Thursday, October 18, 2018

Enduring Uncertainty


Guest post from Chris Lewis:

Go on admit it. You’re busy, right? Busier than last year. Busier probably than five years ago. In fact, you’re busier than you can ever remember being. You’re now so busy most people couldn’t even begin to understand how busy you are. And you don’t have time to tell them anyway. 

There was a time when life was slower. It all used to be so certain. You could plan. You could predict. You could be safe. Well, how’s that working out for ya after 9/11, the banking crisis, Brexit, and Trump? It’s a constant crisis.

The characteristic of all leadership in the 21st century is now the speed at which it needs to respond to crises as well as doing their day job. Burnt-out leaders end up with never-ending ‘to-do’ lists, and that’s not really their job. Of course, they need to do something; everyone knows that. Leaders though are more than that. They have to ‘be’ something. They need to represent values because that’s what permits a collective identity. If you don’t have that, you can’t have leaders.

Try this test. Ask someone to describe their parents. Usually, they respond that their parent is loving or caring or patient or dynamic or ambitious. Now ask them to describe themselves.

Usually, they say they go to work or take their kids to school or help them with their homework or put them to bed. What’s the difference? The latter description focuses on what the person does – primarily how they manage things. The former though is quite distinctive.  It focuses on who people are. That’s the essence of leadership – who you are. The values matter.

Three things always hamper any talk of leadership.

First, it’s unusual to sit and discuss leadership because everyone is now so busy. Conversation, especially among busy strangers, is particularly difficult. It usually happens online and conforms to Godwin’s Law which asserts that people will be likened to Nazis in direct proportion to the length of the conversation.

This brings up another point that just because we have more communication, it doesn’t follow that there is more conversation. And no conversation means no ability to negotiate or resolve emotions.

Secondly, it starts from an ego-centric idea that any discussion of leadership focuses on the leader and never the -ship. This is the model of the infallible, visionary, confident, male which has been passed down through centuries from Moses to Elon Musk. You’ve seen that movie before. 

Of course, it’s a complete myth. Sure, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, but did he get there without a team?

This is where the ‘infallible male’ idea is revealed as a myth. There is a great deal of research out there that says this model is becoming outdated.

Let’s take the principle of collaboration and teamwork. On almost any measure, female leaders are more effective at collaboration, empathy, and teamwork than men. Often, this takes the form of female leaders sacrificing personal goals to meet those of others. 

Male leaders are most usually the other way around. They achieve individual goals at the expense of the broader group. The argument for gender equality in leadership is not just a matter of social justice. It’s imperative for efficiency.

Finally, male egocentric leadership is the provenance of all certainty. This is pickled in logic, analysis, and data. It permits men to predict. It does not allow teams to prepare. This is where we need more than a Western Reductionist philosophy. 

Analysis has been essential and continues to be, but parenthesis matters, too. Think of it like this. Drill-down, yes. But look-across, also.

Female leadership allows the uncertainty of imagination and emotion into leadership. Thus, the provenance of all certainty is not fact, but mediocrity. Leaders must embrace uncertainty because that’s all that exists now and in the future.

Chris Lewis is co-author, with Pippa Malmgrem, of The Leadership Lab: Understanding Leadership In The 21st Century. Lewis, a former journalist, is founder of one of the largest creative agencies in the world, LEWIS. Founded in 1995, his practice now encompasses more than 25 offices and 500 staff. He is British, but splits his time between Britain and America. For more information, please visit: www.koganpage.com/theleadershiplab

No comments: