There is no shortage of new shiny leadership ideas being put before the often fatigued retail leader trying to make progress on hard projects with knotty stakeholders and a looming deadline. A “six steps to this”, a “4 ways to that” in a constant stream of gleaming hype promising to unleash, unlock, enable, or empower their every leadership challenge.
The leadership industry – much like an app store – keeps churning out new things in a bid to feed the insatiable appetite for the killer app on leadership. The one that works every time in every place. The one that actually delivers on the hidden IF-THEN programmatic logic baked into the tool’s glowing promise. IF you do this, THEN you will get that. This logic-based approach is of course very seductive in a time poor world.
Algorithms. Code. For people. Just what we all need. A simple protocol for programming things ahead of time to ensure prediction and control in real time. Just like that ubiquitous executive desk toy - Newton’s Cradle - where the ball on one end reliably swings down and hits the other balls, causing the ball on the other end to always and predictably rise up in response. And hey, who wouldn’t want such a thing that helps predict and control the course of action in what is a very uncertain industry in Australia at the moment?
Newtonian mechanics is the programming language of most leadership and management content. A series of IF-THEN promises wrapped around people management, time management, project management, or performance management. And, the reason we are still churning out new versions of similar things, is that none of them have delivered. None of them have been shown to work in all contexts in all times. None.
What then is a leader to do?
Rather than look for the next app to overcome leadership challenges, perhaps we should work at a more fundamental level. The operating system (to risk overusing my metaphor). In other words, what is it all these managerial tools and techniques run on top of?
Any of these tools run on social relationships, conversation, and points of view in an environment wrapped in power differentials and politics. Perhaps we should work on these capabilities rather than chase some shiny new management app.
The way we do this is to work with our groups, stores, colleagues, or even the more trendy squads, guilds, or tribes, as one group. We circle up the chairs. We bring the content of our work and the process of how we are working to the table. And, we convene a conversation. We don’t control the conversation, we convene it. That means our various acts and contributions as leader are available for the group to discuss like any others.
We are of course inevitably wrapped in our organisational context, structure, and reporting lines. This means we are constrained and enabled in unique ways. Our task is to find a way to make progress and stay in the relationship.
Pretending this reality does not exist, by blindly following some leadership app that calls for us to be authentic, inclusive, decisive, or visionary, does not make this organisational context disappear. We simply elect to be blind to it and as a result continually get stuck.
So, upgrade the operating system on which your stores and teams are running. No more new apps are needed. Greater group fitness for the generative power of conflict, the anxiety of doubt, and the irrepressible uncertainty will give more potential for novelty and progress. And this operating system was written 40,000 years ago. It’s pretty hard to find code that has lasted that long.
- Marcus Crow, co-founder at 10,000 Hours, a firm that helps leaders succeed in today's uncertain and complex business environments