In the corporate world, mid-level leadership has often faced the brunt of a reputational issue, being perceived as mere administrators rather than influential leaders. The Harvard Business Review article from 1977 defined the clear separation between leadership and management, categorizing mid-level managers as strategic administrators, while C-suite leaders were dubbed as visionaries. This demarcation is still being taught in MBA programs worldwide, perpetuating the stigma attached to mid-level leadership. However, Rebecca Houghton, our guest in this episode, challenges this traditional notion and outlines the critical role of mid-level leaders in shaping impactful organizational change.

Meet Rebecca

Rebecca Houghton, a former executive and a thought leader in the field of leadership, is passionate about reshaping the narrative around mid-level leadership. Through her insights, she aims to bridge the gap between the often-underestimated role of middle managers and the powerhouse impact they can have within an organization. With her revolutionary concept of the B Suite, Rebecca is on a mission to empower mid-level leaders to embody the qualities of C-suite leaders, thereby revolutionizing the way organizations perceive and utilize mid-level leadership.

Timestamped Overview for Middle Managers With Executive Impact

  • [00:05:10] “Creating a B Suite: High impact mid-level leaders.”
  • [00:08:29] Middle managers as strategic administrators or visionary leaders.
  • [00:13:18] Focus on pace, space, and influence.
  • [00:17:31] Being busy is not valuable, delegate tasks.
  • [00:21:54] Prioritize tasks, say no sometimes.
  • [00:27:13] Junior leaders follow orders, senior leaders gather information.
  • [00:31:08] Deliberately influence manager to aid you.
  • [00:35:08] Agendas can conflict; proper conversation is essential.
  • [00:39:46] Poor sales and ops alignment, negative impact.
  • [00:43:21] Asking questions crucial for advancing leadership skills.
  • [00:44:50] “Check out, amazing B-suite community.”

Guest Resources

If you are interested in learning more about Rebecca’s resources be sure to check out the following links:

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The following is an AI generated transcript which should be used for reference purposes only. It has not been verified or edited to reflect what was actually said in the podcast episode. 



Scott McCarthy [00:00:00]:

You, Rebecca. Welcome to the show.

Rebecca Houghton [00:00:05]:

Thanks, Scott. It’s awesome to be here.

Scott McCarthy [00:00:08]:

So you like to talk about the B Suite, and I’m not talking about, you know, the C Suite didn’t say it wrong there, but rather the B isn’t Bravo Suite. So kicking off, like, who the heck are the B Suite folks? I’ve heard the C Suite folks, but I don’t know who the B Suite folks are.

Rebecca Houghton [00:00:31]:

Well, you know, Scott, I can remember back when I was an executive for one of the big organizations here in Australia, reading lots of cartoons and watching The Office and really picking up on how very bad mouthed middle managers are. They’re really not thought of very highly. And it struck me that there was a real separation in middle management between the middle managers that are a bit like that guy in The Office and the middle managers that actually are operating like real executives. They’ve got influence, they’ve got impact, they’re strategic, they’re great leaders. And I thought, gosh, how unfair that they’re getting tarred with the same brush. So for me, there was this sense of how do we separate and delineate a B Suite, a great leader from a classic dirty old middle manager and really start to be able to isolate what makes the difference? How do you leave middle management and become this high impact, mid level leader? So that’s really where this concept of the B Suite came from, was this thought process around, well, what’s just beneath the C Suite? It’s not the huge, big fat middle of middle management. It’s a few people that really are a role modeling example of how to lead from the center and doing it really, really well. So that’s where the B Suite came from as a brand name. And that’s kind of what it means, really. It is a middle manager, but a middle manager with the kind of impact that a C Suite leader has just sitting in the middle of the organization instead of the top of the organization.

Scott McCarthy [00:02:08]:

I love the office. That show was phenomenal. Did you watch the American version or the UK version? I have to ask. Or both.

Rebecca Houghton [00:02:18]:

I watched both. But because I play Holy and solely in the B Suite, it actually got to the point where I was finding it too offensive and I couldn’t bear either of them any longer.

