The Leadership Paradox

November 24, 2016 | Robert Schermers

Have you ever asked yourself what would happen if your leadership-team and middle management didn’t show up?

It’s one week before the CEO of your company is coming to visit your country. He wants to hear about the results you and your organization have been delivering. Much alignment is still necessary on what and how to share the information in an interesting and informative way. You want to give visibility to the successes you had as organization, but also be frank and open about the challenges you face.

You get to the office. The managers, the junior managers and the executional team are there. But the leading positions in your organization? They do not show up. Vanished. Gone.

You call in the managers -who are just as surprised as you are about the missing leadership- explain the situation about your visiting CEO, how you would like to get things presented and what you expect from the teams.

Now one of two things will happen:

Some will move like the wind

Some teams would move smoothly, quickly and efficiently. They would have already known the CEO would be coming and would already have started with their preparations. They would have the presentation ready before the deadline you set. They would come with suggestions on how to improve what you proposed. They would positively surprise you.

Some will make an utter mess

Some teams on the other hand, made up of people with the same university degree and work-experience, would create a total and utter mess. They would misunderstand your brief, show lack of alignment amongst themselves and would be quick to ask for an additional day to prepare. Not out of bad will, but the team would just not deliver properly.

If this situation happened, you would suddenly come to an awkward conclusion: the best leaders in your organization are the ones you do not miss.

Your best leaders would have created a pendulum, an autonomous organism with multiple legs, arms and heads that knows what to do, how to act, what to deliver and how to get the best out of itself.

You would also notice that some “leaders”, who were always so dedicated in showing you how they lead, would have created a team that only operates well in the presence of the eyes, ears and brains of the functional head.

The paradox

That is what I call the Leadership Paradox: the best leaders consciously or unconsciously make themselves redundant in their focus on making their team thrive to deliver results. It is in their redundancy that they prove their effectiveness. You would not miss them because they create a mechanism that works without them; and that is why you would miss them so much.

So what do the best leaders do?

  1. They create clarity of purpose, so that the whole structure underneath knows why the team does what it does, how it does it and what they are to deliver.
  2. They stimulate contribution and challenges between all team members to accelerate or improve results. They create a learning team.
  3. They create a symbiosis of problem-solving focus within the team to seek multiple options rather than single solutions.
  4. They are facilitators: they remove barriers and liberate resources for the team. They put themselves and all individuals at the service of the team rather than putting the team at the service of individuals.
  5. They constructively and continuously raise the bar, getting teams to aim higher than the last result. They celebrate successes, yes; to then do better.
  6. They celebrate the individual capabilities of all team members to strengthen the team result.
  7. They do not shy away from tough decisions on team-members, specifically individuals who don’t contribute to the team-result.

Actively look for these behaviours of leadership since they easily go unnoticed in your day-to-day. Overlooking them might be a costly mistake for your organization.

In general, we can find plenty of good managers in an organization. Value them, cherish them, since every organization needs good managers. But leaders are scarce, very scarce. Look for them and identify them early, so that they can focus on what they do best in a new challenging role: making themselves redundant. It will do your organization good.

By the way: if you yourself do not show up tomorrow, will your boss miss you?

Originally published on Linkedin


Posted By Robert Schermers

Robert has a bachelor´s degree in business administration and a master´s in law. He started his career in the Netherlands and built his expertise over 18 years at Unilever. He worked in challenging marketing and business positions in various European countries as well as in South Africa and in Brazil. Robert knows from experience the massive positive impact on both business results and society of really putting people first in brands and teams, and is a true ambassador for humanizing business in the widest sense of the term. He loves exploring new cultures, leaving the beaten track. He has spent months traveling India and Malaysia; he has climbed Aconcagua (the highest mountain in the Americas at about 7,000 meters); he has spent weeks with indigenous families in the jungle of Colombia; and he loves to take the more adventurous routes when skiing, hiking, or diving. As a student, he already felt strongly attracted by the positive spirit, culture, beauty, and opportunities of Latin America, and his stay in Brazil made him decide to make this beautiful country his home. He currently lives with his wife in São Paulo, Brazil.

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