Love me some dynamic leadership — much as I’m terrified of “charismatic leadership” at the same time. I think we all secretly (not-so-secretly?) know and understand now that a lot of our discussions, and vocabulary, around “leadership” are complete bullshit. For people higher up a chain, “leadership” usually means “This person produces a good amount of revenue, which helps my life out.” If you’re low-to-middle at a company, “leadership” means “Hey, this person isn’t a complete asshole and has some idea of what the priorities should be on a weekly basis.”
I’d call the latter “dynamic leadership.” Maybe the person is a little boring — i.e. not dynamic — but he’s doing a good job as a leader. He’s talking to you. Priorities are being set. There’s a relationship rooted in respect, even if it’s not a friendship. (Friendship with subordinates terrifies a lot of bosses.) I’d call that dynamic leadership, personally.
Now, unfortunately for a lot of people this isn’t the reality — and may never be. 82 percent of managers end up being essentially bad at their jobs. That’s a massively high failure rate. If that failure rate existed in your product department, everyone would be fired. But because “being a good manager” is subjective and probably “owned” by HR at most places, well, no one cares. That’s just the way it is! Gotta live with it! Meanwhile, poor management is fraying social bonds daily in offices.
You can read the above and be like “Pfft, this kid is grousing about a lot of stuff.” I am, for sure. But the stats back me up. I got the numbers, baby! Global employee engagement is in the crapper. “Trust in the workplace” scores would get you a F in any country. A lot of people simply do not like their boss, their job, or really even understand their role. That’s not good.
At the same time, we try to throw technology at everything these days. Employee recognition software! A suite of employee engagement products! Here’s a productivity package! Most of this doesn’t work, because you cannot solve a people issue with software, but … people are making money off this stuff, so I guess that’s good.
But what if there was a way to move towards dynamic leadership — i.e. make leadership better — by using technology? Maybe there is.
Dynamic leadership: Josh Bersin research
Love me some Josh Bersin. Here’s a new article by him called “Digital Leadership Is Not An Optional Part Of Being A CEO.” Fully believe the headline already! Although, probably about 55% of CEOs would read that and sneer, “That shit ain’t padding my bonus.” I digress.
This is based on research from 1,000 CEOs across 131 countries and 27 industries, so it’s not a bad sample size. There’s some stuff in here that’s really good advice — for example, look at your business as a platform, as opposed to just products and services. I would imagine that’s very hard for some veteran business guys, but it’s very necessary in the modern workforce. Hard to strip psychology (“I am a product guy and that’s how I dictate my self-worth”) away from reality (“My business will be disrupted in three months”), but we gotta do it.
So Bersin talks about this one company and how they’re “acting digital,” and here’s where it gets intriguing.
Dynamic leadership and mobile apps
Pull quote time:
To support this decentralized, empowered organization, the company built a real-time, mobile-enabled information platform. Everything this company does, from hiring to customer acquisitions to service to employee engagement, is done through mobile apps. District managers and leaders in headquarters can monitor hiring, customer growth, employee satisfaction, and customer satisfaction in real time. So while these small teams are highly empowered, they are also highly accountable.
Check this out. I put an app on my phone, OK? I set notifications for it. Now I’m in line at Starbucks and I see a notification. I open it. My boss has dropped some numbers in there. I look and respond. Then I order my PSL.
This is a much better way of working than “You better be sitting in front of me or else I’ll assume you’re goofing off somewhere.” It’s smart technology. People always have their phone, and many are always on it anyway. So why not make a mobile app, make the people beholden to that, and then let them be free to go about their day as they want so long as they’re getting stuff done? What a glorious time to be alive!
This would be some real dynamic leadership, IMHO. But …
Could this apps as dynamic leadership idea ever actually work?
In some places, yes. It’s clearly working in this company Bersin references above. (Seemingly is.) In a lot of companies, though? No, it probably wouldn’t work. Look at the end of the pull quote — this is about empowerment and accountability both being high and contextual. A lot of managers, unfortunately, confuse “accountability” with “sit near my office” or “let me yell at you about something that barely matters to my boss as it is.”
I try to think about work in different ways, and I also try to call out some managerial BS we’ve all experienced. If that kinda sorta interests you, I do a newsletter every Thursday. Feel free to join up.
You can’t get to dynamic leadership, or something like this apps idea, without having a cultural shift first. Basically, you need to believe in this bouncing ball:
- “Hey, we hired some people.”
- “We are giving them some of our revenue in exchange for completion of tasks.”
- “Since we vetted them in hiring, we should assume they know what they are doing.”
- “Let them be people as long as the job requirements are being met.”
- “Empower them and don’t slave-drive ’em to a cubicle.”
- “OK, this all sounds logical.”
Most managers get to about the second bullet point above and start screeching, yelping, and bellowing about a series of random bullshit. Almost no one I’ve ever observed plays to employee strengths; they usually just constantly define and point out weaknesses. This is a “shit rolls downhill” culture. They’re getting it from their boss, so they give it to you. Real fun times! And not dynamic leadership.
The smart work-life balance play of dynamic leadership
Take this apps idea above. It’s fatal to work-life balance, and I know that. Now you’ve got people checking their phone all the time to see what’s happening in the work app. That sucks. I hate that aspect of it, but … at least it’s a smart use of technology. Rather than going “square peg, round hole,” you’re actually telling people to do something they would be doing anyway — i.e. looking at their phone..
What most companies do with technology is say “Hey, we bought this thing, so now everyone has to use it. OK?” That totally ignores psychology and pre-existing processes that people had, so adoption is slow. Some CIO or CTO or CEO goes fucking apeshit. “I spent a mint on this thing. Why aren’t these peons using it?!!” Here’s why: they are already comfortable with a system, and being told to do something else isn’t smart.
If you’re going to screw someone’s work-life balance, at least be smart about it. That’s some dynamic leadership!
What’s the real deal on dynamic leadership?
I’ve probably written enough here, so go read this. But I’ll say this: in most companies, having “dynamic leadership” isn’t what matters. Raking in the cash is what matters. As economic scholars have pointed out, that’s the closest thing most middle-aged white males have to fun.
Even though you can’t put “dynamic leadership” on a balance sheet and breathlessly analyze it, having it in your company will make you more money. You just need to find a path there. So design some apps! Let people do their work from Aisle 12 at Kroger. Empowerment, accountability! Hit those targets! Slay those revenue dragons! Make those quarters!
… or, you know, just keep increasing bureaucracy so that no one ever has to really make a decision.
Your take on dynamic leadership and getting there?