First, my own conclusion:
In order for a system to move forward and maximize its potential, it needs to allow junior people “to act as smart” and the seniors “to pretend ignorance”.
And the most senior, in every system, is the leader himself.
Afterwards, the History:
The typical client of mine is a distinguished leader in the realms of enterprises or politics. The mandate often given by whoever belongs in the age-group 58-65, is to have flow in his work.
He wants, that is, to achieve the same things with less effort or more things with the same effort. He wants his life to be easier and his results at the same level or even higher.
One of the greatest difficulties in his work is the constant struggle to teach others, correct them, prevent the mistake, control the result, to “bring” the victory. He interprets this, as an attempt to make others (almost) “smarter”. But when the time comes for the others to talk about him, you see that they interpret all this, as an attempt of his to “act as smart”.
Once the feedback stage with the “others” is finished, I present the results to him and my impression which is influenced by my belief:
It sounds like an intelligence competition. You try to show them WHAT is the smartest thing to do and the others feel that you are trying to show them WHO is smartest person in the room.
And I end up with two or more questions and answers *:
“If the intelligence competition does not work, would you try a foolishness competition instead?”
“If you let them to act as “smart “and “you begin to feign ignorance”, is there any positive change that might happen?” (afterwards, silence)
After a while, I revert and continue to ask closed questions *:
“Between a fool and a clever who has the responsibility?” (Or yet: Who is leading things? Who is chasing the other? Who takes initiatives? Who sweats?)
“The smart one of course,” he replies.
“So, since you want your directors to take responsibility and everything else, what should you let them do and what should you start doing?”
“I will let them act as smart, and I will pretend I am ignorant” he replies (doing me a favor).
“So agreed! The next time you have a BOD meeting with your team, or you have a chat in the corridor with staff junior in position, young in age or newly hired, play this game.”
It is that simple. You give people the right to play the part that relaxes you and put your energy in the most enjoyable part of the job, playing with them. You give them the joy of experimenting and testing what you would not try. To work hard and yet feel free. To work with joy and yet be responsible.
If you have selected intelligent people, the more natural role you can give them to play is … the smart ones. At this point you can demand the maximum performance.
All you need is … to afford to play your own role!
END OF PART ONE
* Note: For reasons of continuity, economy of time and alertness, only closed and guiding questions and conclusions were used in the text. The text is, by no means, a representation of a coaching dialogue.
BEGINNING OF PART TWO
THE “WHY” THE “HOW” AND THE “HOW MUCH”, of such a behavioral change.
WHY does it make sense?
I have concluded via natural observation in organizations with different characteristics, that the game of the “ignorant leader” covers four basic areas:
- Flow for him,
- Development for the system,
- Evolution for people and
- Emergence of new leaders.
HOW it works:
Through a pleasant atmosphere of freedom, acceptance and good mood (enthusiasm) for what is happening moment by moment, this game offers the necessary encouragement and acceptance of the dominance of the new, the different and finally,…the best. Whether this has to do with ideas or methods of actions or the people themselves. Just like a parent, who seems to be excited with what the young child asks, suggests or attempts for the first time, and at the same time, he encourages and supports it, in its own effort.
A leader offers space, time, money and interest to “grow up” those who will “grow up” the rest, so that everyone can work at maximum efficiency and maximum autonomy.
It looks like a mental game, which spreads out and positively affects the bonding of all people in the organization, the leadership team, the managers and the others. A game that allows the many (and not just the few), to enjoy decision-making, set high targets and conceive “crazy” ideas.
Nevertheless, our surveys indicate, it is more important for our people to have their opinion heard and their perception included in the decision-making process, than to be the one that prevails.
That is, respecting the opinion is more valuable than its dominance. And on the other hand, since you have reached the top of the system that you are leading, you are obviously tired…of being prevalent!
HOW easy is such a behavioral change?
Any attempt for a behavioral change can be justified by a quick win to a slow win. In the case presented in the article, the change may be, for example:
- Easier for leaders who have a basic or even secondary emotion of enthusiasm, who are “warm” in the relationships and trust others and get easily bond.
- Harder for leaders who are competitive, and have as a basic feeling the anger, show dominant behavior, do not trust easily, and have a high degree of emotional distance from others.
The above are indicative, totally hypothetical and with countless variations in relation to the ease or the difficulty of change.
Master Leadership Coach and Trusted Adviser; twenty years of international corporate experience and more than 7000 hours in one-on-one c-level and political coaching sessions. Typically engages in medium-long term leadership advancement assignments with CEOs, to be promoted to CEOs, large scale business owners and political leaders.