Article: How to Develop Your Leadership Style: Concrete advice for a squishy challenge by Suzanne J. Peterson, Robin Abramson, R.K. Stutman from the November–December 2020 issue of Harvard Business Review
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Business Second Opinion Podcast digs deep to explore questions about business and business practice. In the process of examining them, we give you a second opinion, usually a contrarian opinion, but one that is well tested and proven to give the outcomes you really want without the side effects. And by the way, if you want to learn more about how to work more closely with us, stay tuned at the end of the show.
I am Zac Swartout, and always with me is Carol Sanford, our inhouse positive contrarian. Who responds to big and hard questions with a radically different take.
Carol: Hi Zac,
Zac: Today folks we are covering leadership styles. I think we have touched on this one a little bit before but never taken it head on. For folks that don’t know the idea of leadership styles is something that’s been around the HR space for a long time. Basically you take a test, and out pops the leadership style you most gravitate towards. This is supposed to help you better understand yourself and give you a set of tools for working with other people who’s styles might or might not match your own. But as I think our long time listeners will notice, this is another way of categorizing and fragmenting people.
Carol: I also get tired of the categorizing in all its forms, but people are sucked in so easily we need to keep giving them experiences that counter it. And I have a new way to play with it today I think.
Zac: Wait, before you start. Let me give them the article! Harvard Business Review: How to Develop Your Leadership Style: Concrete advice for a squishy challenge by Suzanne J. Peterson, Robin Abramson, R.K. Stutman. The authors propose that their research has revealed that someone’s leadership style is a set of behaviors and actions that can be chosen to express status. These tend to fall on a spectrum between powerful and/or attractive. What they propose is a feedback driven process whereby leaders are shown shortcomings they have from others, and are put into a process where they, over time, have their behavior changed to better “reap professional rewards” as they call it.
Carol: How about a quick tour of the paradigm and/or worldview and how you feel about that before we give them a second opinion which includes a better way to develop ourselves or others as leaders. This reminds us how important the discernment capacity is for everything we encounter.
Zac: Well it’s interesting. All in all this is behaviorism 101 for sure – an arrest disorder sourced idea. The goal of their proposition though seems to come from an extract value paradigm where everything on offer here is so one can “reap professional rewards”. The process itself seems to come from an arrest disorder mind – where the authors assume that behavior must be changed externally. In the “Know Thyself” section of the article they propose listening to the feedback of others to begin to assess oneself on their leadership spectrum. They also propose keeping a list of behaviors in front of yourself in conversations and tracking which set of behaviors you fall into more – powerful or attractive.
Carol: I wrote a book to counter this tendency to categorize leaders in 2014 called The Responsible Entrepreneur. It is about leadership roles needed to build a culture or community and in my case a tribe or nations. I was carefully schooled by my grandparents who were Mohawk lineage, through to their next generation. Though they had lost the blood quantum to be registered. My grandfather particularly carried the intention to regenerate the tribal values of his ancestors and was diligent at bringing them into my life
Zac: Yea that book was one of the ways I was first introduced to you actually. But I remember talking to people who thought the roles in the book were categories. Can you talk a little bit about the difference between the two?
Carol: Two things to watch for. First with categories, people try immediately to figure out which one they are. What bucket do they fit in? “Am I this type or that type?” And they tried that with my book. But no one is a type. They are each a unique person who must use each and every archetypical role to inspire themselves as they are in action—BUT always with their own Essence being. They are not synonymous with a role or category.
Second, no one should statically adopt or learn a ‘style’ from a list of boxes and getting better at it over time
Zac: Right which they suggest here. So, each person can and should use a chosen role at one moment in time based on what is relevant to the situation. Lets let everyone know who’s not read the book, you had four what you called archetypical roles, right?
Carol: Yes. I have four indigenous roles that the Iroquois used based on what was needed at a point in time. They would switch to another role as the need arose. Plus this was true for all members of the tribe. If they identified stronger with one role and tried to get better at it, they are limited the ability to rise to different challenges. You want everyone in the tribe to have emotional and intellectual access to all of the four roles. For example, if you start thinking of yourself as a warrior, then you may always step into the situation ready to do battle.
Zac: Got it, so the first point here is to avoid putting yourself in a box as though that is you. BE your own self and use the roles to become more flexible and creative about how to be in a group or organization. And particularly don’t label yourself or other people. Learn to take them all on as needed. So what are the Iroquois ROLES to learn if we want to be effective in leadership?
Carol: Since I mentioned Warrior, let’s look at it first.
Warriors seek to stop themselves from going on auto-pilot, where they lose connection to reality and to life because they are not present to what is unfolding right in front of us.
Warrior, in this context means coming to understand something new, yet inherently true, about a subject. To look deeply and ask “what is worth fighting for here?” They do this by revealing what is real about something, what is unique and singular and therefore connected to its essence. Those realizations can then lead us to bring something into existence that did not exist before. They seek new understanding of reality or essence of things, and then act to express that new understanding into existence. They tend to transform how an entire nation, or in the case of a business, how an industry thinks about itself and its offerings. They can be tough and demanding as in teaching people what to “be a warrior for.” What is worth the effort.
Zac: So they activate getting to the heart of what is really going on, and then become creative. When they lead others it’s to be self-directed, not good followers.
Carol: They lead others to be pattern generators, not pattern followers. What is your experience with that way of leading?
Zac: The headmaster of the boarding school I attended embodied much of this warrior archetype in how he led us as young men. He was not as focused with our behavior or how we adorned ourselves as much as who we were each uniquely becoming. He took the time to understand each of us and put into place challenges that helped us to grow and figure out our own way. When the tough got going for me with academics, or sports, or in my personal life he would help me to see how each of these things could become opportunities to engage rather than as excuses. He was stern and a disciplinarian, but cared deeply for each of us.
Carol: I use Steve Jobs as an example. Many people fail to recognize the centrality and significance of this integrative quality to Job’s character. For example, in a retrospective piece on his life Wired Magazine observed, “Jobs was a Buddhist, but also a tyrant.” I imagine that Jobs would have responded by saying, “It is because I’m a Buddhist that I am a tyrant.” From a Zen perspective, one is not responsible for other people’s reactions. When he was harsh, he assumed that the other party would take responsibility for using the interaction for personal growth. That was how he was treated by his Buddhist teachers, who confronted him sternly as a way to awaken him to the gaps in his consciousness. Just as the Buddhist teacher expected students to learn to manage their reactions as part of their work, Jobs held the same view of employees. (Whether he was skillful is a different question.) Until one can see the harshness and the caring as integrated, I believe one doesn’t really understand Steve Jobs.
Zac: Interestingly, I read that Steve Jobs did not humiliate people in private. For him, every meeting was a full dress parade and every idea was inspected by the commanding officer. It was an occasion to build character, honor success, and reprimand slipshodness. Being called to account was a way to educate everyone. Most of us are not good at this nature of leadership.
Carol: Next is the Clown Role. They awaken conscience, which allows us to question our underlying motives and motivations and seek always to do what is right, regardless of current norms. We seek to connect people to the meaning and the impact of their choices and actions. Put another way, they reconnect us to our conscience. This reconnection happens when we become emotionally engaged and can see that we can and must do something because we are part of the problem.
Zac: Sounds like the clown is a lot like the court jester who can get the rulers attention. They speak the truth when others would be sent to the dungeon. I have known a few clowns who made a difference this way. I think some of the best stand up comedians do this well. Jon Stewart and Dave Chapelle both have ways of using comedy to create insight.
Carol: They care deeply about making it possible to change social norms, the patterns governing behavior and how people relate to one another. These norms are meant to facilitate the functioning and civility of social life, but they easily become fixed, unquestioned, and eventually unconscious. The Clown works to awaken conscience, regardless of current norms.
Zac, how does this show up in an organization and life, even family?
Zac: I know for myself taking on the mantle of the clown has meant that I needed to see every person, regardless of their level in an organization first as a person. That they were someone who had their own unique essence but had a personality that got in their way just like me. If I didn’t do this I saw myself falling into more of a manipulator – trying to get them to do what I wanted, rather than speaking into something more universal.
Carol: This is another role most are not skilled at donning as a mantle when needed. We are afraid of being ostracized and rejected. What does it take to play that role, with our children, our teammates, our employees?
