Sunday, February 25, 2018

Incomplete leadership is good leadership.

The world has plenty of leadership styles there are leaders who inspire fear and others who foster deep admiration.  The spectrum streams from the sublime to the ridiculous.  My thoughts on the subject have evolved over the years.  I have experienced many forms of leadership and what strikes me most is this notion of the “mask of command.”  According to this theory of leadership, a leader must create a persona of command which conceals weakness from people who they work. This week on the blog I would like to do a little unmasking.

I was an early proponent of the “mask of command.”  I would have an air of authority and credibility.  Anyone who has worked with engineers, creative professionals, and medical workers will quickly realize this is folly.  All of these groups are exceedingly smart, and all of them have been trained to be skeptical.  They know when you are putting on a mask and when you are inauthentic.  Once this lack of authenticity is detected, these kinds of professionals will tune out. 

Since professionals are not receptive to the mask of command, there has been a myth created around leadership.  Leaders of organizations must be “complete.”  They must have experience in the industry, work their way up the organization, and have the perfect mix of personal traits to succeed.  It has fostered a leadership style which discourages innovative thinking.  Bland and uninspiring leaders advance because they reflect the status quo of their organization.   They are not leaders but rather caretakers of their organizations.  The corner office and perks of executive leadership are enough to keep these individuals content.  If they are lucky, they will retire and let someone else do the necessary organizational change.  It is how organizations wither and die.

If the mask of command creates inauthentic leaders and the desire for perfect leaders creates uninspiring leaders what should a scrum master or agile coach aspire?  I have been thinking about this for some time.  It did not become clear to me until I read Deborah Ancona's essay in the Harvard Business Review, “In Praise of the Incomplete Leader.”  In her essay, Ancona talks about the myth of a perfect or complete leader who in her words is a “…flawless person at the top who’s got it all figured out.”  Today, organizations with their inherent complexity and global reach require “incomplete,” leadership who can delegate their weaknesses and play up their strengths.  Leaders do not have to be the perfect fit instead they should be good enough to help the organization.  Instead of the emperor or general, a leader is more like a therapist or pastor to support the organization see a better way. 

Ancoma goes on to describe four leadership skills every person has in varying degrees: sensemaking, relating, visioning, and inventing.  Those traits overlap each other, but it is clear to me that if you are equally good at all four of these areas, you are not good at any individual area.  Steve Jobs was fantastic at visioning; he was lousy with people and relating.  George Patton had great sensemaking and scared the pants off the German generals.  He was also insubordinate and bad at relating with his troops or commanders.  Meg Whitman took the chaos at HP and used her sensemaking and relating skills to improve the organization.  Not any of the leaders, I cited were “perfect.”  They were flawed and human.  They were good at certain things and delegated everything else.  It is why I think Omar Bradley was the best thing to ever happen to Patton. 

As a leader and scrum master, we need to accept we are imperfect.  I excel at sensemaking and visioning.  I will admit my shortcomings. I struggle with relating and inventing.  Only by acknowledging these vulnerabilities can we build trust, and to succeed trust is essential.  We also need to accept that each leader is incomplete.  Some will hide behind the mask of command, and other leaders will feign equal competence in these four areas of leadership. 

I have a different vision of leadership.  It is one where the masks fall away, and smart people work together for a common goal with a sense of trust.  It may be a little touchy feely but if it is good enough for the Harvard Business Review it is good enough for me. 

Until next time.