Scott McCarthy [00:02:33]:

I watched the American version and my favorite episode was, I believe Jim was his name, John Konowski’s character. And he was putting the pennies in Dwight’s phone receiver and one day took them all out. So Dwight went to answer the phone and smoked himself in the head with it. I literally was crying watching that episode because I could just see that happening at work, like for real. But nonetheless, such great memories. But nonetheless, you talked about the importance of the middle manager, the B Suite, which I have to agree with you wholeheartedly, these are crucial critical leaders out there. Now, I guess let’s kind of back it up and go, why have they gotten such a bad rap in the past in the first place? A lot of people think when they think middle managers to kind of think micromanaging, they kind of think a bit narcissistic, take all the credit, all these really negative connotations, which I like to refer to as being, quote unquote, a boss, rather not being the leader. So I wonder, from your perspective, where did all this negativity come from in the first place?

Rebecca Houghton [00:03:50]:

Yeah, it’s a really great question because it’s been around since about 1975. So it’s a really long held reputational issue for mid level leadership. So then there’s a couple of things. First of all, there was a seminal article written by Harvard Business Review in about 1977 that talked about the separation of leadership from management. So leadership was visionary executive management was kind of a strategic administrator. And that has really taken hold in terms of the difference between the C suite and middle management. It’s really taken hold that middle managers can be no better than a strategic administrator. So that’s them at their best. According to that Harvard Business Review from well time before both of us were born. It’s been around for a while, right? It’s been around for a while. So it’s actually still taught in a lot of MBAs across the globe. There is still this separation from strategic administrator to visionary leader. And it’s really, really clear that to be a visionary leader, you are in the C suite and everything else is the best you can get from a middle manager. Now, I think that is where it all came from originally. And then of course, you’ve got things like The Office, you’ve got Dilbert cartoons, the Pointy headed boss. There’s so many comedic versions of what this mid level leader is all about that in the end we start to believe our own hype a little bit. But to comment on what you have pulled up there, there is also a big difference, isn’t there, between leadership as a title and leadership as a job, as a vocation. So there are quite a lot of people who want leadership because of the status and the title. And that is the kind of the older school middle managers, the ones that we do want to leave behind. Unfortunately, the modern middle manager, the B suite leader, really sees leadership as a vocation and they have to because in order to have C suite impact in the center of an organization, you’ve got to lead outside your skin, outside your box, outside your remit. You’ve got to have much more influence than your job description would suggest or allow. And that’s when we start to see B suite leaders with C suite impact emerging from that power middle of an organization.

Scott McCarthy [00:06:21]:

I never heard about that article before and God, I can’t disagree with that more. It drives me nuts. I see it all the time. You have leadership on one, on the red quarters, management weighing in, whatever. And then on the blue corner is leadership. Like, no, congratulations. In order to be a good leader, you also have to be a good manager. I don’t care what people have fought me on this. I’m like, right, so let’s think about management. Management resource management, ability to budget, do finances, yada, yada, yada.

Rebecca Houghton [00:07:02]:


Scott McCarthy [00:07:02]:

That’s hard management stuff. So if you’re a C suite executive who is, quote unquote, a leader and turns around and runs their company to the ground financially to the point where you’re bankrupt, are you actually a leader? Exactly.

Rebecca Houghton [00:07:18]:

Right, exactly.

Scott McCarthy [00:07:19]:

I would say no. And I have examples, ladies and gentlemen. I have great examples that I could go ahead and use. But I’ll digress because I’m about to really jump up my soapbox here. It just gets really me, really annoyed when people say, oh, management and leadership are two different things. My aunt wrong timeout. No, they’re not, actually.

Rebecca Houghton [00:07:37]:

I’m going to send you this link so that you can fester and share.

