Wired magazine just published a cover story on whether Steve Jobs’ leadership style should be emulated. I have my own thoughts on this which I will save for another posting but the article did remind me of a recent book on leadership that would be a great read for public sector leaders.
In J. Keith Murnighan’s Do Nothing! How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader, he lays out the Leadership Law:
“Think of the reaction that you want first, then determine the actions you can take to maximize the chances that those reactions will actually happen.”
It sounds like an obvious law but Murnighan argues that many leaders do not follow this law because of five fundamental problems:
- Egocentrism – leaders tend to focus on their needs and wants rather than on what their team members need and want.
- Empathy Gap – leaders also have trouble seeing the situation from the team members’ perspectives.
- Focus On Own Actions – leaders believe that the team members will understand and act as if they perfectly interpreted the leader’s action.
- Transparency – leaders believe that everyone else sees the situation exactly as the leader perceives the situation.
- Double Interacts – This is a natural result of the preceding four problems. Essentially, a leader underestimates the impact of his or her initial action and is surprised by the resulting reactions from the team members. For example, if a leader starts by yelling at the team, he or she may see the resulting hostility from the team as an overreaction because the leader doesn’t believe he or she was hostile.
To become a good leader, one just needs to recognize the five problems and act accordingly. He gives five traits that directly counter the five problems:
- Focus on the team – ask questions and get to know what drives your team members.
- Try to see from the team members’ perspectives – it’s difficult to fully understand another person’s perspective but even a partial understanding can be helpful.
- Follow the leadership law – focus on how to evoke the positive reactions you want from your team members.
- Active listening – basically you cannot understand another person unless you actually listen to what they say. And that also means listening to the nonverbal signals too.
- Get on the Balcony/Walk the Floor – Seems contradictory but what Murnighan is suggesting is that a leader learns to see the situation, his or her actions, and the team’s actions from an objective viewpoint so that the leader can better plan future actions. Walking the floor means that the leader is seen and that he or she sees what the team members are doing. Taking the time to recognize team members for good work on the spot goes a long way toward keeping people motivated and willing to follow the leader.
Murnighan lists some great leaders that practice the five traits listed such as Captain Abrashoff and Phil Jacksonwho were, in their own ways, just as successful (arguably even more so) as Steve Jobs in their respective fields. It seems to me that, as a follower, I would rather have a leader that has these five traits. As a leader, I can see the advantage of the five traits in helping me to harness the combined energy, passion, and innovation of my team. Although, Jobs’ aggressive and confrontational leadership style may work in the private sector (and you better have a good track record of successful products), I believe the five traits would make a successful public sector or nonprofit sector leader.
Murnighan, J.K. (2012). Do nothing: How to stop overmanaging and become a great leader. New York: Penguin.