John Hillen on 7 Stalls in Leadership to Overcome

Dr. John Hillen

Dr. John Hillen, a long-time government contracting leader and former assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, recently gave a presentation to Ivy: The Social University on his book, “What Happens Now: Reinvent Yourself as a Leader Before Your Business Outruns You.” It discusses how leaders should develop themselves and outlines the seven stalls they face throughout their careers.

Hillen mentions how leadership challenges arise after companies grow and become more successful: “What happens when you grow or change your organization, but you don’t grow or change? What happens is leaders get outrun.”

Hillen separates leadership skill into two categories: complexity skills and sophistication skills. Complexity skills are those that involve more technical and tactical expertise, while sophistication skills are more strategic and interpersonal. As one rises as a leader, sophistication skills become more important than complexity skills.

However, it is often difficult for leaders to develop sophistication skills, and these two skills getting confused leads to the seven stalls in leadership Hillen outlines.

In his presentation, Hillen describes the seven stalls and how they can be overcome:

The Purpose Stall: This occurs when leaders fail to provide meaning or purpose for their business or product. The way to overcome this stall is to own the narrative of their organization and put it out there for others to see.

The Teamwork Stall: This happens when a leader fails to get his team to work together as one. As an example, Hillen uses the 2004 USA Men’s Olympic Basketball Team, who despite having the best players in the world on their squad, failed to win because their players did not play as a team, but as individuals. The solution to the teamwork stall is to “make yourself a true captain” and be involved, with Hillen suggesting the use of a team charter outlining goals and roles for each person on the team.

The Stakeholder Stall: In this case, stakeholders are people who can help you pave your way toward future success. Hillen emphasizes the stall occurs when leaders neglect these stakeholders (who have positions above them) and instead focus only on their subordinates. Shifting some focus towards stakeholders can help leaders overcome this stall, with a stakeholder map being suggested to help map out which stakeholders to reach out to.

The Leading Change Stall: When leaders fail to inspire change, they often lose support from their employees. This failure stems from leaders focusing on themselves and why the changes affect them. To fix this stall, leaders can become the “chief explaining officer,” and explain the changes in their employees’ terms.

The Authority Stall: This happens when your authority slips in the eyes of your followers. The way to overcome this stall is to exude traits that inspire people to follow you, including compassion, humility and trustworthiness.

The Focus Stall: This occurs when you fail to focus your time and energy to have the most impact. It is important for leaders to take back control of their agendas. To do this, Hillen recommends using the “urgent versus. important” matrix in order for leaders to determine what warrants their time and energy, and also to focus and commit to delegating.

The Leadership Development Stall: When you can’t develop your own leaders or prevent them from failing. Hillen encourages that leaders consider performance vs. potential and the 9-box model. By committing to mentor new leaders and become a leader of leaders, one can overcome this stall and succeed through the success of others.

Overall, Hillen emphasizes the importance of reinventing yourself as a leader, which “requires changing your behavior, changing your mindset, and changing your skills.” Furthermore, Hillen believes that change in organizations starts with leaders. Overcoming the seven stalls helps leaders to develop both themselves and their organizations.

1 Comment

  1. Love this article citing some golden nuggets from Dr. Hillen’s book. I think there are related stalls, such as alignment stalls, where teams lose clarity on what they should be doing and end up unnecessarily fighting against each other, as well as strategy stalls, when leaders don’t take the time to review progress against their strategy frequently enough, and end up pivoting too late in the game.