For those of us who have youngsters and have watched “The Incredibles”, you would remember the scene where the family’s seamstress, Edna, educates Mr Incredible on the pitfalls of cape-wearing. How capes would inevitably be sucked into jet-plane turbines and decimate our cape-wearing heroes, or the villains would have something to grab hold of (and possibly use to strangle our heroes), and from a physics perspective, they would generally slow the hero down.
The same can be true of titles in the working world and how, as working-class leaders, our titles can sometimes strangle a good idea or decimate our careers (or even those of the people we are responsible for). Sometimes our capes do more harm than good. It’s time that we as leaders get with the program and realise that, in order for us to lead effectively, we need to drop the titles and join the ranks.
Out of his costume, minus the cape, Clark Kent was a perfect example of what made Superman such an effective hero. Clark spent his days working alongside the people he swore to protect. He lived with them, laughed with them, fought with them and truly understood their problems and what drove them. As a result, he could effectively help them, as well as effectively defeat any human adversaries. To be an effective leader I also believe that this understanding is what is required of us.
Leading from an ivory tower does not work anymore. As technology rapidly advances our problems are becoming increasingly more complex. If we are too busy to invest time into understanding these problems, they become harder to solve. This is not to say that you should believe your team incapable of solving problems, oh contraire, if you know your team well you will know what their capabilities are, who is best equipped to deal with the challenges teams will inevitably face and position people accordingly. But this requires knowing your team well, this requires time and energy be invested into the people you work with.
By day Bruce Wayne, outside of his cape, spent time not just investigating the latest technologies and trying to make the world a better place, but getting his hands dirty and creating the technologies that helped him fight crime as Batman. Even billionaires get their hands dirty in order to be effective heroes. The same needs to be said of us, we need to understand the products and technologies we work with to provide better services, identify gaps and create the solutions that are going to advance teams and companies. If you are in your position because you are a “thought leader” how do you provide effective thought leadership without understanding what is happening in the real world, on the ground? Reading articles can only provide so much insight, you need to practically understand the world we live and work in to do better, to lead effectively, and what better way to do that other than to get involved?
One of my favourites, for many reasons, is Shazam, or should I rather say Billy Batson. Shazam’s strength didn’t come from his superpowers, it came when he was out of the cape, it came from his alter ego Billy’s ability to recognise when he needed to share his powers with people who were better equipped to handle the situation at the time. Billy’s childish innocence and lack of arrogance gave him the ability to recognise that differences in people were opportunities for learning and advancement- this is what made Shazam a better, stronger hero- his sharing of his hero mantle. As leaders we need to recognise that people have thoughts and ideas outside of our own, and that these ideas, although different to our own, can provide us with solutions we may not yet have thought of, or may never think of. We need to share our pedestal, provide a platform for people to voice their thoughts and share their ideas. Be Billy, we need to get over our positions of power, recognise the strength in others and provide the support our people need to no longer fear failure and to gain the confidence to voice their valuable opinions.
This past year, due to a few resource constraints, I found myself in the lucky position of being back at the coalface again, I hung up my cape and got stuck into the real world. And I enjoyed every second. In the past year I was afforded the opportunity to really get to know our client’s worlds, their products, and the challenges they are facing. I got to practically be part of the solutions I was recommending, to experience the technologies I had only investigated and seen in demonstrations. In the past year I have reconnected with our staff in a way that I haven’t been able to in previous years. I really understand the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis, but more importantly I know who they are. I understand their strengths, their plights, their beautiful brains and how terribly lucky we are to have them working for us. Together we have managed to do some amazing things for which I am extremely proud and humbled to have been a part of- their successes are very much my own.
Leaders, hang up your capes, get your hands dirty, be part of it all…get well and truly connected. It’s through this connection that you and your businesses can truly be successful.