Scott McCarthy [00:07:42]:

Lose my mind on it. But it’s interesting because you talked about how now, especially today, I find what you said about B suite leaders epically. True. The world has never been so fast, never been so quick to evolve. We’ve never been so connected. So we need to empower our people to think strategic, think visionary, be able to make those decisions, but if they’re not empowered to do so, they can’t. So my question to you is for the listeners out there who are in this middle area, how do they go about becoming that visionary and becoming thinking strategically, but at the same time looking to get basically the authority to act like that without getting stumped on from, quote unquote, above?

Rebecca Houghton [00:08:39]:

It’s a great question, Scott. It’s a great question. Look, there’s three things that mid level leaders really have to focus on, to elevate or level up their leadership and start having more impact more easily. The first one you’ve kind of touched on, which is what I would almost classify as super management capabilities, right? It’s really about controlling the pace of work. So that’s really where you start focusing on your planning skills, your productivity outputs, your managing expectations much more tightly and your governing outcomes really, really well. So that’s where we have to start, because if we don’t start there, we don’t create any space for ourselves to do the rest of the work that is actually more important. But a lot of leaders in the middle get stuck there because the pace of the work is so intense that they’re sucked into this vortex of being busy all the time, so they never become impactful. So once you’ve got a bit of a handle on controlling the pace of work, the next space that we go to is actually using the space to think or holding the space. If you like to be a B suite leader, that’s quite a difficult space because it really does require you to reset some of your assumptions and reprogram who you are, what you’re for, what your relationship with authority is like, what your relationship with the work is like. Are you still an individual contributor or have you made your decision to be an executive? Because there are things you’ll have to change in your head and in your diary, if that’s your call. So that’s quite an important bit of kind of interior work that really needs to happen to make sure that you’re going to play at the right level going forward. And then with the space that you’ve created and the determination and commitment that you’ve created, the last thing you really need to do is work on your influence. And this is huge. This is a lifelong exercise, so this can be motivating your team, it can be influencing and collaborating more effectively with your peers. It has a massive amount of managing up strategically, deliberately and effectively and a fair amount of communicating from one to many. So starting to be that leader that can broadcast and engage at a much broader scale than just your team. So lots, really, but three buckets. Control the pace of work, use that space to rethink and then make the case to everyone around you, influence everyone around you all the time. If you can do those three things deliberately meticulously over and over and over, you will shift from being a busy leader at the top of their silo to being an influential leader that can influence right across an enterprise.

Scott McCarthy [00:11:25]:

I really like those. They’re simple, yet comprehensive. And I really liked the first one there. You talked about being impactful and not busy, and I find today so many leaders are stuck. I’m so busy. Hey, how’s it going? Oh, so busy, man. It’s crazy.

Rebecca Houghton [00:11:55]:

You’re so right. It’s almost competitive. The answer there is, oh, my God, I’m so much busier than you.

Scott McCarthy [00:12:04]:

Let me open up my jacket and break up my calendar here and you can see all the appointments and meetings I have. It’s a badge of honor, right? But you said it, right? Like, are you making the impact? Are you actually not just getting things done, but getting the right things done that pushes your team and your organization forward in the right direction. So for you, the listener that’s listening right now is probably scratching head, going, am I doing the right things? How do they know that they’re doing the right things much that a C suite exec would be looking to have done?

Rebecca Houghton [00:12:52]:

