I’ve often appreciated Dan Rockwell and his Leadership Freak blog – and not just for that double-take blog title. His most agreeable characteristic (to my mind at least) is that he remains prepared to ask questions of what he encounters in life, and not to think of assumptions as the mental equivalent of a comfortable old sofa. Assumptions – like faith – are best when they are tested and proven.
In a recent post, Three Qualities Traditional Leaders Reject, the first of his listed examples is as follows:
Traditional leaders are unwelcoming. Traditional leaders expect you to receive their ideas; they don’t receive yours. Power, prestige, and position thrive in unreceptive, threatening environments.
Tell-me-more leaders, go further than,
Stop looking down your nose at outsiders, front line employees, and new hires. Adapt to them; don’t force them to adapt to you.”
We’ve said it before, but leadership isn’t ‘being in charge’. That’s managing – and with the stick rather than the carrot. There’s a lurking danger of ‘all efficiency and no effectiveness’, and the managed need vitamins more than they need bruises.
It’s also managing from the position that the manager is right, and therefore the managed are ‘right’ by dint of agreeing with them. Which is rather like a stopped clock: it might make brief sense twice a day but most of the time it’s just wrong.
I was amused to find another blog posting triggered by Dan’s original piece, although I couldn’t help think that Jim Bouchard might reflect that he was effectively congratulating Dan Rockwell on agreeing with him – which perhaps ever so slightly missed the point.
There is a flipside to this, nicely outlined by HR Bartender in a post about managing your boss. But even this, as she points out, requires a little give and take – I’ve taken the liberty of bolding what seems to me to be the critical sentence:
Being able to manage your boss is a business necessity. It should not be considered or treated as manipulation. A really good boss knows enough about themselves to share information about their working style. It’s a win for everyone involved.”
But two ‘rights’ don’t make a ‘wrong’: they make a difference of opinion, the start of a conversation (or a negotiation), and the foundation of an opportunity to learn. Possibly for both parties. (These are reflected in Dan’s two other chosen qualities: curiosity and withholding judgement.)
The power of these attributes in combination is not just to discourage the leader from retreating to their comfort zone: it is to stop the leader encouraging everyone to be shepherded into the one comfort zone. Resting on your own laurels is never the most prepared position – everybody resting on the same set of laurels is as fruitless as it is over-crowded.
More to the point, a lack of reciprocity and curiosity and an abundance of judgement doesn’t just sell the leader’s potential contribution to the organisation and/or its mission short: it sells everybody else short too. ASK’s preferred definition of leadership is a long way from ‘being in charge’:
But leadership is neither about a single attribute nor a defined position or role. We believe that leadership is a complex set of behaviours that anyone can demonstrate, and a relationship in which a person accepts responsibility for their own fate and for that of others in relation to achievement of the task.”
An unreceptive, uninterested and judgemental manager is unlikely to provide inspiration or motivation, and any sense of engagement generated in others is more likely to be achieved through fear than by genuine interpersonal concern or encouragement. Given what we know about the impact of engagement – and of disengagement – this is more a presence of bad management than an absence of its good counterpart.
These behaviours also speak implicitly of a lack of trust, which will undermine the relationships that might deliver engagement. More importantly, however, it reduces the innovative potential of the team to that of a leader who demonstrates a tendency to ‘stick with what is tried and tested’.
And while wielding a big stick may keep the team in line, the world is likely to go off message. If you’re going to face the future and not blink, you might do better with more ideas than with fewer.