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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Aug 25, 2021

Never surrender, no capitulation, “quitters don’t win and winners don’t quit”, “when you are going through hell, keep going”.  The leader is the organisation’s rock, it’s talisman, the one who overcomes all.  The mindset is hard headed, stubborn, able to persevere no matter what.  Confusingly, the leader also has to be flexible, supple, adaptable and adjustable.  These opposites remind me of the yin yang symbol, the essence of dualism.  How should we leaders operate in this dualistic ecosystem, where we are called upon to be hard headed and yet pliable at the same time?


When you think about it, leaders become leaders because most other people just can’t be bothered.  As Yogi Berra, the American philosopher once noted, “Leading is easy.  It’s getting people to follow you which is hard”.  That is the reason most people are followers – leading others is hard work, problematic and stressful. 


As the boss, we sometimes have to fire people who underperform and unless you are a corporate psychopath, this is unpleasant, wearing and difficult.  As the leader we have to drive our people to accept our world view is correct.  Now we may believe it, but why is it true?  What is so special about us, that we have a much clearer vision than everyone else, on where we need to go and what needs to happen?  Are we secretly suffering from imposter syndrome, where we are second guessing our own decisions or are we like a mad pirate captain, aggressively shouting out orders that must be obeyed or else?


As the leader, we have to be accountable for the results. However, we can’t do everything by ourselves these days, so we are forced to work through our people.  These are people who are totally different from us.  They are marching to the beat of many and various drums.  They also have secret drums, whose beat they never share with the boss.  There are hidden agendas flying around everywhere in the workplace. The boss has to corral all of these somehow and get the team to work together and toil away in harmony.  No wonder most people say “no thank you” and opt to be followers.


On top of all of this, the boss is busy, busy, busy. Working through people is fine as an idea, but the boss has a truckload of work to get through each day, to make sure things are moving forward as planned. 


In this modern age, the time available to coach people has become a minimalist activity.  Also, the time to delegate properly to direct reports isn’t there.  Delegation easily drops off the leader’s radar.  This lack of delegation ability just boomerangs back into the boss’s orbit the work which should be done by others.  As the boss, we should be working only on those high value items which only we can do and we should be delegating everything else.  Good in theory, but for a reality check, when I take a hard look at my daily work schedule and routine I wince. 


How open are we really to the opinions of our team?  We see a lot of mouthing of platitudes by leaders about management by wandering around.  This can often just become issuing orders and directives from a new location, other than their spacious corner executive office.


 The platitudes come thick and fast when the subject of “servant leader” pops up.  When I hear “I am a servant leader”, my ears prick up, I brace myself and the cynical Aussie in me emerges.  We all get the idea.  We have to work through people and we have to become enablers, allowing others to be the best they can be.  All laudable stuff.  But how does all of this fit into the messy world of the busy, driven, take no prisoners, get the job done, hard head executive?  Who actually is serving who in reality?


If we do want to tap into the full potential of our teams, we will need to change our priorities and mindset.  We definitely should make more time for our team members to coach and encourage them.  I can hear the shrieks of pain already from many leaders, myself included. How can we do this? Let’s start by remember it isn’t the whole day we are talking about here.  Good so far, but we are talking about paying the opportunity cost of coaching someone versus doing other high value, urgent tasks.  I realise I have to face the fact this is the cost I need to pay and reorganise myself.


Our mindset also needs to incorporate there are many paths to the mountain top and accept that maybe we don’t know everything.  This is particularly hard because we are often reluctant to give up control and concede someone else’s idea is better than ours.  We didn’t become the leader because we doubted ourselves.  Can we concede others may have better ideas than we have?  How do we adjust to that approach, that angle?


In my own case, going for greater self-awareness is a good starting point.  This is how to realise that I have been hardwired by my experiences and attitudes to see the world in a certain way.   Consequently, I tend to lead a certain way, believing this is the “correct and only” way. 


Conceding I am not perfect would have to be close behind.  Intellectually I know this, but I also know I am the leader and everyone is depending on me to be right and every time. How to do I regulate the perfection drive to incorporate more flexibility?  I struggle with this one all the time.


Let’s do the job to the best of our abilities and let’s not see flexibility as a weakness.  I have to constantly remind myself that while most people don’t want the hassles of being the leader, they can still have ideas and views which are a plus.  I can select what I like and leave what I don’t like.  I have to keep telling myself, “Greg, it is not a zero sum game anymore”. 


The yin yang idea of dualism requires a flexible mindset, which requires work.  Like all hard work there are rewards at the end that make it worthwhile and this is another case, so let’s switch up our thinking about what it means to be a leader.  I’m still a work in progress and I probably need this message more than anyone else.