What a great question, Scott. You’ve really got to the heart of it because you’re spot on, right? What happens in more junior leadership levels is that you are trained to be a machine for output. So the more that you can fit into your day, the better a human you are right. That’s why time management industry is enormous. Billions and billions of dollars on getting one more widget out of your hour every day. Right? That’s really what that’s all about. Do more with the hours that you’ve got. So of course, what happens is that we do do more. We are really efficient. So when we can’t squeeze another widget out of 1 hour, we do more hours. So we end up working more hours, working later, doing some stuff on Sunday afternoons or Saturday mornings before the family wakes up. This becomes a standard routine which is slowly killing us. The Japanese have got a brilliant word for it. It is a really, really bad approach to your life. But you’ve also called it. It is how we validate ourselves. If we’re not busy, what are we? So we cling on to it. It is a badge of honor. It is a sign of our value. In our own head, the busier we are, the more valuable we are. Therefore, I must always be busy. So that’s one of those headspaces that we have to change, because busy is not valuable. Busy is just busy. And the reason that you’re always doing more and more and more work is because your executives don’t care about busy, they care about valuable. So you’re measuring yourself in a completely different metric than your executive is measuring you. They’re sat there looking at you going, jeez, why is he just so busy and stressed out all the time? And I’m not getting what I want. He must be rubbish. And you’re thinking, I’m working so hard, I’m killing myself. How is it that you don’t notice and give me praise? So we’ve got this disconnect because you’re literally talking in different languages about the value that you bring. So it’s super important to really stop and ask yourself, am I obsessed with being busy? Am I actually leaning on busy? Is busy my shield? Hiding me from other things which might be, I don’t feel confident enough, I don’t feel empowered enough, I don’t feel influential enough, I’m not strategic enough. Every time I stop being busy, I don’t know what to do with myself, so I go back to being busy again. So these kind of conversations are what need to happen in your head so that you can start recognizing when you are being busy, for the sake of being busy, and when you’re doing stuff that’s on your list, just because it’s on your list. So the very, very first thing that I would say you can do is challenge your list. Because not everything on your list is equal, not everything on your list is actually valuable, and not everything on your list is something that you should be doing. In fact, about 70% of the things on your list are things that you should be delegating, pushing back on, or simply deprioritizing. And until you agree to be that ruthless with your list, your list is going to own you and not the other way around.

Scott McCarthy [00:16:00]:

Mic drop moment. I love the Japanese sadlet sale. I love the Japanese reference. Yeah, they have a word for it and there are actually been studies of men predominantly in Japan dying at work. That’s exactly crazy to think about. Also about you mentioned it’s a shield busyness. Also find a lot of people I’ve coached who are tired of being busy and stuff like this. When we get to the core problem, they’re busy because they have impostor syndrome. So they’re scared that if they’re not busy they’re going to get found out like, oh, they’re junk, they’re not doing anything. When the reality is, as you’ve elkly pointed out, actually the opposite is true. If you’re able to prioritize, if you’re able to delegate, if you’re able to empower, if you’re able to determine what’s actually the right thing to do and not get sucked into every little thing, you’re actually at the top 2%, I would argue, because so many people don’t do it.

Rebecca Houghton [00:17:15]:

That’s exactly right. Scott a lot of us get it in our life. Admin sometimes we just feel overwhelmed with all this stuff that we have to do and it all has to be done. And if you took a sensible pencil to it, you’d sit back and go, all right, but does it all have to be done today? Is it all equally important? It really is a pretty simple process to go through and just prioritize all the things that are stressing you out. And as a mid level leader, I often find the people that I work with underestimate the authority and the power that they have to make a decision not to do something. They genuinely think because they’ve grown up in their career that yes is good. Anytime anybody asks you to do something, say yes. It’s helpful, it’s supportive, it’s your boss, just say yes. These big unconditional yeses. And once you hit mid level leadership, you have to make a decision about whether you’re going to continue to be this yes man or whether you’re going to start to use your discretion, your judgment, which is why you’re getting paid the money that you are to start filtering and screening so that no yes is ever unconditional. Again, every yes is a maybe or later or not in that way or not me personally. There needs to be a way that you can gain control over your environment, otherwise it will just beat you to death. And that word, Scott, the Japanese word is karoshi, death by overwork. And it is a great example of us not having any agency in our environment, so allowing our environment to just keep piling it on and not having any mechanisms to manage it and to push back on it.

Scott McCarthy [00:19:01]:

Yeah, that’s right. That is the word. It’s so many great examples there. Love it. Now, you mentioned the second bucket was thinking at the higher level. That’s how I took it. As I told you before we hit record, my background is and I still serve in the Canadian army, and when we do, what we call part of planning is looking at not our boss’s intent, but their boss’s bosses, the boss’s boss’s intent and what they want to achieve and so on and so forth. So we refer to that as two up. And that’s what I teach to my clients, is, okay, so when you’re thinking, when you want to get in the shoes of your boss, don’t think about them. Think to up. Think too up. Now, the leader listen to the show is probably like, yes, that’s great and all, but I can’t just simply walk into my boss’s boss’s office and sit down and start taking notes on how they think and what they’re looking for and stuff like this. So I’d love to get your advice for them out there, how they can actually start thinking in that level within their boss’s shoes or their boss’s boss’s shoes to be able to start acting that way.

