Take any modern leadership literature and you’ll find yourself being bombarded with words like engagement, empowerment, co-creation etc. Popular buzzwords with shady content. To many of the old-school leaders out there, such jargon seems like a whole bunch of "fluff" made up by mindfulness hippies trying to dodge responsibility.
Some of the seemingly brave and open-minded leaders now sitting (suffering) in their cubicles in an open office among ‘the commons’ still miss their ivory towers a.k.a. corner offices. Oh, the good ol’ days with the comforting door buzzer blocking unexpected social interaction. They would happily ignore any buzz from the outside and keep doing more of the same so that nothing will change.
Well, the good ol’ door buzzer days are behind us for good. Authority based leadership is not coming back and most prefer it that way. Still, there comes a point on every leader’s path when the infinite chaos of modern leadership feels too overwhelming. In such moments, escape to the ivory tower seems more than tempting.
But chaos is not bad. It is the state where people do “what they want” and fail fashionably fast. A startup needs chaos to find the winning approach. It’s likely that everything will turn upside down multiple times before the finishing line.
Why isn’t your number one player necessarily right for the job?
Chaos only works if you balance it with order. Order is based on common understanding of goals, values and strategy, complemented by the boring stuff – processes and supervision.
Before starting my own company, I used to hate corporate processes like project turnover meetings and checklists. It took me a long time to understand that some people really wanted and needed the processes.
Some people don’t mind chaos, and even enjoy it. Some need order. As a leader, you need to make sure you have the right people in the right places at the right stages of the company. The best available sales person from your previous company is not the right person for your startup if he/she needs strict processes to work efficiently.
On the other hand, the person who designed several winning products from scratch for a startup, may not be the best choice to run your R&D if it is more focused on incremental improvement than revolutionary new ideas.
Many of us enjoy chaos in one role but require lots of order in another. You might love to improvise a sales call but during your first parachute jump you definitely appreciate tight control.
You can’t know exactly what to do in every situation with every staff member. Luckily your staff knows. So yes, you do need to forget about the ivory tower and ask your team. This will help you to balance the chaos and order and to build a modern leadership culture.
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