You have surely noticed that I went into the area of business building some years back, as a result of understanding how successful innovation works.
And here is where I am coming from: business building is all about people. And people are cut out in certain ways at birth and they are equipped with a set of basic personality traits that will not change over the span of their lifetimes: psychopathy/empathy, intelligence, agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness, just to name a few. Please check out my article about entrepreneur assessment if you want to find out more (click here). Or check out the “Personality Building” department here on my website (click here).
Most business trainers focus on leadership and what makes a successful leader, but that is not the key issue when it comes to building a successful team.
The Leader Perspective Is Simply Wrong
Example: I found an article about leadership in the Harvard Business Review (click here).
It could be a good article, if written for the people, and not to leaders.
This is how that article starts:
If there was ever any doubt about the importance of a leader’s ability to navigate change, uncertainty, and disruption, the emergence of the global pandemic in 2020 made this necessity abundantly clear. And while we all hope to avoid future pandemics, one thing is certain — we cannot avoid ever-increasing complexity.
The leaders we work with often report feeling stuck, ill-equipped, or overwhelmed as they face the growing challenges of their roles. Understandably, it’s easy to feel this way when the complexity of our world has surpassed our “complexity of mind,” as Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey describe in their book, Immunity to Change. To put this in concrete terms, computing power has increased more than a trillion-fold since the mid 1950’s, but our brains remain unchanged.
That is rhetorics only. Here comes the work hypothesis of the article:
In order to effectively lead others in increasing complexity, leaders must first learn to lead themselves. Although each leader faces their own unique circumstances, we have observed six strategies that accelerate your ability to continually learn, evolve, and navigate progressively more complex challenges.
in other words: learn these six tools and you will be a better leader.
What nonsense. That will become clear once you look at the “strategies” that the authors are suggesting for improving your life as a leader.
Embrace the Discomfort of Not Knowing
Throughout our careers, we are conditioned to come up with the answer — as in a single, definitive, correct answer. Given that our brains are hardwired to see uncertainty as a risk or threat, it’s physiologically normal to feel stress when faced with unfamiliar situations. This is especially true for high achievers who have built their career on knowing or finding the “right” answer. Although avoiding these unpleasant feelings is a natural human tendency, it can become a significant barrier to learning, future growth, and ultimately performance.
Rather than avoid these feelings, we must learn to acknowledge and embrace the discomfort as an expected and normal part of the learning process. As described by Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, leaders must shift from a “know it all” to “learn it all” mindset. This shift in mindset can, itself, help ease the discomfort by taking the pressure off of you to have all the answers.
Did you see the contradiction in the above statement? “Our brains are hardwired” versus “leaders must shift from a “know it all” to “learn it all” mindset”.
And while it is true that a company that embraces an Agile management style needs to have open-minded people, the same can be very wrong for companies that nurture a hierarchical approach and prefer to execute well-planned waterfall management projects.
Just to brush up your knowledge about Agile mindsets, here are four core values:
- “individuals and interactions” over “processes and tools”
- “a working system” over “comprehensive documentation”
- “collaboration” over “negotiation”
- “responding to change” over “following a plan”
And from that, you can easily recognize that ideally the entire team – and not only the team leader – needs to be cut out with some basic personality traits in order to cope with these core values: a decent degree of intelligence, high openness, and low neuroticism. What is not relevant is agreeableness, and what may help is a lower degree of orderliness. A high degree of industriousness may be the source of motivation for good team members with an Agile mindset.
The article continues:
Distinguish Between Complicated and Complex
Most of us use the terms complex and complicated interchangeably when, in fact, they represent critically different circumstances. For example, tax law is complicated, meaning it is highly technical in nature and difficult to understand, but you can break the problem down into discreet parts, consult with an expert (or several), and generally find a solution.
Conversely, complex challenges contain many interdependent elements, some of which may be unknown and may change over time in unpredictable ways. In addition, an action or change in one dimension can result in disproportionate and unforeseen outcomes. As an example, foreign policy and climate change are complex challenges. While there may be no shortage of opinions on these topics, there are no clear solutions. As a result, solutions to complex challenges typically emerge through trial and error and require the willingness, humility, and ability to act, learn, and adapt.
I agree with that distinction and I see can where this is heading to: if you want to be a better leader then learn “willingness, humility, and [the] ability to act, learn, and adapt”.
That is a nice description of a team member that comes with an Agile mindset, but when it is about people who do not have these personality traits, the advice given will be comparable to a fish being advised to become a better fish by learning how to climb trees.
And so goes the article:
Let Go of Perfectionism
In a complex environment, the context is continually shifting; thus, aiming for perfection is futile. Instead, aim for progress, expect mistakes and recognize that you have the ability to continually course correct as needed. For high-achievers, prone to perfectionism, egos and desired identities (e.g., of being successful or being “the expert”) can get in the way. To let go of perfectionism, identify, and acknowledge your specific core fears that are triggered — such as “I’ll fail,” “I’ll look bad,” or “I’ll make the wrong decision.” Underlying these fears is an often implicit and unexamined assumption that “if any of these fears come to fruition, I wouldn’t be able to recover from it.”
We’ve worked with several clients over the years to help them actively debunk these assumptions by having them talk with others they respect about the role of mistakes or failure in their careers. They hear a lot about learning, new opportunities, and professional growth that emerged as a result, but never the career-ending catastrophes that they imagine. Loosening the grip of these assumptions over time can allow you to let go of perfectionism and accept that mistakes and failure are to be expected along the way.
In very short words: no you cannot change an hyper-orderly person to become someone who lets go perfection, at least if it is about earning an income. This type of people is having success in business just because of that “orderliness” personality trait, re-inforced 1000 times by positive feedback by their environment, and they will not let this “orderliness” go and allow their subordinates to appear as a complacent bunch of sloths.