Rebecca Houghton [00:20:16]:

Yes, look, that one, you’re quite right. You can’t just rock up into your CEO’s office and say, hi, tell me what’s on your mind. But what’s officially on their mind is in every annual report, every piece of PR, everything that they put out in the media. You should be following them on LinkedIn. You should be following their blog, paying attention to what they’re telling the market, because in there, you’ll actually find what you need in terms of what’s their narrative, what’s the story that they’re telling the world that are their priorities, and how are they joining the dots and making sense of it all from that level. If you can do that and then take that into your team and go, okay, so what does that mean that we need to do? What’s our priority? If that’s my CEO’s priority, then you’ll start to find those really important, purposeful connections to doing the work that you’re doing, and you’re starting to go through the process of determining what work gets done instead of how I’m going to get all this work done.

Scott McCarthy [00:21:21]:

Yeah, that’s a lot of great advice there. Like, following them, reading up on what they’re talking about. And I would even say when you’re having a conversation with your supervisor, making sure that they are adequately explaining the why behind some direction, some guidance that they’re giving, like, okay, so what’s the rationale behind this? What does your superior say to you about this project, this direction, whatever? So, for example, I host a free Facebook group, and one of the people in there was talking about how they were directed to get X millions of dollars of savings. I’m like, okay, but did you ask the rationale behind it? Because maybe it’s not actual savings that they’re actually looking for. Maybe they’re looking for an increased emergence. Well, those are two totally different things. Maybe they’re looking for increased profit revenue and their supervisor is just coming from it, let’s just cut costs and then we got it. Well, no, there’s other ways to skidding this cat per se, but you have to understand the rationale and the why behind it. So if you don’t, you’re just going to kind of blindly follow along.

Rebecca Houghton [00:22:34]:

Well, you can’t do anything but execute orders, right? I think again, when you’re in a more junior leadership position, there is nothing wrong with simply accepting a directive and getting on with it and doing it really efficiently, really effectively. That’s part of your training ground. Right? But once you start hitting mid level leadership, once you become a leader of leaders, a manager of managers, you really need to start changing that mindset because your reports are looking at you and asking questions about where is your agency, where is your authority, where is your inner circle know how? And if you’re not asking the right questions, then you’re going to be as kept in the dark as they are. And then they’ll start asking questions about why it is that you’re getting paid twice as much as they are if you don’t know anything more. Because once we start to become senior leaders, information is our key value. Information influence the way that we’re able to use the people, the motivations around us and the information around us to achieve greater things, to remove roadblocks for our teams, to get budget, to get financing, to get stakeholders off their case, to get more resources. Whatever it is, your job becomes more running interference for them than it does what it used to be, which is actually doing the work itself.

Scott McCarthy [00:24:02]:

I call that top cover is my term. Providing top cover. I’m like, I got you guys top covered. Just go ahead and get the job done. Let me worry about the nauseous political stuff and whatever other problems that are coming along. Just go execute. Let me know when you need something from me and I’ll top cover. I e shield you from all that type of stuff. So that’s the term we use. Term I use. You like that?

Rebecca Houghton [00:24:34]:

Yeah, I like it.

Scott McCarthy [00:24:37]:

Go ahead.

