Good day, team,
This week, David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, reminded me again how different leadership styles can be successful in his editorial “The Humble Hound.”
We all know typical maverick leaders who aggressively hit for the home run each time: They are aggressive, charismatic and super-confident. But we also know how risky that kind of leadership can be. If you go for the home run every time, you’ll more often strike out; these kinds of leaders often produce volatile corporate results.
In his editorial, Brooks refers to Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great” and “How the Mighty Fall.” In researching his books, Collins found that many of the reliably successful leaders combine “extreme personal humility with intense professional will.”
Brooks calls this kind of leader the humble hound (I appreciate that Brooks refers to the leader as she rather than he in the article).
“She thinks less about her mental strengths than about her weaknesses. She knows her performance slips when she has to handle more than one problem at a time, so she turns off her phone and e-mail while making decisions. She knows she has a bias for caution, so she writes a memo advocating the more daring option before writing another advocating the most safe. She knows she is bad at prediction, so she follows Peter Drucker’s old advice: After each decision, she writes a memo about what she expects to happen. Nine months later, she’ll read it to discover how far off she was.
“In short, she spends a lot of time on metacognition—thinking about her thinking—and then building external scaffolding devices to compensate for her weaknesses.
“She knows the world is too complex and irregular to be known, so life is about navigating uncertainty. She understands she is too quick to grasp at pseudo-objective models and confident projections that give the illusion of control.
“She spends more time seeing than analyzing. Analytic skills differ modestly from person to person, but perceptual skills vary enormously. Anybody can analyze, but the valuable people can pick out the impermanent but crucial elements of a moment or effectively grasp a context. This sort of perception takes modesty; strong personalities distort the information field around them.
“Because of her limitations, she tries to construct thinking teams. In one study, groups and individuals were given a complicated card game. Seventy-five percent of the groups solved it, but only 14 percent of individuals did.
“She tries not to fall for the seductions that Collins says make failing organizations: the belief that one magic move will change everything; the faith in perpetual restructuring; the tendency to replace questions with statements at meetings.”
Brooks refers to the “ethos of stagehands who work behind the scenes. Being out when the applause is ringing doesn’t feel important to them. The important things are the communal work, the contribution to the whole production and the esprit de corps.”
This week, take a look at your leadership style. Are you acting like a lion or a humble hound? Are you quick to change things and expect your team members to always be on their toes by responding with a sense of urgency? Do you pride yourself on having the reputation of being aggressive, daring and self-assured? Are you being overly analytical by challenging everyone’s thinking, including your own, and missing what’s right in front of you in the moment? Would people describe you as humble and patient or as being bullish in your thoughts and actions? When was the last time you said to a subordinate, “I really need your help”?
Whatever type of leader, manager or supervisor you are, try to see the value in being versatile in your leadership style. This week, experiment with different styles. If you usually lead meetings and are often vocal in them, try letting someone else lead the meeting and staying quiet so you can listen. Take Drucker’s suggestion and write down your decisions, reviewing them months later to see how good they turned out to be. Maybe you experiment by being more active and aggressive if you normally are not. It might be a good surprise for people around you to see you behave differently. They will be less apt to make assumptions about who you are if you don’t fit the same picture they’ve already painted of you.
Good leadership requires authenticity and consistency as much as it benefits from versatility in thought and behavior. Try exercising that versatility this week and see what the results turn out to be.
Have a good week.
© Copyright 2010 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search, Inc., all rights reserved.
* The coach will be out of town the weekend of 4/17/10. The next challenge will be sent out 4/27/10.