Leadership at a Distance — Gardener Beats Chess Master

The crisis is accelerating digitalization. Distributed collaboration from home rather than together in an open-plan office is suddenly the standard. But how does leadership at a distance succeed? Some incitements to reconsider from the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership.

The coro­na pan­dem­ic puts states, com­pa­nies and each and every one of us in a cri­sis mode. But this cri­sis is also an oppor­tu­ni­ty. It accel­er­ates devel­op­ments and expos­es griev­ances. Dig­i­tal­iza­tion is cur­rent­ly being dri­ven not so much by CDOs, CIOs or CEOs, but by COVID-19. In order to con­tain the spread of the coro­na virus, we are forced to learn dis­trib­uted dig­i­tal col­lab­o­ra­tion in the — for­tu­nate­ly asep­tic — vir­tu­al space at a pre­vi­ous­ly unimag­in­able speed.

Although we intu­itive­ly know the world has changed, most lead­ers reflect a mod­el and leader devel­op­ment process that are sore­ly out of date. We often demand unre­al­is­tic lev­els of knowl­edge in lead­ers and force them into inef­fec­tive attempts to micromanage.

Stan­ley McChrys­tal, 2015. Team of Teams (Ama­zon Affil­i­ate-Link)

Sad­ly, the basic atti­tude of man­agers is chang­ing less quick­ly. The fre­quent­ly asked ques­tion “How do I con­trol whether my employ­ees in the home office do their work?” is actu­al­ly an oath of dis­clo­sure. It is an expres­sion of lead­er­ship fail­ure based on a deplorable con­cep­tion of man. The micro­man­ag­er has been a dis­con­tin­ued mod­el for quite some time, but now he is final­ly bank­rupt. The cri­sis is also accel­er­at­ing that.

The temp­ta­tion to lead as a chess mas­ter, con­trol­ling each move of the orga­ni­za­tion, must give way to an approach as a gar­den­er, enabling rather than directing.

Stan­ley McChrys­tal, 2015. Team of Teams (Ama­zon Affil­i­ate-Link)

Lead­er­ship at a dis­tance requires con­text not con­trol. The chess mas­ter is in trou­ble now at the very lat­est. How­ev­er, those who pre­vi­ous­ly as gar­den­ers pri­mar­i­ly pro­vid­ed good con­di­tions for the self-lead­er­ship of employ­ees are now also well equipped for dis­trib­uted collaboration.

The fifth thesis of the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership: Growing leaders over leading followers.
The fifth the­sis of the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Leadership

For some time now, the cru­cial man­age­ment task has no longer been, and is even less so now, to make deci­sions of its own, but rather to cre­ate a frame­work that allows employ­ees to make deci­sions inde­pen­dent­ly. Lead­er­ship is only legit­i­mate if it aims to enable the employ­ees entrust­ed to it to lead them­selves, as dm founder Götz W. Wern­er apt­ly puts it.

If you want peo­ple to think, give them intent, not instruction.

David Mar­quet

Reed Hast­ings there­fore makes as few deci­sions as pos­si­ble at Net­flix and David Mar­quet also stopped giv­ing orders on his nuclear sub­ma­rine. And that’s why the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship says “Grow­ing lead­ers over lead­ing fol­low­ers” because that’s the lead­er­ship cul­ture that mat­ters when lead­ing from a distance.

The first thesis of the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership: Unleashing human potential over employing human ressources.
The first the­sis of the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship.

Many things now work dif­fer­ent­ly, some worse and some per­haps even bet­ter. Instead of won­der­ing now whether employ­ees are doing their job in their home office cor­rect­ly and how this can be con­trolled, sim­ply pay atten­tion to pre­vi­ous­ly undis­cov­ered or unno­ticed tal­ents that they are devel­op­ing and using to cope with this excep­tion­al sit­u­a­tion. This human poten­tial must be iden­ti­fied now and these strengths must be made pro­duc­tive in the long term. For which the gar­den­er has con­sid­er­ably more time than the micro­manag­ing chess mas­ter and can there­fore bet­ter use the cri­sis as an oppor­tu­ni­ty.

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