Rebecca Houghton [00:24:39]:

But I think it’s really, really important. There’s a point in your career, even if you’ve been an expert in your profession the whole time, there becomes a point in your career where you have to decide to let go of being the expert and you have to step off the tools and you have to get out of their way. Even if you know in your secret heart that you’re the smartest and the best of the lot of them, doesn’t matter. You actually have a job to do that none of them can do. And whilst you can probably do their jobs, the thing is there’s, let’s say 20 or 30 or 50 or 100 of them, and there’s only one of you. So if you start dipping into their space and getting into execution and doing what we used to classify as the work in our previous lives, then who’s doing your job? And if you’re not running interference for your team, they get interfered with. If that top cover or that air cover isn’t there, they’re getting bombarded. And that interferes with their ability to crack on with the job and with the task at hand. So you’re letting them down by pitching in. And actually that becomes another one of those mindset pieces where you’ve really got to be disciplined and say, it is better for me not to help, because if I help, then I’m not running interference. And the interference is more valuable than one more set of hands on the tools.

Scott McCarthy [00:26:01]:

I can hear myself say that if you’re not doing your job or if you’re doing their job, who’s doing your job? I don’t know how many times I’ve said that, and often, unfortunately, it’s usually due to someone complaining that their supervisor is in the weeds and doing their job. The person’s job I’m like, well, you should ask them who’s doing their job, which generally won’t show up or give.

Rebecca Houghton [00:26:29]:

Them a specific task. Managing up is a bit of a life skill, actually, an incredibly valuable one. And if you’re comfortable with being deliberately influential, and let’s face it, once you get past a certain level of seniority, you’re going to have to get comfortable with it, because if you’re not deliberately influential, you’re not influential at all. One of the spaces where you have to practice deliberate influence is managing your manager and making sure that you’re pointing them in the direction of the things that you need them to do. So what we often find, and you’ve probably heard this too, Scott, is my manager should know this. My manager should do this. My manager should be on top of this. It’s like, yeah, okay, but your manager’s got other people that report to them, and they don’t know your job. Like you know your job. It’s actually your job to leverage them as an asset. So if you’re going into your one on ones with your manager and not being specific about what you want from them, you’re missing a massive opportunity, because most people are kind of programmed to be helpful, right? So if you put them on the spot and say, I need you to go to the CFO and get this problem off my back, or I need you to really advocate for this in the next senior, the next executive leadership team meeting. We’re hearing this noise in the background. It’s a load of rubbish. This is the right answer, and I need you to address it every time you hear it. Whatever it is that you need from them, be specific. It will actually help them. They’ll be really happy. You’ll see them write something down for probably the first time in many one on ones, and they’ll go and do it for you because you’ve rolled them out and said, I’m pointing my big gun at this. Don’t miss the target. There’s a little bit of professional pride in it. And of course, helping you only makes them look better.

Scott McCarthy [00:28:14]:

Yeah, I love the initial. There about, oh, my manager should know this or My manager should be doing that. It’s their job or they should know better. I refer to those as unspoken contracts. I e. One has an expectation, the other, yet that other does not know that that expectation actually exists from the first person. Yeah.

Rebecca Houghton [00:28:41]:

Managers are humans too. Right. If you ask the same thing of your direct team, I bet you there’s a stack of stuff that you should be doing that you’re not doing, and things where they’re kind of wondering what you are doing. Then it goes all the way up to the top and it flows all the way down to the bottom. Your job is to communicate. So communicate really, really clearly and these problems get eradicated. And I think to your point, this expectation that everyone else is going to do what they should be doing wow. Kind of when you’re about four or five, you realize that no humans do what they should do just because they should. And when you get to about 45, you start working out how to make them do what they should because they should. And it’s just really important that you get there as fast as you can.

Scott McCarthy [00:29:33]:

As a father of a seven and four year old, I fully endorsed that statement. Rebecca, that was actually a great segue into the influence bucket. So we talked about managing Op. What I’m also interested in, many leaders out there, of course, work with peers, peer leaders. So what is your advice to them to be influencing their peer groups? Maybe you need the leader of another team to do something on your behalf because it resides in their lane per se, but it’s affecting you. You don’t want to go to your common boss because you don’t want to seem like backstabbing or whatever, but rather you rather kind of handle this lowest level. In reality, it’s not a big deal, but it is affecting you and your team. What’s a good way to influence across there?

