“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.” – Lao-Tzu
Most recently I have noticed a challenge in leadership. (This is not a new phenomenon, it has just become just glaringly apparent to me). That challenge is the experience of overwhelm and frustration by many leaders I have encountered. If we think about it, this is not unexpected. I and others have often said, the world we operate in is more complex, more ambiguous, more uncertain, and at time more volatile way than at any other time in history. Add in the rapidly changing social guidelines that are dictated by increasing levels of diversity in the social environment, the sheer volume of information both real and less than real, and the speed of technology and the expectation of instant responses create an environment that has never been seen. The demands on leaders are intense and I do not foresee that these demands will be reduced in the near future. As a matter of fact, I only see this environment getting more intense and robust.
And leaders exist for basically one reason, to produce results. Yet it can occur the road to producing those results gets more difficult and congested every day. What is he or she to do? The reality is, if we tell the truth, this scenario is scary. There can be a real fear that you won’t get it done, one may not succeed, or worst case, that one may fail. There can be the experience that one is an imposter or not enough for the position you have craved and worked for all these years. And we all know, “failure is not an option.” So what is a leader to do?
The traditional way would be to break it down into “manageable” segments and go to work on that in a systematic way. That could be ok, and in a dynamic and ever changing market place, is shrinking a sound strategy? Another way, and few admit to doing this and it occurs everywhere, especially in times of heightened fear, is create an intense set of structures and reporting systems to assure all members of your team are “aligned” and operating in “synchronicity” to assure “quality performance” and “aligned results”. How it usually shows up is an extremely high level of micro management and control, shutting off any creativity, innovation or ingenuity for your organization.
When I look at these scenarios it has me think of Nokia. The CEO in his closing speech as they were being sold to Microsoft said, “We didn’t do anything wrong, and somehow we lost.” That statement to me is remarkable and it says so much about what happened and why it did. First the context is looking through the lens of win/loss. The problem with that context is there is not a lot of room to learn from mistakes, or to grow from breakdowns. There is also an absence of responsibility just from the statement of “we didn’t do anything wrong.” Are you freaking kidding me, you are getting mothballed dude.
Here this guy was at the helm when he ran the ship aground, and he is arguing with reality. Did you crash because of divine intervention? The ego and the absence of ownership is numbing to me. The other part that was so weird to me, is the people in the organization were weeping at the news. I would be weeping too because they were all looking at the wrong thing. The market shifted and they were more concerned with being right, and being comfortable and winning some game no one else was playing. My guess is they were crying because their country club got shut down. I am not sure what the elements that lead to Nokia’s demise. Clearly they lost sight of the changes in the market place and became a dinosaur. Could they have done anything different and the perspective he shared speaks volumes as to the results he created.
There is no doubt the world of leadership is shifting and changing quicker than any of us really have the ability to adapt. What is there to do? What if we just owned the truth? What if we just spoke what is real? What if we admit, as leaders we are NOT enough? What if we release our ego and put our attention on what we are charged with providing? Leadership? What if we begin to inquire what that really means? What if we give up the notion that leadership is not about ego, or charisma, or power, or strategy anymore? What if we own that none of us can actually do it all on our own? What is possible from that admission? What would leadership look like?
What if leadership became about vision, and creating something? What if when we create it, we stop getting hung up on the question of how do we do it, and put our attention on why we do it, or what it will provide? What if we give up the chore of having all the answers and actually go out and ask our customers what they think? Or we look to our associates and employees and team mates, and ask them what they see? What if we are ok without knowing? What if not knowing and being curious was actually valued?
Leadership is a tough job, and I have so much compassion for the courage and strength of the women and men that take it on. I am also clear it is in high demand because we are in times of so much change and uncertainty. It is in these time of uncertainty when leadership is most required, and most scarce.
I would love to hear from you, your thoughts on what we need, and what is next in the world of leadership. Thank you again, as always, I am honored by your time. Thank you.