Talking about C-Suite innovation. Panelists from left: Nicolas Vanhove (Tutoroo, Founder, Sebastian Wedeniwski (Standard Chartered Bank,Chief Technology Strategist) behind Nicolas, Natalia Kozyura (FWD Insurance, Head of Innovation Center) and yours truly
Week ago I was speaking in interesting panel in “Data & Tech Summit” about “C-Suite Collaboration”. One of the interesting conversation topics was about characteristics of good leader and I came out with three key ones (in addition to rambling about the merits of auftragstaktik):
You what to expect from good leaders. They might be strict but they are strict always. They might be ruthless, but they are ruthless always. Employees need to know what to expect from their boss. Clients need to know what kind of person they are dealing with. Good leaders are driven by strong vision and belief on where to take the company and they follow that vision and belief system consistently. Too reactive and unpredictable bosses will result to employees who are not clear on what they are expected to do and not clear on what is company culture. Naturally changes and quick decisions are needed in fast-moving industry, but they cannot be too reactive. Also good leader needs to clearly articulate the reasons when changing the course.
Good leader is not jargon machine. “We want to be seamless customer-centric multi-channel service company” would not be something you want to hear from your leader. Good leaders are able to articulate the driving vision very clearly to everyone: employees, customers and other stakeholders. Because the vision and the goals are clear, they also become catchphrases in the company and mantras to share also outside the company.
Great visionary leaders are not (primarily) cost-cutters or maintainers of status quo. They need to be curious about the industry and where the business is moving. Through curiosity companies find their new sources of growth. Creating and cultivating the culture of curiosity is important. If employees asking questions and challenging ways of working, eventually the company will perform better. Good leader challenges but is also expecting to be challenged herself.
It is relatively easy to be a good manager, but it is really hard to be a good leader.
“No plan survives contact with enemy”
– Helmut von Moltke
I have met great people, personalities and borderline geniuses during my years in advertising. What have I encountered less is good leaders and visionary leadership.
The biggest problem in advertising industry is leadership problem. Majority of us (me included) have been promoted because we are great experts. We are good strategists, writers or suits but majority don´t have any experience or natural skills to lead or inspire teams. I would argue also that the major reason for churn in ad agencies is due to bad management and lack vision and strategic vigor. When you don´t have the vision you end up doing things yourself or micro-managing your team which naturally annoys any sensible person.
Because majority of leaders are former experts, only few can do the leap to strategic level from tactical grunt work. Contrary to the stereotypes, the right leadership approach to creative industries can be found from military strategy and of all places in usually rigid and authoritarian Germany. “Auftragstaktik” or Mission command in US, is a mission-type tactics doctrine, which promotes freedom and speed of action within defined constraints. The idea of Auftragstaktik originates with Frederick the Great, who was frustrated by the lack of initiative within his leaders. Military strategist Helmut von Moltke coined the actual idea hundred years later (whose quote above is one of the best articulations of strategy). Currently similar types of command are advocated in US, Canadian, Dutch and British armies. The basic idea of Augftagstaktik is simple:
Leaders give the team clearly defined goal
Leader gives the team specific timeframe to accomplish that goal
Leader lets them accomplish that goal independently
Essentially in Auftragstik you say your team what you want them to achieve but you are not saying how they can achieve that. This should result to two benefits:
The team has the ownership and pride of the particular project. They will become better at solving problems and you also cultivate future leaders. They are closer to the project/actual fight so they should do their decisions where things are actually happening.
The leader frees his/her time from tactics and keeps focused on the broader strategy. The leader should have better visibility of business/the war so he/she should be able to show guidance and vision to the team.
If you cannot give responsibility to your team and don´t trust them, you have either made bad hires or you are control freak. Both things are naturally highly worrying. If your leadership is diluted to micro managing you do more harm than good in your company. Then your choices are either to evolve from manager to true leader by trusting your team or you just have to face the reality that you are not cut as a leader at the first place.
