The Rise of the Nice Guy Leader - by Andy Cope
The three Rs of leadership
As 9-5 morphs into 24/7, it brings mounting pressures and new rules. Your life is full-on, relentless and exhausting and worse still, it’s zipping by in a blur. It’s easy to end up careering from one crisis to another, buzzed up on sugar and coffee, existing from one holiday to the next.
The quickening pace applies to all aspects of life, but nowhere more so than the workplace. Too many emails, customers and back-to-back meetings.
The leader’s job is to squeeze more from less. You can’t work any harder. And if we tell you to work smarter, you’ll want to knee us in the groin. You’ve thought inside the box. Outside the box. You’ve even removed the box. So, where next?
You deserve a break. We believe leaders need to be challenged in an entertaining and humane way so enter, centre stage, Leadership: The Multiplier Effect, a rip-roaring tour through the essentials of leadership as it needs to be RIGHT NOW.
We’ve always been a bit jealous of education and its three Rs, so in a mind-blowing explosion of simplicity, we’ve supplanted the Rs to leadership – relationships, relationships and relationships.
The more crises that come our way, the more we can be excused for throwing ourselves headlong at the problem(s). I mean, after all, when everyone around you is sinking, the right thing to do is roll up your sleeves and muck in, right?
Maybe? It’s certainly easy to get sucked into helping out at the coalface. Jumping in, superhero-like, is sometimes absolutely the right thing to do.
However, step back and consider that not all superheroes wear capes. Some might wear a headset, a hard hat, tabard, overalls or a tool belt. Transport-wise, while a Batmobile might be ultra-cool, it’s more likely your superheroes will drive a van, a lorry or turn up at work in an ordinary car. Incredibly, some superheroes actually cycle to work. And while the movies might have you believe in a lasso of truth or invisibility cloak, your real-life superheroes might wield a mop and bucket, a spanner, keyboard, spreadsheet or ordinary-looking briefcase.
So superhero lesson #1: just because your team members look normal, doesn’t mean there’s not a superhero inside, itching to get out.
Secondly, spotting them is the easy part. Getting your Diana Princes and Peter Parkers to reveal themselves to the world is not always as easy as it seems. Remember, they might not actually know. Or they simply forgot they were amazing. Recall the first Harry Potter movie. Our speccy hero was living in cramped conditions underneath the stairs. He had no idea that he was a wizard. Indeed, it took a while for him to start believing in himself.
Thirdly, if points 1 and 2 are about reminding you that leadership isn’t about being a superhero, it’s about creating them, there must be a more subtle leadership point underpinning everything we’re saying, and it’s probably this; superhero lesson #3: however much you like the feeling of cape, tight lycra and pants on the outside, continuing to haul your team out of the mire won’t help in the long run.
So, what’s the real answer? If you’re being an inspirational leader, the best version of you, what should you be focusing on? Should you be making a passionate authentic speech from the balcony? Should you be explaining the intricacies of your magnificent vision, telling the stories that help them make meaning of it? Should you be leading the charge with your sabre in the air?
Ordinary on the outside
In the summer we saw the rise of a new breed of leadership superhero, a waistcoated one, the rise of the ‘nice guy leader’ – step forward England gaffer Gareth Southgate.
In time, Southgate will write an autobiography (I’m guessing Sartorial Leadership) and we’ll find out what really happened behind the scenes.
Our great leader seems to have pulled off the near-remarkable feat of getting to the semi-final without upsetting a single soul. No burning effigies. No turnip-headed headlines. We love him. The press loves him. His players love him. Even the ones who didn’t get a game love him.
How the heck did he manage that? The answer lies in chickens, science and the All-Blacks.
Free range leadership
First up, chickens. Even when times are hard I can’t possibly ever buy eggs from battery farms. I once watched a TV documentary where they went undercover in a chicken farm. They filmed awful conditions and it was all very inhumane. The hens were worked around the clock with minimal appreciation and zero love. The girls were, literally, worked to death. Oh, and the eggs are rubbish.
So, I spend a few pence more and get ‘free range’ because these chooks have been allowed some leeway to stretch their legs, take in some fresh air and feel appreciated.
The farmer loves them. Oh, and the eggs are great.
We think there’s a leadership message in there somewhere?
Happiness is your competitive advantage
Secondly, the science of connection. I’ve spent 15 years researching employee engagement. I’ve interviewed happy staff and, guess what, I’ve found out a whole load of stuff that falls into the category of ‘common sense’. Just like the hens, employees are more productive when they feel happy. And in workplaces where they feel respected, listened to, consulted and involved, they are more likely to work harder, and less likely to take a sickie. Happy staff are good for business.
No way. Really?
So why is it that so many staff are unhappy? You can take your pick of the studies. A survey of 32,000 employees found that 43 per cent were detached or actively disengaged, with 22 per cent feeling unsupported. In short, they’d really rather not be there. Another suggests that a paltry 19 per cent of employees are actually engaged in their work.
Southgate is a clever chap. He knows that ‘connection’ is massively important. A couple of decades ago, England was blessed with a ‘golden generation’ of world beaters who failed to get out of their World Cup group.
There’s a classic Muhammad Ali YouTube clip in which the champ is addressing the Harvard graduates of 1975. Ali was known for coming up with clever poems, so an audience member asked him to recite one and at a length of exactly two words, what followed may very well be the shortest poem in recorded history.
Ali said: ‘Me, We.’
It’s a pithy reminder of the importance of connection and empathy, the ability to tune into yourself and to get on someone else’s wavelength. Introspection only gets you so far. We need some ‘outrospection’ to really live good lives.
And finally, a point often missed in other leadership books, the workplace secret sauce is camaraderie with your work colleagues. High-quality connections are important sources of happiness and energy for employees, with research reporting that individuals who have a bestie at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job.
Hence Southgate adopted the All-Blacks recruitment tactic of ‘no d****heads’. Some world-class Kiwis have never worn the black jersey because they weren’t the right fit. Southgate chose 22 players who he knew would gel as a unit.
Famously, the All-Blacks have a policy of ‘sweeping the sheds’, meaning that they clean their own dressing room. They take mops, buckets and brushes on tour and leave their dressing room in pristine condition. I don’t think Gareth and the lads went that far but we, the viewers, got a sense of humility. For the first time in living memory, the players seemed to enjoy each other’s company and wore their shirts with honour and pride.
As did Southgate, with his waistcoat.
Put together the chickens, science and All-Blacks and what have you got? We think it boils down to this: It’s about creating the right culture. In high-performance teams, the players feel loved. They’re there because they want to be there. They aren’t just committed to the success of the team, they are also committed to the success of each other.