Carol: Let’s look at number 3, the Hunter Role
We can be inspired by the Hunter Role when we seek to bring about connection to greater wholes for individuals and to make that a part of cultures by exposing our limited self-centered view and examining our belief systems. Without doing this work our sense of reciprocity with those greater wholes remains invisible; with unexamined beliefs we tend to split off parts of ourselves and parts of our communities. It is important to remember that these split-off parts are an illusion, a product of our perception. “Whole” and “part” are concepts through which humans seek to understand and manage their worlds. But the universe and our sensory experience of it is an immersive and seamless totality. The whole-ness of part-ness of a thing depends on our ability to think about it separate from that seamless totality.
Zac: So in this context, when we talk about reciprocity we mean exchanges among entities operating within a larger whole that has the effect of improving the vitality of each participating entity as well as the vitality of the larger whole. A way to see this in my thinking where I have double standards. For example: there are times that I treat my wife how I wouldn’t treat my best friend. I find myself in conversations with her when she is struggling with something telling her what I think she should do. In a similar conversation with a good friend I will instead ask questions to help them see something they might not yet or another path forward. In this way I lose a sense of the wholeness of my wife, within our family and see what she’s struggling with as a separate problem to be solved, rather than an opportunity to share something deeper with her.
Carol: When we exhibit and express ourselves through a Hunter role, we are, just like the hunter of old, feeding and ensuring vitality of the whole tribe, both mentally and bodily. They help bring younger, less experienced hunters along leading vision quests to learning to live in the wild and feed oneself, preparing to feed others so to speak. To have courage and trust ourselves as a member of a specific human tribe and a member of other living tribes. They guide one to become very attuned to any group becoming greedy and overstepping their place in the tribe. As a result they spend time teaching and showing how life fits and works together, so each member can see a place in the whole for themselves and a contribution to the whole. And to value all the others’ roles.
Zac: That is very motivating to want to be able to do. It seems like when operating from that role, I find myself motivated to start from a whole – a whole person, whole organization, whole system which I see myself being able to evolve. Like in the case of the world of my business – when seen through the lens of the Hunter I am called to see our work in the context of how young people make meaning of the world through story. Without that I end up reducing our work to its functional elements. All the meaning drops out of it and it just becomes work.
Create cultures of inclusion and interdependence—the Hunter seeks mutuality and reciprocity in all relationships. When the tribe overhunts the forest, the result is starvation. When the tribe turns its back on its members, the result is schism or war. The Hunter strives to keep the tribe whole and well-nourished so that it can pursue its destiny.
Use setbacks as fuel for growth and development—one can see the Hunter archetype at work in the almost awe-inspiring capacity of Reciprocity Entrepreneurs to translate adversity into uplifting accomplishment. The Hunter, in other words, knows how to take nourishment from everything life brings her.
Magnify the reach and the significance of every endeavor—because of its emphasis on wholeness, the Hunter archetype is particularly attuned to the way that even a small action, intelligently and strategically undertaken, can have a major effect on its context.
Carol: I use a story of Michiel Bakker who I work with at Google, when he was in Europe headed Starwood Resorts Food systems for EMEA group. There were many immigrants fleeing oppression. He knew that they had second language challenges and felt ostracized. He set up programs to give them special attention, partnering them with native speakers and leaders. It worked to help them feel like someone was on their side. But he reports it helped the natives leader as much if not more because these ‘lost’ folks were ‘seen’ and adopted into the family because they could see the reciprocity needed and fostered that. Michiel does this in so many ways.
Zac, do you have examples in your life or experience?
Zac: When I was at the hospital we were experiencing the beginning of what we now know as the opioid epidemic specifically around fentanyl. For me I had to face a lot of my own fear and bring my own courge to a seemingly hopeless situation. So I began by convening the heads of local organizations folks from neighboring communities that were doing their best to address the huge numbers of overdoses and just begin by having them in conversation – not only to understand one another but really what was happening on the ground. Long story short this group ended up creating a series of coalitions to obtain funding to begin educating their communities around the overdose crisis while also creating harm reduction centers and approaches to easing the burden on the healthcare system. For me taking on the Hunter role was about convening the difficult conversation of bringing together homeless folks, folks in the throes of their addiction, police, firefighters, healthcare workers, and local organizations and seeing that something had to be done and that I had to uplift the possibility that we could make a difference.