Being a patriotic Finn, I naturally went to see Angry Birds –movie immediately it premiered in Singapore. It was positive surprise and I am happy that it has done well in box office. What I liked about the film that it wasn´t as sugarcoated animation as the other mainstream Disney productions. Although it is an international production, there was a nice Finnish undertone to it.
Although it is mainly slapstick comedy in the vain of old-school Warner Bros –movies, I would actually recommend every leader to see it. Angry Birds movie has quite a lot of management wisdom
The unlikely heroes of Angry Birds –movie are getting together because they are forced to. They have been put to anger management class because they don´t fit the mold of happy-go-lucky birds. Red has true anger management issues. Bomb literally has tendency to explode. Chuck is delinquent with ADHD and Terrence, well… We don´t really know Terrence, but he has a dark secret. Not to mention his grunts are done by Sean Penn. Bunch of weirdos is a fair assessment.
Many leaders do the mistake of hiring only people who are similar as they are. Successful organizations embrace diversity and people who are not afraid to go against the grain. The truly great individuals are not socializing cheerleaders, but can be quite difficult to work with. They are driven by good results and not by politics. If you have surrounded yourself with Yes-men, no one will say that you are heading towards wrong direction.
2.True leaders emerge when there is downturn
“Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson
Anyone can lead a company when it is going well. When going gets tough, only the tough gets going. Red is the hero of the film although in the beginning he is frowned upon by gullible naïve positive-thinking birds. He knew that visiting pigs were up to something and that something is not anything good. Not surprisingly pigs stole their eggs. At those tough moments leaders rise from the managers and you want someone who is able to do hard decisions. Red rises through the occasion and knows it is time for action.
Having a corporate retreat is a nice add-on, but the main thing why people would stay on your organization is that your company is growing. Best incentive to stay in company is success. That growth comes from beating your opponents, simple as that. You have to recognize who are the birds (especially angry ones) and pigs in your circles. Angry Birds you should promote and pigs you should try to explode.
4.Positive thinking does not take you anywhere
“I may not have positive attitude, but I am positive that I have attitude”
When the true nature of pigs has been revealed, guess what kinds of birds are needed? Positive nice team players? Nah, they want truly angry birds ready to cause some wreck.
Working in US-based organizations pretty much all my working life I am still astonished by all the cheerleading bullshit that goes around (mainly via e-mail). You win some new business and suddenly you get some random congratulatory messages from people you have not ever heard of and probably never will afterwards. Sending cheerleading e-mails is easy; putting your skin truly in the game is difficult. Reply to all is a nice substitute to really doing some work. That´s why I don´t celebrate good presentations, NB wins or other achievements at work. Nailing those moments constantly should be your de facto mode. I nail my presentations always. If Damien Lillard does not celebrate after winning a game winner you should not either:
You should always prefer swift decision making to prolonged pondering and involving all participants before making decision. Action trumps intellectualizing.
6.Life is just a series of failures
“Persistance can change failure into extraordinary achievement” -Matt Biondi
The first hour of Angry Birds movie is just a series of failures. Our anger management class led by Red just have cock-up after another. To succeed in life, you have to be stubborn to forget all your failures and just keep on going.
7. It does not matter to what you believe as you believe in something
““No, what he didn’t like about heroes was that they were usually suicidally gloomy when sober and homicidally insane when drunk.”
-Terry Pratchett (The Color of Magic)
The birds are searching for the mythical Mighty Eagle to save their island. When they finally meet their hero, it is a let down (especially as they see him peeing to the lake). The point of Mighty Eagle is not so much is it true or true, but that it gives hope in any case. We Finns hope for World championship in ice hockey every year and that hope keep us going. Sometimes (not too often) that hope has come true. In this cold world, we need heroes. It is unlikely that you have any hero to look up to in real life so then you have to turn into sports and culture to be motivated.
And lastly, the most important lesson of them all, whenever it is possible listen to KRS-One: