How to become a post-heroic leader

Trying to run a seasoned group with a traditional type-A style is doomed to fail

Bossy boss: workers want a leader who can modulate their style as needed from authoritative to collaborative

Bossy boss: workers want a leader who can modulate their style as needed from authoritative to collaborative

a
 
Mark, a 10-year veteran of the pharmaceutical research and development world with a doctorate in statistics, was the obvious choice to lead the data

-management group of a global healthcare corporation when the director suddenly departed. Having managed a small team of bio-statisticians successfully over three years, promoting him to director seemed like a no-brainer. Yet within six months, he had managed to alienate just about everyone.

As a team leader, he had proven himself effective – delivering results, improving processes and directing junior staff. So why, when given the chance to manage a larger, more diverse group of top performers, would he flame out so spectacularly?

The answer was simple: Mark was bossy.

By the time a coach was brought in, there was an alarming downward trajectory of morale and productivity.

As Mark painfully discovered, trying to run a seasoned, highly-skilled group with the traditional type-A, command-and-control style is doomed to fail. Today’s knowledge workers demand what leadership experts call a “post-heroic leader”: one who is emotionally and intellectually agile, able to modulate their style as needed from authoritative to collaborative – and back again – in order to optimise team performance.

Post-heroic leaders recognise that the key to success is not adhering to hierarchy or position power, but mastering a complex set of seemingly contradictory organisational dynamics – autonomy and shared decision-making, individuality and teamwork.

Mark’s situation called for a change in mindset about what it means to be a good manager. To help him, Mark’s coach refocused the same deep desire to excel that had made him a great statistician on adjusting his style and provided a framework for change, suggesting several shifts that Mark must undertake:

From self-awareness to social awareness. This shift occurs when a manager realises that effective leadership calls for more than just knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Social awareness calls for a heightened sensitivity to how one’s behaviour, in words and deeds, impacts others.

To help build this awareness, Mark’s coach asked him questions such as: What is the impact of your management style on others? How do you know what others are thinking or feeling?

From directive to inquisitive. When seeking to improve processes or engender creativity from an expert group, the manager needs to shift from a stance of declaration to one of curiosity. Questions that help managers make this shift include: How much time do you spend listening rather than speaking? How do you know if you are truly listening to your people?

From power over to power with. When a manager lauds authority over subordinates, A-players tend to shut down (and look for the exit), while B-players tend to acquiesce, hide out and fail to grow. As a result, the potential of the entire team is lost. To facilitate this important shift, a coach might ask: How do you stimulate the best thinking from your team? What is the role of your subordinates in making decisions?

From teamwork to teaming. Traditional managers tend to rely on static definitions of who is “in” and who is “out”, fostering a culture of conformity and internal competitiveness. Adaptive managers evoke commitment through common values and aspirational goals, not structure. Good coaching questions include: How do you create a sense of belonging when the boundaries of a team are porous? How do you leverage diverse talents, skills, and perspectives, getting the best from everyone?

This framework gave Mark tangible guidelines to work with – not just generic admonishments to be more democratic. Coaching provided the space to acknowledge his fear of “losing his edge” and his hard-earned respect from the C-suite while exploring a different possibility: that he could have both – remaining directive when needed, but “flexing” to accommodate a variety of work styles. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2015

Jeffrey Hull is the director of education and business development at the Institute of Coaching (a Harvard Medical School affiliate), a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and an adjunct professor of leadership at NYU.

a
The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.