The world of business is moving faster than ever before, and this world is filled with much volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In their book, Scaling Leadership: Building Organizational Capability and Capacity to Create Outcomes that Matter Most, leadership experts Bob Anderson and Bill Adams argue that in these fast-changing times, no single leader—no matter how skilled or how experienced—can know everything that needs to be known about their organization, nor consistently make the best decisions. The solution to this dilemma is to scale leadership.
I recently interviewed Bob and Bill to learn more about scaling leadership and the implications for leaders in any kind of organization.
“A business can’t outgrow the effectiveness of its leadership!” -Robert Anderson, William Adams
There’s a fundamental principle of life as we know it—it either scales and grows, or it dies. It’s that simple. Growth is built into the DNA of every living organism that exists on our planet today—from the mighty redwoods, to vast underwater forests of kelp, to huge migrating flocks of birds, to human beings. Businesses are in many ways much like living creatures. Businesses either grow and thrive, or they die and fade away—doomed to irrelevance as competitors pass them by.
However, it’s not enough to simply grow our organizations. We must also scale new and innovative solutions to complex business, organizational, and global problems. And we must do so in a world that’s becoming increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. This requires leaders throughout the leadership system of the organization who can do more, know more, decide more, contribute more, and be more—for their organizations, their people, their customers, and for the communities in which they do business.
Leaders must learn to scale themselves by scaling leadership. Leaders who scale leadership grow the capability and capacity of those who work for and with them to take on leadership tasks of their own—leveraging their own leadership across far more individuals and teams while creating a workplace where people thrive.
Setting up peer coaching and accountability groups with a regular practice of providing ongoing, supportive feedback greatly accelerates and scales the development of Creative leaders.
“Leaders must learn to scale themselves by scaling leadership.” -Robert Anderson, William Adams
Based on your extensive research, what defines a High-Creative leader or differentiates the most effective leaders?
In the research presented in Scaling Leadership, we look into what differentiates the most effective leaders from those who are not. We do so by analyzing 1,350 pages of 360-degree written comments—senior leaders providing written comments to other senior leaders. While every leader is different, bringing different sets of strengths and weaknesses to the table, we found that High-Creative leaders consistently demonstrated the following 10 strengths:
“It’s a myth that a leader’s personal qualities must remain separate from their professional identity.” You share a story of an awful tragedy and how you kept that private during a leadership retreat. Tell us more about the intersection between the personal and professional.
The core premise of my work is that leaders personal and professional identities aren’t separate. They are inextricably linked. Leaders have been fooled into thinking that being impersonal and rational leads to success. It doesn’t. Poor engagement and alienation results. Without personal qualities, leaders are faceless bureaucrats, and their staff find it difficult to connect with them. Our experience of being with any leader is greatly influenced by their personal qualities.
My book deals with leaders’ professional identities. By thoughtfully choosing what is personal, what is private, and what they let come to the foreground in their interactions, leaders influence how others experience them. I coach leaders to bring helpful personal qualities into their interactions. Leaders with personal qualities like contempt, demanding, and cold create anxiety and emotional turmoil around them. People don’t like working with them. Leaders with personal qualities such as being insightful, approachable, and succinct have powerful effects in inspiring others to action.
The secret in my book Leadership Material is that if you don’t know who and what has shaped you as a leader, you won’t be able to lead people. The key lever for developing as a leader is through your earlier life experiences. By uncovering the likely source of unhelpful behaviors, you then have a choice of your current authentic response which builds relationships and produces results.
“When people feel understood and accepted, they flourish.” –Diana Jones
Would you share the story about “going up the stairs two steps at a time” and how it impacted your view of leadership and culture?
Yes, of course. Back in 2006 I had a meeting with Jim Bolt, the founder of Executive Development Associates (EDA), to discuss how I would run the company. Jim had been developing senior leaders since the early 1980s and was a renowned expert in the field. I knew I had much to learn from Jim and hoped we could work together. I didn’t know at the time that the very first piece of advice he would give me would shape and inform every leadership decision I have made since. Before I left that meeting, Jim handed me a book from his shelf called Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, founder and CEO of Patagonia, a sports clothing company.
