.

2. Growth Mindset

The next step in developing a culture of interdependent leadership is to instill a growth mindset in your employees.

Those who have a growth mindset believe they can develop their talents. People with a growth mindset tend to achieve more than individuals with a fixed mindset because they care more about learning and development than they do about being the smartest person in the room.

When companies adopt growth mindset Carol Dweck mentions in her article, What Having a Growth Mindset Actually Means, that employees feel more empowered and committed to their work. From this greater employee empowerment and commitment companies benefit from greater collaboration and innovation. 

When employees adopt a growth mindset, they feel more committed to their work. With a growth mindset, employees feel they have the potential to grow, learn, and thrive within a company.

Employees also feel more motivated to do their best because they know that their personal development and hard work are valued.

Help employees adopt a growth mindset with OKRs

Objectives and key results (OKRs) are an essential tool for leaders to help their teams manage themselves. With OKRs, managers can use their coaching hats to help their team members set high-level targets.

OKRs are better than other forms of goal-setting because they aim to help employees set ambitious goals. OKRs can help teams get outside of their comfort zones, prioritize better, and learn from success and failure.

OKRs and growth mindsets help you develop an interdependent culture of leadership because they make your employees set ambitious goals while also learning from their mistakes and understanding what their strengths and weaknesses are.

When team members understand where each other’s strengths lie, they’re better able to designate leadership to the right individuals under the right circumstances.

Additionally, when team members set more ambitious goals, they can challenge themselves, which helps them create more leadership opportunities for themselves as they expand their skills and knowledge.

3. Coaching 

The final step to creating an interdependent culture of leadership is through applying the coach approach. 

To understand what the coach approach is, watch the video below. 👇

Without effective coaching from the manager, the success of any goals and performance metrics of the team and its members is left to chance. Numerous scholars have shown that continual coaching has a powerful impact on performance and goal-setting.

With ongoing coaching, however, employees have clear expectations of themselves that align with the company.

In fact, one of the biggest priorities of any team leader is to become an effective coach.

Effective coaches know how to develop their people, zero in on key motivators, hold them accountable, and raise their standards.


To become more effective coaches, managers can follow these four steps. 

1. Focus on providing role clarity and understanding strengths. 

The first step to being a great coach is understanding your team’s strengths and weaknesses.

Interdependent leadership is established based on the strengths of each team member.

A good manager knows each individual team member on a more personal level and can understand where their strengths lie and what tasks best fit those strengths—this is where leadership truly becomes about leading each person differently.

Once a manager understands each individual team member’s strengths, expectations are then aligned with that team member’s strengths that also fit with the company’s overall objectives.

By allowing a team member to work to their strengths within a role, you are allowing them great autonomy and showing the other team members that they can rely on one another based on each other’s strengths, which creates interdependence throughout the team.

2. Establish routine conversations that provide a connection between manager and employee. 

Employees hate feeling ignored.

That means that ongoing conversations with the team and its members are essential for best management practices.

It’s important to remember that these ongoing conversations should be based on employee strength as it will create more engagement from them.

These one-on-one interactions don’t need to be long, only about 10 minutes, but should happen at least once a week.

These quick and regular conversations help employees understand they’re on the right track.

3. Check-in with your employees regularly about their performance. 

Check-in conversations help both employees and managers review success and barriers to their performance and can help to align and reset expectations with the company’s overall goals.

These conversations should take place once to twice a month and should be about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Check-ins require planning as they will be a discussion of expectations, workload, goals, and needs.

4. Be prepared to give a thorough performance review every half term. 

When done correctly, annual reviews don’t have to be threatening and dreaded performance meetings.  Instead, they can be meetings celebrating the success and wins of each team member. 

‍Performance needs will change throughout the year, which is why year-end performance reviews are so essential.

These meetings will review performance progress and reset expectations as performance needs change.

The power of an effective performance review shouldn’t be underestimated; they are an essential coaching tool.

Performance reviews should focus on celebrating success, setting standards of future objectives, and planning for development and growth opportunities.

These meetings should happen at least twice a year (if not four, for quarterly reviews) and should last from one to three hours.

Remember, the dialogue in these conversations needs to be consistent with the feedback in the three steps prior.

For an even greater understanding of performance evaluations checkout my article, Your Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Productive Employee Performance Review. and this performance evaluation guide by Unicorn Labs. 

Overall, the coach approach helps implement a culture of interdependent leadership because it helps employees act within their own roles. 

Employees are able to view themselves as leaders when given the opportunity because they feel trusted and empowered and they know they are seen as peers by their team members. 

Managers understand their employee’s strengths and they allow their employees to flourish within those fields of strengths which enables them to take on leadership roles. 

In Summary 

A culture of interdependent leadership is essential to the success of your startup because it allows for better employee engagement and decision-making on your entire team, which boosts the overall performance of your startup’s bottom line.

The best and most effective way to create a culture of interdependent leadership is through leadership fluidity, creating a growth mindset, and using the coach approach.

To implement these three steps, you need to provide your management team with Leadership Coaching so that they can develop a coach approach and encourage it in employees. Do this by booking a workshop with Unicorn Labs.

Remember, a culture of interdependent leadership can’t first be created without psychological safety, empowerment, and embracing conflict. To learn why read my article, Your Ultimate Guide to the Six Levels of Unicorn Teams and How it Takes Your Startup Team From Good to Great.  

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