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The Many Roles of Ross Tartell

In the last substantive post here at LeaderNation, I wrote about Alfred P. Sloan Jr. and the incredible way he handled complexity. An interesting way to think about the differences in skills required of leaders at lower levels in an organization as compared to leaders in executive levels is to examine the amount of complexity the leader must manage. The complexity leaders deal with comes from a number of sources. Stephen Zaccaro writes extensively on both conceptual complexity and behavioral complexity in his book, The Nature of Executive Leadership. At the intersection of these concepts lies a third, perhaps more daunting, form of complexity – complexity introduced due to systems. The next three blog posts deal with these three concepts.

Behavioral Complexity:

Zaccaro notes that “behavioral complexity theories emphasize the need for senior leaders to coordinate the demands and requirements of multiple constituencies in accordance with the organizational purpose.” Two key roles Zaccaro notes for senior executives in the realm of behavioral complexity are mentoring and visioning. Developing and communicating a vision requires the ability to think across long time spans (cognitive complexity) as well as the ability to help people connect emotionally to the future state (behavioral complexity). Perhaps the best known competency of the group of competencies known as behavioral complexity is emotional intelligence. Popularized by Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence (commonly referred to as EQ) is the idea that knowledge and control of one’s own emotions, awareness of other peoples’ emotional states, and the ability to manage relationships make up a distinct aptitude that is particularly relevant for leaders. Behavioral complexity theories have shaped a number of LeaderNation’s competencies, including Authenticity, Empathy, and Integrating Perspectives.

My role model for behavioral complexity is an old boss of mine, Ross Tartell. At the beginning of every team meeting Ross would take time out to recognize each individual on the team for what they had achieved since the last meeting. Ross pointed out each person’s accomplishments, but he never blew smoke. If you hadn’t done anything noteworthy, Ross didn’t make anything up. The members of the team Ross built respected one another and were mature* so there was no shame associated with not being mentioned. Though when they were mentioned, their faces lit up. This practice really helped motivate everyone to do their best.

I had the chance to speak with Ross at a dinner he invited me to last summer (Ross keeps the team together even now, years after the group was officially restructured). In between a supportive talk he and another friend (and former team member) were giving me around my writing, I had the opportunity to let Ross know how much his leadership had meant to me. Of course the first words out of his mouth were, “Oh, I got that from Betsy Blee, she was amazing in that way.”

Not an ounce of vanity.

When talking about his success as a leader, Ross focused on the team’s efforts and the impact another leader he admired had on his leadership practices. That giving spirit and dedication to the concept of team are the reasons why Ross’s house is always full of friends and colleagues each summer he when invites people over for dinner. Those qualities are also how Ross gets the most out his team. He has the ability to simultaneously manage a team’s needs and manage relationships within the team, all while filling multiple roles. While I was on Ross’s team I had the opportunity to see Ross thrive as a follower, a peer, and as a leader, sometimes within minutes. It is a sign of a well-run team when an observer would have trouble pointing out the leader with no prior knowledge of who that was. Ross could move from the role of facilitator to follower to expert to note taker seamlessly, and encouraged other team members to step up and take the lead when appropriate. This is not to say there was any doubt who was ultimately in charge and responsible, it is simply that Ross created an environment where people were comfortable sharing responsibility and leadership. In order to succeed in so many diverse and demanding roles, it takes the ability to be authentic and emotionally aware of your own needs and the needs of those around you. In short, it takes behavioral complexity.

*One of the first things Ross told me about the team he created after he hired me was how proud he was of the maturity level on the team. This has always stuck out in my mind as an exceptional way to select members of a team. While individual contributors can succeed, to an extent, on the strength of their skills alone, I think Ross had the right idea when making sure all the members of his team were incredibly mature. It didn’t hurt that they were also very talented.


I am also one of the folks who have been or are currently working with Ross. I have been reporting to him for the last 9 weeks, and smiled when I read your article, as you have captured the essence of Ross. Those of us that have the privelege to call him our leader are very fortunate, indeed.

Hi, Cindy,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am glad what I said resonated with you as well. Ross is wonderful to work for, and I am glad that he gets recognition for what he does from people like you as well. He deserves it. Thanks for dropping by.


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