The book is the story of Patagonia with an emphasis, almost a plea, for sustainability. Jim wanted me to start thinking about how we could help with this effort, I read the book but it was something else within that captured my attention. The CEO of Patagonia wanted to build an organization where employees were compelled to come to work. Yvon Chouinard wanted a company where employees were a part of their environmental mission. He wanted employees to be wholly engaged and committed. He said, “Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet and go up the stairs two steps at a time” (Chouinard 2005, 45).
That statement struck me as extremely important. Imagine the creativity and courage and productivity that would come from a workforce like that. The power of it is immeasurable. That is what visionary leadership can do. It can unleash the power of the workforce.
Visionary leaders create a clear picture of a positive future state.
A visionary leader is a person who steps out and creates a clear picture of a positive future state. It takes a lot of courage because creating a vision for the future is basically imagining what could be and what should be. That feels very risky for leaders. It is stepping out of the norm. There are certain things they will need to do. In the book we explain further by putting it into 4 Cs. They must:
Build connectedness, and
Shape the culture.
What advice do you have for a leader struggling with creating a compelling vision?
Are you a leader who has had some success but now feel stuck?
What’s your leadership gap?
Understanding yourself is the beginning of influence. You must understand you before you can possibly understand others and how to influence them.
If you’re a leader of leaders, you want to understand your team, how they interpret the world, their unique way of leading. A powerful team is made up of a diverse group of leadership styles.
Lolly Daskal’s new book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness, introduces her system to help executives discover their own leadership style and how to leverage their strengths. If you’re a leader who has reached a point where you’re confused why your success is stalled, this is for you. If you’re wondering what’s stopping your upward climb, this is for you. If you want to take your career up a notch, this is for you.
Lolly is not only a personal friend of mine, but she has racked up numerous awards and accolades ranging from Inc’s Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts to Huffington Post saying she is the most inspiring leader in the world. She’s coached some of the world’s most prominent leaders for years.
“A leader must always set the standard of what they want to see in others.” -Lolly Daskal
You’ve worked with many leaders all over the globe. What are some of the qualities that you notice that makes a leader stand out?
For over three decades, I have worked as a leadership coach and business consultant around the world, spanning 14 countries and hundreds of companies. Many years ago when I first started, I found an interesting pattern that was showing up within everyone I was working with, even across cultures. Over time I distilled that pattern into seven archetypes, each archetype with its own quality that sets it apart.
First, there’s the leader I call the Rebel, who leads with confidence and wants to make an impact in the world. And Rebels do start revolutions—but not through revolts and uprisings. Rebels are the quiet warriors who embark on quests to achieve remarkable things. They overcome formidable obstacles to save the project, the team, or the company. They ask, “How can I push the envelope?”
Rebels need confidence to succeed—not the kind of confidence that means standing in front of the mirror and saying, “I’m the best and the brightest,” but knowing your capabilities and competencies, knowing what you are good at, and what skills you have mastered. Confidence is simply knowing what you’re able to do. So the more skill and talent you have, the more competent—and ultimately confident—you feel.
“Confidence is simply knowing what you’re able to do.” -Lolly Daskal
Second is the Explorer, who leads with intuition. Explorers always want to try something new. They enjoy navigating through uncharted waters with innovation and creativity, using their intuition to test the boundaries and limits of what is known. They reject the status quo and doing things the way they’ve always been done. They ask, “What can I discover?”
Explorers listen to their inner voice and their gut, and use their inner knowledge to make decisions. Instead of relying only on rational thought, they balance their thinking with intuition. They think well on their feet and are decisive.
Third is the Truth Teller, who leads with candor. Truth tellers believe they owe it to those around them to always be open and honest, even when their candor makes people uncomfortable. Even so, their honesty isn’t cruel but comes from a sincere desire to help and serve. They view speaking up as a duty. Truth tellers ask, “Where should I speak up?”
Fourth is the Hero, who leads with courage. Heroes are the ones who don’t hesitate to act while others stand on the sidelines trying to figure out what’s going on. Heroes are willing to put their entire vision and mission at risk for a shot at greatness. Heroes act in spite of fear and overwhelming opposition. They ask, “Where is courage needed?”
Fifth is the Inventor, who leads with integrity. Inventors are constantly working to improve processes and products and to perfect their craft. They are experimenters who make many small bets and are willing to fail in pursuit of big wins. they ask, “How can we make this better?”