And yes, the authors of the article are right here: there are these hidden fears of losing face and failure that govern the thinking of over-orderly people that often also have a high degree of withdrawal and a low degree of openness, when it comes to leadership. But no, these people will not easily change their leadership style. What applies to themselves is reflected in the way that they work with their subordinates.
The article is in that context wishful thinking on paper.
Resist Oversimplifications and Quick Conclusions
It’s tempting to oversimplify complex challenges, so that they seem less daunting. For example, breaking a challenge into its respective components can help you to feel like you have a greater command of the challenge at hand, but it can also narrow your view and obscure critical interdependencies, leading to a false sense of security. Likewise, drawing analogies from challenges that you’ve faced in the past, can be useful but it can also lead you to miss the unique nuances of the present challenge.
Many high achievers have a bias for action and become quickly frustrated when facing challenges that don’t present an evident solution and clear course of action. Instead of caving to the desire for quick resolution, leaders must learn to balance their need for action with a disciplined approach to understanding both the core problem and their own biases. For example, hiring a DEI leader at an organization, by itself, is insufficient if more systemic issues like outdated recruiting, promotion, development, and compensation practices go unaddressed.
If you also do not know what the acronym “DEI” stands for, it means “diversity, equity and inclusion”.
And the article is right, leaders with a DEI background will not be able to change anything in the system unless they recruit, promote, develop, compensate better those persons that subscribe to the DEI movement.
That applies to all core aspects of businesses. Once you have recognized that a certain type of people is required for putting the core values of your companies to practice, you must hire more of them, promote them, develop them, and compensate them better.
As said in Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”: get the right people on the bus. To which I want to add. “get the wrong people off the bus”. That pattern is the key to success of your company if the core values are right. And it will doom your company if the core values are wrong.
But the authors of the article somehow missed the point when they link this wisdom aspect of running a company with the aspect of certain people oversimplifying complex challenges and jumping to quick conclusions. Such behavior can go back to lack of wisdom, lack of intelligence, lack of experience, or simply to selfishness. These are all not personality aspects that can be wilfully changed. I do not see how changing these personality aspects can become a tool in becoming a better leader, as promised by the authors at the start of the article.
The article continues:
Don’t Go It Alone
Many of the leaders we work with report feeling isolated as they face the continuous change and uncertainty in the challenges they face. Part of their sense of isolation comes from an implicit belief that they need to solve all of the issues themselves. As the complexity and volume of our workload increases, our natural tendency is to double down on our focus and individual efforts. When facing relatively short-term challenges with known solutions, this can be an effective strategy. However, when facing challenges where the full scope of issues and interdependencies, let alone solutions, are unclear, it can be a disaster. Instead, this is when it’s most important to cultivate the practice of intentionally reaching out to your network and beyond for insight and perspective.
There is an inherent limit for each of us regarding what we can know and our ability to have an objective perspective on any given situation. Yet, we can exponentially expand our knowledge and perspective by cultivating and connecting with a network of peers and colleagues — each with their own set of experiences and perspectives. As stated by one CEO client, “When I’m trying to make sense of a complex issue, the first thing I do is reach-out to people whose opinion I value and whose experience is in some ways different from mine. I want to know “How are they are looking at the situation? What’s their point of view? Who else should I talk to?” He went on to explain, “It’s not so much that I expect them to have an answer, as I want to plug into their thinking and their sources.”
And there is truth in that statement: many leaders have “an implicit belief that they need to solve all of the issues themselves”, and that causes tensions when they are confronted with a requirement to enable their subordinates to solve problems of which they think that only they themselves can solve. That is exactly what stands between them and transitioning from a “kingdom-style” firm to “team-style” firm, such as I have outlined in an earlier article (click here).
That aspect of working in a team is the easiest to change, according to my experience. Insight into what these people actually do helps to recognize that they have just loaded too much on their plates. From there it is a relatively short way to an environment with distributed responsibilities.
This is how the article ends:
Leaders often get stuck in the challenges they face because they are too immersed in them. “Zooming out,” or moving from “the dance floor to the balcony,” as described by Ron Heifetz, Marty Linksy, and Alexander Grashow in The Practice of Adaptive Leadership provides you with a broader perspective and a systemic view of the issues and can shine a light on unexamined assumptions that would otherwise not be visible. From this “balcony” or elevated vantage point, interdependencies and larger patterns become observable, potentially revealing unforeseen obstacles and new solutions. This more holistic perspective allows for greater adaptability and course correction, when needed. Making a regular practice of conducting this dance floor-balcony shift, you can build your capacity to see the bigger picture and become more agile.
It seems that any given week provides ample reminders that, as leaders, we cannot control the degree of change, uncertainty, and complexity we face. However, adopting the strategies above can improve our ability to continually learn, grow, and more effectively navigate the increasing complexity of our world.
Same as they have started out in the beginning of the article, the authors leverage rhetorics and not on facts when they come to an end.
I do not agree with the idea that the article is transporting: if you have a selfish king who is leading his subordinates in traditional management ways, that can be wilfully changed by the king. No, it cannot.
I rather recommend starting afresh, following the advice given in Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” book: start with finding the right people.
If you are not a Level 5 person, and if you find out that you cannot easily become a Level 5 person, then continue leading your kingdom as you have always done it before. That can also be very successful, there are many examples out there.
And if you are an employed person with a Level 5 mindset, look for companies out there who are actively looking for people with a Level 5 mindset. Working there will be more fulfilling for you. In the age of “home office”, this can easily be achieved. Start at our job portal here: https://trademarks-patents.com/we-are-hiring/
Martin “Team” Schweiger