“…they also will, like consultants, encounter situations where they will not know what to do.”
In Humble Consulting (2016) Edgar Schein points out that leaders and managers at all levels need to adopt the role of Humble Consultant.
That is, someone who approaches the complex and messy situations of their people and organizations with an attitude of humility.
I respect you and your unique situation. You know and understand the involved people and events better than I do. The solution is with you.
After all, how could you possibly know the best way for someone else to solve their problem?
You can’t. Only they can.
Long gone are the days when problems could be solved with a standard “best practice” solution.
Due to constant change and other disruptive forces circa 2017, problems are more complex than ever. Relationships have never been messier.
Humble Consulting (HC) also requires the helper to bring Curiosity, Care, and a Commitment to Helping – The 3 C’s of HC.
This is clearly terra incognita for some leaders, i.e. a new leadership challenge in a new leadership landscape.
According to Schein, this will be especially hard for leaders because they “are always supposed to know what to do, to have the vision, to be able to tell others what to do, to be the hero. Yet they will encounter more and more problems and situations in which they won’t know what to do.”
How can you best navigate this new leadership landscape?
One step at a time.
Here are three steps that will help you meet this challenge:
- Accept that it is okay not to know what to do (undoubtedly a key lesson for hero Odysseus on his 10-yr. quest).
- Get the right people in the room, on the phone, etc.
- Create a dialogue and together figure out the best next “adaptive move”.
Best EQ Practice
So as not to overlook the positive developments in leadership development over that last few decades, let’s go back to someone who knows a little something about “Leadership That Gets Results”.
Looking for links between Effective Leadership and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) at the dawn of the new century, Daniel Goleman developed a set of six distinct leadership styles.
At the end of the 20th century Goleman had created a thought revolution with EQ and was quick to connect it to Best Leadership Practice.
By studying the performance of ca. 4 thousand leaders worldwide, he concluded that the best leaders use these six styles interchangeably.
The six styles can be viewed as six golf clubs – each to be used in different situations, like in golf.
He further identified the situations in which each style is most effective. For example, a Coercive style is best used in a crisis, a Coaching one when helping someone develop a new skill.
For an overview of each style and the appropriate situations for application, see Making Sense of Change Management – a great intro to Leadership & Change.
A Brave New World
The 21st century is well under way and less than a quarter way through, the landscape has once again drastically changed.
Let’s see what it looks like for a leader at the end of 2016, beginning of 2017…
On 15 December 2016 I met my friend Olaf Pempel for a coffee and informal interview.
Olaf is the managing director (MD) of Weber Shandwick’s Munich office (ca. 30 people). Weber Shandwick is one of the world’s leading PR firms.
Here are a few paraphrased excerpts from our chat:
Tim: What are some of the differences you perceive in the people you lead now compared to 2008 (when you began as MD)?
Olaf: Many people have stayed the same but face new challenges as the work has changed. However, the younger generation is very strict about dividing their personal and work lives. Work-life balance is very important to them. For example, I can hardly remember the last time a younger colleague came to me with a friend or contact who needed PR support – although they must know people in their private networks who need help.
Also, they have more demands such as flexible working hours, home office and a state-of-the-art workplace (ultra light notebooks, smartphone, etc.).
In addition, they see themselves as very talented right from the start, i.e. High Potentials – they expect to move up quickly, earn more money. They expect their leaders to admire their potential, as well.
In former times, we understood that first you had to prove yourself before you could be seen as a High Potential. Or at least see if clients are happy with me. Before I ask for a promotion I have to prove myself, right?
Tim: Absolutely. In addition to these expectations and demands, what are some other current leadership challenges you face?
Olaf: They need a lot of feedback and clear direction – “Can you help me with this, what should I do in this situation?” Sometimes they are unsure about things, a bit insecure…
Tim: Any reason why this is?
Olaf: I don’t know. Perhaps their lives have been more regulated at home or at university.
Tim: Do you perceive a lack of ownership?
Olaf: Perhaps. All I know is that my generation was different. You had to prove yourself. To fight for it.
Tim: Looking ahead to next year and beyond, how do you think leaders like you will deal with these challenges?
Olaf: Yes, talking about these issues with them – not financial details but providing more transparency and better communication about our goals, the state of the business, our current challenges as an industry and agency, etc.
Also, as the business is changing radically we have to be more agile, more flexible (e.g. working for different clients from day to day). So, the work will need to be organized differently – business development, sales force, content development. We have to be more agile but also there’s a growing need in the workforce for clear roles and responsibilities – “What’s my area of responsibility, who do I report to”, etc.?
Tim: How can you help them develop an “Agile Mindset”?
Olaf: Well, there’s training, of course. Also, better organization of daily work, responsibilities, etc. More guidance and better communication on the daily business. Trying new things like working with a Canvas Board, etc.
Tim: To continue leading successfully, what would you like to do differently?
Olaf: First, better prioritization and organization. Being more focused and more aware of problems in the team and looking ahead to potential problems, as well. More empathy – talking to the team more often, especially the junior ones.
And lastly, I’d like to emphasize that it’s fun, too – asking them how they consume media, how to use Snapchat, for example.
It’s the classic story of the generational divide. I believe they can benefit from my experience but I can also benefit from theirs.
From his interest in how the new generation consumes media to his intention to provide more transparency and better communication to meet their needs, Olaf demonstrates the 3 C’s.
Regardless of the industry, I believe successful leadership will come down to these 3 key elements: Curiosity in others, Care about their unique problems and a real Commitment to Helping them.
Furthermore, to help someone overcome a complex and messy situation, open and trusting communication is essential.
Therefore, it is critical that you build up trust through regular feedback exchanges.
After all, people have to feel safe enough to reveal what the real problem is. The definition of the problem and how to tackle it should be a joint and ongoing dialogue.
Rapid change and new technology will continue to make it impossible to always know what to do. However, this recognition is a great starting place.
Until you accept that it’s okay not to know what to do, you will be throwing non-sharp things against a brick wall hoping for something to stick.
What key element of “successful leadership of tomorrow” have I missed? What is most important to you?