A teacher of art and painting once said to me that to draw a tree, one does not draw the outline of the tree and leaves, one draws the empty spaces between them.
To develop the traits of a good leader it helps to understand the traits of an ineffective, a bad one, or worse yet, a destructive one. So perhaps some brief comments should be made here about the destructive side of power and authority. Sometimes a bad leader will teach one as much, or sometimes more, than a good leader does.
When I was much younger, a great mentor in construction once said words to the effect of ‘your successes don’t impress me, they only tell me that you learned from your previous mistakes. The valuable experiences in our lives are our failures, not our successes, because those are the origins of the lessons we grow and learn from. Your success now only shows me that you learned, and that is what is important.’
There is no failure, there is no ‘fixing.’ There are only opportunities to learn and improve. I am grateful for every learning opportunity I have ever had and continue to have.
I offer the following thoughts for consideration when contrasted by some of the suggested behaviors above, such as practice empathy, and do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”
Lord Acton, John E. E. Dalberg, in a letter to Archbishop Mandell Creighton in 1887
The Stanford Prison Experiment, familiar to many, ethical or scientifically correct or not, provided a sobering insight into aspects of human psychology and effects of the potential corrupting power of authority – “Zimbardo's conclusion was that we are not so much inherently "evil," but that we will commit heinous acts if encouraged to do so by systems that enable or encourage them.” Milgram Obedience Study – The Milgram experiments, perhaps not as familiar as the Stanford experiment above, showed that anybody could be capable of torture when obeying an authority.
In a 2014 study by UC-Berkeley, researchers defined authentic pride as “related to healthy self-esteem and based on achievements and positive social behaviors,” while hubristic pride was “related to overconfidence and correlated with aggression, hostility, and poor interpersonal skills.” “There was a high correlation between perceived power and mood disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety.” (Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, Volume 88, Issue 4, December 2015)
There are many descriptions and so much information available contrasting the differences between Leaders who deliver and Leaders who destroy, so called ‘good’ leadership and ‘bad’ leadership, the differences between a Boss and a Leader (Bosses push from behind. Leaders lead from the front and by example, and practice pull) that I encourage everyone to explore the differences as they have the opportunity, and to increase the learning curve.
“Great leaders believe they work for their team. Average leaders believe their team works for them”. Alexander Den Heijer
Just as in the Request/Promise cycle of the Lean supply and production chains, the roles of any particular individual or firm changes depending where we are at any given production moment in the chain or process. At one moment in the process, the General Contractor may be the Provider or Promisor to the Owner as the Client or Requester, and at another moment in the process the General Contractor is the Requester of a Trade Partner or a Supplier, who in turn is the Promisor responding to a request made by the entity above them on the chain. And so on down the line of the process or supply chain.
Illustrations from the AGC-LCEP Program Unit 5 The Lean Supply Chain © AGC of America
Our roles as Leaders change in a similar manner depending on what moment we are in on the Leader/Team-member chain. At one moment we may be the Leader of a portion of a process and at others we may be responding as a performing Team member to a Leader above us. Tracey Richardson, a thought leader in Lean who spent many years learning from Toyota has a great chart titled the “Focus Areas by Level of Leadership” which illustrates some of the responsibilities and differences in fields of influence and the interrelationship of the various roles of the Executive Senior Leader to the Manager to the Supervisor to the Primary Process Owner, and it may be extended ever further up or down the line to their Lead, to the Newly Learning Apprentice and beyond.
My point here is that the same rules of engagement outlined above in this article must be applied both up and down the Leadership line. They do not just apply to the Team partners we may be leading, but the same rules of empathy, understanding, connection, and all the points covered must be extended and applied up the chain to those who oversee leading us – even if we think that leadership is flawed, ineffective, or worse. To help illustrate this point even further, here is another brief video by Simon Sinek, addressing this very issue, titled “How to Change our Leaders,” please take a look.
By practicing his advice, we will find that we learn and grow ourselves, we overcome more of our own limitations, we will move from an Inward to an Outward Mindset, from a Fixed one to a Growth one, all the while enhancing our own abilities to grow, change, continuously improve and to be become better Leaders and Team members ourselves.
So now, I will return the “New Norms” with the hope that they are even clearer and more relevant than when they were introduced in Part 1 as part of the ‘new Rules of Engagement’ necessary to be successful in the new Leadership Paradigm this brief article is meant to highlight:
“The New Rules of Engagement”:
1. Stay engaged
2. Speak your truth
3. Experience discomfort (I say not only experience discomfort, but learn to lean into discomfort, it is where we learn at the highest rate.)
4. Expect and accept non-closure
5. Listen for understanding
6. No fixing
7. Take risks
In closing, I would like to first say
Never Stop Learning - Always be driven by the “burning, lusting, desire to Know.”
And, finally, to paraphrase the closing given in the David Marquet clip I referenced at the very beginning of Part 1:
“Give up control and create Leaders. Not through the deeds and acts that you will do but go forth and achieve Greatness by setting an environment where everyone around you achieves Greatness! Go forth and be Great!”
From “Greatness” by David Marquet based on his book “Turn the Ship Around”