When leaders get in the way
I was facilitating a brainstorming session for a US-based non-profit, who’s Mission is to awaken the human species to their full potential, thus helping to create a more symbiotic and harmonious relationship with the entire planetary community of sentient species.
The board members were looking at innovative and creative ways to raise $ 600 000 in the next 4 months. As I coached the board members around this question during a brainstorming session, the founder showed up one hour after the beginning of the session.
Interestingly, the founder’s appearance in the room slowed down the process, as the board members tried to fill him in with what had happened so far, giving him updates on the technical aspects. Furthermore, the founder didn’t have much to say or to add, didn’t even need to be in the session.
The irony of this situation, is that the board members were much more effective without him in the room.
This is not an isolated case.
During a team-building training I participated in a few years back, we did a game called the Helium Stick Game: Team members stretch their arms out, and are allowed to use only their index finger to hold a long piece of wood together. The team members were placed on both sides of the stick, and the team-leader stood in the middle. The goal of the game was to lower the stick and put it on the ground, as a team. We had a limited time to do it. The catch was that if one team member lowered the stick too quickly, the stick would tilting and risk falling.
As the game started, we lowered the stick, each at our own pace, trying to adapt to the other team member’s pace. After a few moments of the leader trying to coordinate, looking left and right, it came to our awareness that the team leader was the one slowing things down by trying to control and command the pace of each team member!
Team members would have done much better if the leader step out of the way.
Simple, but not easy.
Don’t get me wrong. The performance of the team or slowing things down has nothing to do with the leader’s personality or competence:
The Visionary Founder I mentioned earlier is a remarkable person, both on the human level (compassionate, wise, and a true Visionary) and on the professional level (highly renowned and accomplished scientist and one of the pioneers in his field).
Instead, it rather has to do with a common misconception we have about the role of a Leader:
While we can often see the leader as someone leading from the front, a Mandela quote reminds us of what the next level of Leadership looks like:
In other words:
Great leaders get out of the way.
In a series of previous articles (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3), I mentioned what I had learned from one of my mentors, Michel Vallier. He emphasized a lot on management, but his advice can be applied to Leadership. One of the keys to being an effective Visionary Leader is:
To become useless.
If you are useless to your team, you can take more time off (don’t tell me you don’t need it).
If you are useless to your team, it means you have empowered them and they are fully autonomous.
If you are useless to your team, you can support them when they need and when they ask for your help/input.
If you are useless to your team, you can work on your next creative project (your core purpose as a Visionary Leader/Founder).
If you are useless to your team, you demo by example what Highly Effective Time management is.
If you are useless to your team, you will give them all the space to surprise you with the Miracles they create for you and your Mission.
In addition to this lesson on Leadership, there is the commonly described Founder’s Syndrome.
Boardsource.org defines it as such:
“ ‘Founderitis’ and ‘founder’s syndrome’ are terms often used to describe a founder’s resistance to change. When founderitis surfaces, the source of the dilemma often is a founder’s misunderstanding of his or her role in an evolving organization.”
Founder’s syndrome happens when a brilliant person creates something great. At the beginning is all the fun and joy that Visionary Leaders love and thrive in. When the project matures, it requires more structure, and from a leader you need to shift to being a manager. Sometimes the transition happens well, but sometimes, it burns the hell out of you. Either you can train to become an effective manager, and grow your management skills in addition to your leadership skills. Or, you can decide that this is not your role, and you pass it on to somebody who will be an effective manager, so you can focus on your Visionary Leader/Founder role.
The good news is:
It doesn’t have to be hard.
In 2012, I created the Productive Behaviours Workshop for students at ESSEC Business School. I loved creating the contents, putting the team together, and coordinating and managing the project for the first two years. The team was excited, and wanted to share the workshop with more business schools. I felt bored with doing the same things, and dealing with the admin and coordination parts. The team members felt so enthusiastic that they wanted to create an Association to make things more official. I envisioned and dreaded a nightmare of meetings and paperwork, and did not support the idea, but I didn’t oppose it either.
Two of the leading team members created the association and took care of everything. They kindly offered me a seat as the Honorary President of the association. Yes, the Honorary President is the one who has a nice title, but does (almost) nothing.
Thanks to this experience, I learned more about the role of a Visionary Leader/Founder than any management or leadership book could teach me:
I keep a distant advising role, and my job is to congratulate the team for the good job they have done over the years:
They expanded the workshop to 11 Business Schools, brought together a team of 20 remarkable facilitators, shifted the workshop to innovative and engaging digital tools to shift to online teaching, created a phenomenal student engagement in our online event last year, and continue to develop the contents to stay up-to-date.
Here is a summary of the role of a Visionary Leader:
Be an appreciative and grateful Witness, a Challenger, a Coach, a Creator, and get out the way !
If you would like to go deeper and challenge your thinking, here are insightful questions for you:
How are you getting in the way of your team right now?
How can you get out of their way and let them do more of their magic?
What is the one key thing that you have not been doing lately, that you would love do if you had “more time”?
What is one tiny step you could take to get out of the way and do that thing?
If you are a Visionary Leader or a Founder and would like to discuss your Mission and your current challenges, feel free to connect with me.