Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Kind of Leader You Want and Why You Should Care

Have you ever asked yourself what kind of leader you want? Did you ever think about it? What would it be? Over time I have asked these questions. I have asked my teams what each one of them wanted. I have asked people from other teams, people in other organizations. In different countries. And every time I asked it seemed to be the first time that people consciously thought about it.
As always in life it’s easy to criticize. It’s easy to say what you don’t want. And it’s hard to say what exactly it is you do want. It’s no different when it comes to leadership. Yet, it’s of the utmost importance when, for instance, electing political leaders. Or leaders of other organizations. Leaders in general. If you don’t know what kind of leader you want, anyone will do. Hence, look at the mess around you.
The majority of people does not understand the impact leaders have on all facets of their lives. As a result they don’t care. Until the shit hits the fan. And it hits it often. In the big picture with our global problems. And also with the little things on a daily basis at your workplace. Often annoying. And sometimes it just makes you sick. How come that something that important as leadership doesn’t get the attention it deserves?
Countless times I have seen people in leadership positions who didn’t at all belong there. Assigned leaders overwhelmed by the task. As long as the weather is nice, they are nice. In essence they let everyone do what everyone wants. Hoping that their teams know. Their greatest fear is being asked for guidance. Because they have no clue. Any direction will do. “Just go for it!” they’ll tell you. And with the first obstacle they fold. They fold under any kind of pressure no matter how tiny. And then they defend themselves by blaming you. Weak people without character.
Then there are others. Also assigned leaders just as the majority. They are the tough guys. The brave ones. They fight. All the time. And if there is no fight, they start one. Fighting is their purpose, not leading. And they put their teams to war, so to speak. Fighting is their way to camouflage their incompetence. Camouflage their average level of intelligence. As Napoleon Bonaparte said: “Putting the bravest instead of the smartest in leadership positions will end up in blunder.”
Those are just two examples of inept people in leadership. There are many more and I think it’s safe to assume that you have seen them also. Wherever these non leaders appear they leave behind blunder and people suffering. And billions of $ in sunk cost. This should be enough of a reason to care about leadership. To care about who your leaders are. To think about what kind of leaders you want. To think about, to speak about, and to act upon.
Leadership, leading others, is never easy. Leading is an art. An art demanding everything of you. It’s not for everyone. Definitely not. It takes courage to lead and it takes courage to step down when you can’t do it. But stepping down you must if you can’t deliver. Unfortunately, most of these assigned leaders won’t ever step down. Unless you give them an incentive. In form of a painful experience for them.
Here is what all these people I have asked told me. This is how they envisioned their leaders:
  • Someone we can trust at all times unconditionally and who trusts us the same way.
  • Someone who knows where to go and how to get there when times are tough and rough. That makes the difference.
  • Someone who genuinely cares about us. Who always tells us directly what we do right and what we do wrong. And who is there when we need him or her.
  • Someone who comes in when the heat is on, and when all others have left, and leads. Leads from the front and doesn’t hide.
  • Someone expressing himself / herself short, clear, and concise not leaving any doubt.
  • Someone loyal to his team and demanding the same loyalty from his / her team.
  • Someone with character. Who speaks up and points out what’s right and stands up for it.
It doesn’t matter where you ask people. After a while they open up and they all say the same. People know very well what kind of leaders they want. They are longing for true leaders. What they need to understand is that they have the power to bring about such a change. And then do it. That by itself is leadership too.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Dying in Beauty or Fooled by Brilliance