Inventors seek quality and excellence, always grounded in integrity. They don’t compromise on what they want to achieve, and they give it their best. They’re never satisfied with the status quo but always aspire to a higher standard of excellence.
“Inventors seek quality and excellence, always grounded in integrity.” -Lolly Daskal
Sixth is the Navigator, who leads with trustworthiness. Navigators know where they need to go, and they inspire others to trust and follow them. Navigators give trust as well as they receive it, keeping things simple and understandable as they masterfully steer their organization and the people within it. Navigators ask, “How can we get to where we need to go?”
The seventh and final leader is the Knight, who leads with loyalty. Knights are primarily associated with chivalry and protection; they’re willing to go to battle to defend their beliefs and are devoted to the ideal of service. Knights display fierce loyalty and partnership with others while protecting people and bringing them together.
Knights believe leadership is based on loyalty—reliable and dependable and dedicated. Knights will stand beside you and will serve you, before they serve themselves.
What makes a leader successful over the long haul?
Most leaders believe that to be successful they need to know all the elements of how, what, when, and where. But I’ve found that the game changer comes when a leader knows who they are—because getting the foundational element of the who prepares you for the how, what, when, and where—and even the why. As we know, the first step to successful leadership is taking responsibility for ourselves.
“Everyone has the power to inspire and serve the world.” -Lolly Daskal
Eventually, you say, leaders likely face a leadership gap where they are stuck and their success wanes. Tell us more.
Most successful individuals have a certain set of skills that got them to the top of their game. But there comes a time that those same skill sets stop working, and you have to learn to pivot to keep succeeding. Most of us rely on what we know and expect it to be sustainable, but if we are not changing, evolving and growing, we are not going to remain successful leaders.
Within the seven archetypes, this principle is expressed as shadows or gaps that exist within each:
The Rebel who needs to be confident has a gap of feeling like an Imposter, paralyzed by self-doubt. This gap often takes the form of negative internal messages: You are not smart enough, good enough, bright enough to make a big impact. You didn’t go to good schools or get the right education. People are judging you.
The Explorer, who is all about using intuition, has a gap of being the Exploiter, who manipulates. Exploration means letting go of control, and those who struggle with turning loose often try to find their way by manipulating and exploiting others.
The Truth Teller has the gap of becoming the Deceiver, who creates suspicion. This one is easy to spot. It’s the leader who withholds information, the boss who tells half-truths, the manager who doesn’t address concerns. When people don’t know what they need to know, rumors and speculation run wild, creating a culture of suspicion and paranoia.
The courageous Hero has the gap of becoming the passive Bystander—someone who does and says nothing regardless of what they see or hear. Driven by fear, the Bystander plays small and stays stuck where they are.
The Inventor, who is all about integrity, has the gap of being the corrupt Destroyer who is focused on doing things cheaper and faster. The Destroyer’s lack of integrity permits quick fixes, cutting corners and compromising quality and standards.
The Navigator, who focuses on giving and earning trust, has the gap of coming across as the arrogant Fixer. The Fixer tells people what to do instead of navigating with them and is so aggressive that people dismiss them as arrogant by nature. Fixers see the needs of others as more important than their own, and they move from wanting to help to needing to help. They primarily want to be needed.
Finally, the loyal Knight has the gap of becoming the self-serving Mercenary. Without the understanding that leadership is about serving others, they can’t engender loyalty from those they lead. Leadership grounded in self-absorption or self-obsession can never succeed.
Leverage Your Gaps
Is there a way to avoid or move quickly past a gap?
It’s important to learn how to leverage your gaps:
For instance, if your leadership style is in line with the confident Rebel, you need to learn to leverage the Imposter within you. There are several things you can do to leverage this particular gap when you begin to lose confidence in yourself.
“Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on your own improvement.” -Lolly Daskal
First, you need to stop comparing yourself to others and focus on your own improvement and leadership development.
Second, to avoid focusing on your failures rather than your successes, make a list of your accomplishments and place your wins in plain sight so you are reminded of them regularly.
And finally, remind yourself that perfection is unattainable and aiming for it sets you up for continual frustration and disappointment.
When you’re aware of your gaps, you know what messages to counter them with. Rebels can remind themselves that, even if they feel like an imposter, they should never underestimate themselves or their capabilities.