These days, perhaps more than ever, there’s an infatuation with fictional superheroes. Whether it be Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Women, Iron Man, or Captain America (sorry if I didn’t list your favorite!), these characters have captivated audiences with blockbuster movies and popular comic books. What is it about these characters and movies that draw such huge attention? Entertainment of course is one of the reasons, but I’ll contend that another reason is the idea of someone having a supernatural ability to defeat evil is something we crave as humans with our many natural flaws and issues. As a more real-life example, we see this as we approach the 2020 presidential election. We look for the one candidate who has all the right answers and who can solve all of our problems.
Much like with fictional characters or political figures, we crave extraordinary, heroic leadership, and there are many great examples of such leaders over the course of history. Too many to name; however, as the world changes and the speed of information increases, it becomes harder and harder for these types of leaders to exist in the ‘superhero’ sense. Last year I attended a tech conference in Silicon Valley, where it was noted that 90% of data that exists in the world was created in the last 2 years. Wow, think about that! Now think about how it applies to how we lead today. It’s simply not possible for leaders to lead the same way they did 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It is simply impossible for any one leader to know enough about everything to make all the best decisions. When we think of ‘superhero’ leaders, we think of the leader that everyone turns to for the big decision in the most critical moment. This is a reflection of the traditional “command and control” leadership model where decisions need to be run up the food chain and decision making authority is very limited to the top of organizations or departments. The truth is, today we need to lead differently. General Stanley McChrystal advocates for this concept near the end of his book Team of Teams very well. He says, “We expect our leaders to know everything, knowing full well that the limits of technology and the human brain won’t allow it.”
As you and I begin to think about leading differently, I challenge you to consider the points below that I believe are key to beginning this step as a leader.
- Humble Yourself
To lead today, you must admit you don’t know everything and accept that you simply cannot. Ask questions and seek out perspective that are different than your own.
- Delegate and Empower
To lead differently, you must empower people on your team to make decisions and lead. Consider finding a task to delegate to someone that is better equipped to handle or make a decision on than you and empower them to do it. First ensure they have the skills and training to take on the task.
- Eyes On, Hands Off
McChrystal highlights this concept in Team of Teams. The idea of being a “eyes on, hands off” leader is someone who keeps a pulse on what’s happening (eyes one) while allowing others the freedom to make decisions, even if that means not doing things as fast you could (hands off). They cultivate the environment for others to make the best decisions at the lowest level.
McChrystal calls transparency “the new ideal” in leadership. To lead today, leaders must not hoard information, but rather share information.
Think about expectations you have of your leader. Are they fair expectations? Are there things you could offer to help your leader be more effective. It could be as simple as sharing feedback, which is a gift!
You may be thinking, why do we need leaders anymore then? The truth is, now more than ever we need great leaders. With all the information available, we need to leaders to help set great direction and create environments for others to lead with clarity. Thank you for leading the Interstates Way!
Daren Dieleman, Director of Project Delivery