Carol: Headman/headwoman role:
They are driven to reimagine systems and structures that limit the full expression of potential for everyone. They see nothing as fixed and nothing as impossible. For them, everything can be transformed if one can find the right place to intervene. They look for “wormholes” that bypass the normal constraints of time and space, enabling change to occur rapidly. Such people are rare, and when they show up in society, people tend to talk about them as having marked the beginning of a new era. As a manifestation of the Headwoman role, they can rally the nation or organization around living up to a higher expression of its inherent potential.
Zac, who has done that you were affected by?
Zac: At SuperAlloy, my business parter and I saw that in games, the combat choreography was always done as an after thought. We saw that it started with taking some cool ideas they had seen elsewhere and trying to mimic them. Instead we knew that it needed to start with a world and story and characters all nested together as the foundation of the bodies resonating that same story.
Carol: What do you think they are motivated by?
Zac: When my business partner and I founded SuperAlloy it was based on the premise that games, when they are at their best, are well wrought stories that connect with people fundamentally. In particular we saw that games seemed to be undermining the growth and development of young men. What we saw was not being realized was that our work was to reconnect young men to the first principle of “I need to discover something about me through this process.” As war dances have been for millennia, we see our work as creating opportunities for young people to develop.
Carol: We need to learn to read situations and see what is needed, called for spirit, willfulness and ableness to be uplifted for the whole community, organization, tribe and nation. We use these archetypal roles as reference points for our own way of working. To lift up ourselves.
This seems so different than the boxes in the HBR article. How do they differ?
Zac: In our work, we work on non-mechanicalness. In other words, we aim to work on building consciousness rather than building a list of behaviors to follow automatically every time you come into a new situation. Second we work on external considering or caring. Well in the article they literally are trying to get people to think only about their own status and success inside an organization. And third we aim to have folks work to reveal and work from their essence or uniqueness. The authors here certainly can’t see leaders doing that as first they think that personality is immutable, which it isn’t, and that changing behaviors is what really matters most.
Carol: I also see as an example of the Hidden Variables we have been talking about, not the shallow idea at the surface they offer. I also know this way is faster to bring about change because I have done so for years and watch it move whole nations and regions like we did in South Africa, Europe in forming the European Common Market and in Kentucky with Kingsford when they lead a rapid change large communities of all ages to read and then lead the turn around and growth of a company that still leads it’s industry in market share and growth.
All of these happened in windows of time that were a few months to a few short years, not the decades that are usual; plus the leaders spread into other positions and organization seeding even deeper change.
Carol: We have several new learning communities to do this kind of thinking starting in January. A Community of Board members-For profit, not for profits and hybrid boards of directors or advisory. A new cohort of Business Teams who engage in Regenerative Strategic Thinking. A way to use Systems Thinking in developing strategy. Plus an on-going community for Educators in all domains. We still have a few seats in the women entrepreneurs community, Email us if you are interested. email@example.com
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Carol: Your organization can join a book club The Regenerative Life, using an extensive workbook and video online Workshops for Free. More at carolsanford.com.
Zac: Sign up for our newsletter so you get connections to the show notes and much more.
Carol: Thanks to Numi Tea and Babson College for sponsoring The Regenerative Business Summit and Prize, annually. As well as Business Second Opinion website for more info on our podcast.
Zac: This has been Business Second Opinion
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Business Second Opinion Podcast digs deep to answer questions about business and business practice, you may not know you need to ask. But we believe you should be asking for the benefit of your understanding and your businesses ethics and practice. In the process of answering them, we give you a second opinion, usually a contrarian opinion, but that is well tested and proven to give the outcomes you really want without the side effects.
In today’s show, we examined:
This episode is helping us think about Leadership and how to live it. Overcome the mechanicalness that picking among and adhere to styles of leadership that this fosters. We speak to archetypes as inspiration to our Essence expression while be relevant and flexible in situations to do what is meaningful and uplifting to spirit, will and ableness.
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