Not sure who of you is in to European Soccer. In any case the Champions League should ring a bell. For this post I am taking the recent stunning defeat of Bayern Munich as a case study for leadership.
Some Background:
Since the arrival of Pep Guardiola as the new coach of the team, I was following closely his actions. Pep, as he is known, is one of the few top soccer coaches in the world. Sought after by many teams since he left Barcelona, Bayern Munich won the bid.
As a coach of such a team you are also their leader. Not only have you to coach and train your team and each individual. You must lead them. Lead!
People nowadays talk a lot about self-organizing teams. Sorry, but that's a plain fairy tale. There is no such thing as self-organizing teams. It's wishful thinking. Period
Pep took the baton from his predecessor Jupp Heynckes. Heynckes had let the team to a triple championship winning all there is. Hence, quite a high bar for Pep. It's hardly getting any better.
Pep is credited with having perfected the play with the ball called "Tiki Taka" in Spain. With that he led a generation of young and talented players at Barcelona to many victories. Barcelona with Pep was the gold standard of European Soccer.
With that in mind Bayern Munich was confidently looking into the future. Repeating the triple championship a given. The minimum. Dominating European Soccer for the years to come was the goal. Who could possibly stop them many wondered.
And they started well into the new season. Win came after win in the German Premier League, the Bundesliga. Also in the German Cup they advanced to the finals. And in the Champions League it was the same. They won and advanced. Pep was the hero and the team the champions. And sure enough they crowned themselves with the German Championship already in March. Well underway with their plan for the triple.
And then the unexpected happened. They lost a game in the Bundesliga. Against a weak team. Augsburg. And everyone was just wide awake. A real wake up call that should have been for them. It wasn't. The game was dismissed as a minor misstep.
But the lost games continued. Dortmund won big against Bayern Munich in their home stadium.
The end of it came on Tuesday, April 29. Against Real Madrid. A formidable contender. And Bayern Munich had already lost the first game in Madrid 0:1. They should have been warned. They weren't. And lost at home 0:4. Defeated. Confused, Frustrated. The aura of invincibility smashed. The end in the Champions League.
What happened?
The System
It comes down like in most of these cases to a leadership problem. It's Pep's responsibility as the coach. What speaks for him is that he is holding himself fully accountable for the disaster. Few leaders have the character and greatness to do that. Chapeau for that, Pep.
Pep loves the Tiki Taka. He is convinced that ball possession leads to domination of any game. That it leads to winning. Nothing can stop you. An enigma for the opponents. The ultimate mastery of soccer or though he thought.
As it appears he didn't take into his equation that it is a complex environment. Rigid systems are sooner or later doomed in ambiguous, complex, uncertain, and volatile circumstances.
What happened to Pep was Pep. One could already see that in his last year in Barcelona. The opponents began reading and understanding his game. And winning became much harder. And it continued with Bayern Munich. Victory after victory it became harder to win. And then Augsburg's coach was the first who deciphered their system. With that a system renders useless.
Pep’s unwillingness to change, to adapt his system to the opponents led to the disaster. His inability to understand that his opponents had cracked the enigma, so to speak. He continued having his team playing this beautiful system of his. And they began to die in beauty.
His predecessor had also a system. Yet, it was at its a core a basic system where flexible components could be added. Depending on who the opponent was. He understood what asymmetricity in a complex environment means. And Jupp Heynckes knows what’s relevant: you gotta score. Period.
The Team
Just before losing the first game in the Bundesliga Bayern Munich hat won the German Championship. And Pep announced proudly that “Bundesliga is over and done. We are the Champions already.” And he granted the team some extra rest. After all they deserved it, right? Yet, there were two more championships to go to make the triple perfect. For that a team needs laser focused practice. Pep let them relax when the time for relax had not come yet. And the team lost its edge.
Until that day Pep as a leader and coach had achieved to get the entire team into what I call “The Zone”. That place where you are in total flow. The place where you become what you do. The place where indeed nothing can stop you. And suddenly that was lost.
And it was easy to see in the faces of the players after their first loss. The ease and joy was gone. Replaced by frustration and anger. After the next lost game doubt replaced self confidence. With that the foundation of trust into their coach and leader got a crack.
The Verdict
It comes down to two major leadership mistakes. And yes, one could add a series of minor mistakes to that. Yet, those were triggered by the big ones.
  • Mistake one is to fall in love with your brilliant strategy. Your infallible system. It clouds your mind and inhibits your ability of critical thinking. You underestimate your opponents. You overestimate your own brilliance and your abilities. You believe that you are invincible. And you are fooled by randomness. You ignore uncertainty. And then you lose.
  • Mistake two is not keeping your team in the zone. Worse, actively pushing them out of the zone. As a leader your words and more your actions have power. When you falter, your team falters. When you are doubtful, your team is doubtful. When you call it a day, your team calls it a day. And then you lose.

With every game lost the foundation of mutual trust gets its cracks. And the team starts to doubt you as their leader. they doubt your abilities as their coach and leader. And you begin to doubt your team.


Case studies like that are a great way to shed some light onto your own organization / company you lead. What do you do as a leader to prevent things going down the drain? How in love are you with your own perceived brilliance? Underestimating competitors?

Could something like that happen to you?

You might say no. Think again.

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