Rebecca Houghton [00:30:29]:

Yeah, that’s a classic. That scenario happens a lot. Right. And what we find is that inadvertently, even across an intact leadership team, we’ve got a lot of agendas that can be in conflict with each other. For example, I don’t know, a finance shared services team. Their job might be to save money. Your job is to invest in order to accelerate revenue targets. So you’re naturally already at conflict with each other. The finance team are going to drag their feet and slow you down from spending money. And you need to speed up to spend the money to make sure that you’re getting your revenue targets. So there’s conflict waiting. To happen before you’ve even met each other or stepped in a room because your agendas are already pointing in opposite directions. So one of the classic mistakes that leaders make is to go in with their ask. I need to accelerate my access to these funds, which immediately puts the opposite number in a position where if their agenda is in conflict with yours, they’ve got no alternative but to start saying no. And a lot of people don’t like to say no. Yeah, we’ve talked about that, right? We all love to say yes. We’re trained to say yes, so they don’t say no. So they kind of nod and smile and then do nothing, which means that you then go back and you go back again, and then you escalate, and then you get really shirty about it, and then you think about taking it all the way to your boss. Now, actually, we just didn’t have a proper conversation in the first place. We went a little bit one sided about what we want, and we didn’t really ask them what they want. We didn’t spend any time getting to know what their agenda was before we launched into ours. And any negotiator, any poker player would say, slow down. You’re showing them your hand before you’ve had any idea about what’s in their hand. That’s a dumb move, so don’t be dumb. Play poker. And I’m not saying keep your cards close to your chest, but I’m saying, why don’t you have all cards on the table conversation so you can go, oh, wow, okay. Well, that’s going to be a problem in the future then, isn’t it? Because I can see us conflicting on this. What have you done in the past about this? How do you get around it? What normally happens? And having a conversation like that up front will breed the kind of trust and confidence in each other that will get you through anything, because relationships do it doesn’t matter what’s in your way. If you’ve got a good relationship, you’ll work it through together. If you don’t, then the scenario becomes the problem, and you continue to be at conflict over something that in the greater scheme of things, is quite an easy obstacle to remove.

Scott McCarthy [00:33:04]:

Yeah, that’s great advice there. I like looking at these scenarios through the lens of appreciative inquiry. I e just trying to understand the other person’s side in your example, like, hey, can you explain to me the rationale again, going back to the whole why, but can you explain to me the rationale behind the pressure here for the savings? Because from my side, this is at conflict with what we’re trying to achieve. But I want to really understand your side of this problem set and just not be pointing fingers or blame, but just generally in an appreciative manner of trying to understand, to be empathetic with the other person, to fully understand their situation so that you can hopefully resolve that issue together.

Rebecca Houghton [00:33:58]:

Yeah, it would be amazing if we all wore our scorecards on the outside of our suits, right? And you’d just be able to walk in and go, oh, wow, so you won’t get like a bonus or a good performance review if you don’t hit these five things. What a disaster. Because my five things are in conflict with your five things. So we’re kind of set up to hate each other. Let’s not do that. Let’s work together. How can we get what we want? How do we both get what we need out of this? And what a great conversation that is when you really, genuinely are invested in a win win situation, it’s quite remarkable how much easier it is to achieve a win win solution than people think it is if you start with the right attitude and the right questions.

Scott McCarthy [00:34:42]:

Yeah, you just reminded me of a client I had that was coaching, or still is, I should say. We’re on a coaching pause now because he’s doing so good, but he’s the VP of sales for an online company. I won’t get into full details here, obviously out of confidentiality, but.

Rebecca Houghton [00:35:03]:

He was.

Scott McCarthy [00:35:03]:

Given a target, obviously a sales target.

Rebecca Houghton [00:35:06]:


Scott McCarthy [00:35:07]:

And as we dove into it deeper and deeper, we realized if he met his sales target, it would have sank the operations team because the operations team would not have been able to keep up with the demand that his sales team would have generated. This is what I call poor alignment. He’s like, what do you mean? I’m like, well, let’s do the math. And I like, you know, of course, whiteboarded it out online for him and stuff like this. I’m like, if you team is fully successful, you’re going to destroy your operations team, which then in turn makes your life even more hell because all of a sudden all your clients disappear. And now you’re even forced to go even further to try to get more clients back on board to get you back to where you need to be. I’m like, you need back to what you talked about earlier. I’m like, we need to lead this up. Like, you need to bring this to your CEO and like, listen, we need to revisit this number because if we do that, this is the impact.

Rebecca Houghton [00:36:15]:

Perfect. And that leader couldn’t possibly have worked that out without sitting down and having just a really open, collaborative conversation that starts with, here’s my target. Tell me about your targets. How do you work? What are your concerns? And then you end up going, so what’s your capacity? And then you kind of go, oh my God, it’s much, much less than my target. Okay, we now collectively have a problem and we should solve this together and escalate it together. And that togetherness, that bond that you form then makes you an unbreakable unit. So tell me, with that VP, is he now working better with his operations team than he ever has.

Scott McCarthy [00:36:57]:

Yeah, and they were able to get the numbers revised with CEO in the end.

Rebecca Houghton [00:37:02]:

And I bet his Ops team now think that he’s great and they’re prepared to dig deep. And I bet they’re feeling more like an integrated unit now.

Scott McCarthy [00:37:11]:

Yeah. Last time we checked in, which was some time ago, things have been running relatively smooth. They have a few other problems, but not here nor there. But it just kind of brought that example out, for sure. That’s brilliant.

Rebecca Houghton [00:37:24]:

Yeah, brilliant. And what an example of how the relationship is the important bit in this and that really respectful understanding of each other’s priorities and a commitment to trying to get both of you what you need and not hurt one by achieving the other. That commitment, I think, of respect is the relationship gold nugget, really. And that’s the bit that elevates your ability to collaborate with anyone on anything. If you can have that kind of relationship with them, there really is nothing that you can’t get through. I’ve seen a thousand awful digital transformations, hideous processes that everyone hates, terrible C suite leaders that are quite terrifying. When you’ve got the right relationships in mid level leadership, you will drive through that regardless. When you don’t, the whole situation actually amplifies. It becomes so much worse than it needs to be.

Scott McCarthy [00:38:24]:

That’s fantastic, Becca. This has been a great conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Before we wrap up, I do got a couple of last questions for you. First is a question asked all the guests here at the podcast. And that’s according to you, Rebecca. What makes a great leader?

Rebecca Houghton [00:38:42]:

One thing I’ll say, it in the context of leveling up between being the old school middle manager to becoming a B suite leader with C suite impact, the most important single lever that you can pull is to start being really good at asking questions. So to your point, understanding what’s the motivation behind things, what’s the purpose behind things. Understanding how to ask questions that help your team show more initiative. Their coaching questions, asking influencing questions, thought leadership questions. Once you start doing that, you really change the nature of how you influence everyone around you. So I think that is probably the one biggest lever that you can pull that will differentiate you from being a mid level leader that typically has all the answers to being a B suite leader, which is someone who’s actually better at questions than answers. I think that will radically change your whole leadership reputation.

Scott McCarthy [00:39:59]:

It’s a tough question, don’t get me wrong. So well done. Well done to you. And the final question of the show, how can people find you, follow you? Be part of your journey? Shameless plug. Have at it.

Rebecca Houghton [00:40:11]:

A shameless plug. Thank you. Look very, very short and sweet. Go to and have a look around. We’re in the middle of launching a beautiful community for B suite leaders that has immeasurable levels of support for them and based on our proven systems of impact. So rummage your way through to that and tell me what you think.

Scott McCarthy [00:40:37]:

That’s great. And for the listeners always, it’s easy. Just go to two six six. And that link is in the show notes along with everything else. Rebecca, again, thanks for taking some time your busy schedule and talking to us today. Really appreciate it.

Rebecca Houghton [00:40:53]:

I appreciate it too, Scott. Thank you.