Organizations Where Average Leaders Excel
By definition most of us are average. Even though:
- 68% of the faculty at the University of Nebraska rate themselves in the top 25% of teaching ability.
- 90% students see themselves as more intelligent than the average student.
- 93% of U.S. drivers put themselves in the top 50% of driving ability.
- 92% of teachers say they are less biased than average. That one is uniquely hilarious.
- 96% of leaders today believe they have above average people skills. Stanford University School of Business.
On average, most of us think we are above average. Leaders, like everyone else, suffer from illusory superiority.
In order to make a difference you must first believe you can. Confidence, not competence, enables beginnings. Competence without confidence is stagnation. Over confidence has its draw backs but at least it enables people to step out.
Thankfully, unjustified confidence starts you on journeys where average intelligence enables you to figure things out.
Gary Hamel, author of “What Matters Now,” told me, “We need to create organizations where average leaders can enjoy extraordinary success. The biggest constraints we face are management models not business models or strategies. We need our organizations to become more human.” (Gary is ranked #1 most influential business thinker by the Wall Street Journal.)
How management hinders leaders:
- Management establishes limiting controls. People don’t enjoy being controlled, especially leaders.
- Management centralizes authority. Leaders give authority while maintaining responsibility.
- Management creates hierarchies with stagnating approvals. “Ask yourself how many levels must people fight through in order to get something done?” Hamel.
Management isn’t dead. It needs a rebirth. We must ask, what innovative management models enhance an average leaders potential to adapt and innovate during turbulent times?
I believe “average” people possess pockets of genius that represent our greatest potential.
Have you seen management obstruct rather than fuel progress? How?
What management models allow creativity, high performance, and fulfillment?
I agree that management obstructs when it creates more rigid process and procedure. I have observed that management practices follow oral instructions, then it obstruct progress. It means when management need things to be done without owning responsibility, it creates hindrance in the system. In such culture, it is lower level or middle management that suffers. So, management practices should be accountable, answerable and auditable. I believe that management models that provide freedom, flexibility without much interference allows creativity and culture of high performance. Management model that believe in effort and means can provide good model of management. Reward, appreciation and discouraging blame game can boost creativity and progress. Management model should address sociological and psychological needs of the employees.
Thank you for starting the conversation and for consistently adding your insights. Your consistence over time encourages me.
I hear you saying that managers who tell without taking responsibility create barriers to progress and/or productivity. Are the barriers, in this case, are lack of follow through and follow up?
Believing in effort stands up against focusing on the numbers (deliverables). There is real tension between encouraging people to try and expecting them to make the numbers. The more we require meeting the numbers the harder it is for people to try things. Yet, in order to stay in business, an organization must deliver product.
Your last sentence reminds me of Hamel’s passion to make organizations more human.
Best to you,
Hi Dan, typically thought provoking.. but first …
Gary Hamel, you spoke with Gary Hamel!! (sorry just had to get that out of the way).
It’s a great starter for 10 that our future success lies with our ability to develop our average leaders.
I’m already looking around me in a different way (you know sort of an average way). I’ve recently changed our innovation and product development loop so people can get underway with idea’s much faster – once we get to the sharp end (where serious money is to be spent) then they have to have the business case to progress – but otherwise we’re handing control back to the people who actually do the work. What we learnt is along the way you need to ease them into controlling their own destiny.
In full agreement with the proposition; execution as always is slightly challenging.
‘Power to the average’, that’s requires courageous leadership and don’t they appear contradictory concepts – as many truths do.
Thanks for your time Dan, Richard.
Croadie, love “Power to the average.” I wonder what we would lose if we removed the competitive pressure to be measured in the top percentile, and just let people do their work.
Cheers Greg. A good question.I think you would definitely lose something, but do we get more back? There’s several doctorates sitting right there!
Croadie hearts the 50th percentile!
With all of Dan’s stats and data coupled with our own interpretive misperceptions about the data, we obviously need a new box…if a box is even needed. Seems that’s where Mark is pointing.
Yes I talked with Gary Hamel. He’s scary smart! I called him and when he had to get off because of another call, he said, “I’ll call you back to continue the conversation.” … And he did!
When Gary pointed out that most leaders are average and that we need better organizations it set my mind spinning. What a powerful thought.
Your strategy to make it easy to start things and to do it at low cost is one excellent way organizations provide environments of success.
Your insights and experience enrich my thinking.
Best to you,
Dan, love the post. No great insights on my end, but a couple of thoughts.
First, one management shift that needs to happen is away from the “right way” paradigm to the YAHOO model – you always have other options. Most of the time any of several ways will yield very close to the same results, so let all us average folks roll with what works for us.
Second, I think we should acknowledge that even an average person has more computing power in his/her brain than dozens of computers, and more variable and adaptable fine-motor skills than the most expensive robot. Average folks are still pretty amazing, so relying on them doesn’t put you at a disadvantage.
Third, in my experience it’s been the emotional and inter-personal quotient more than talents or skills that make an exemplary leader or team member. A good attitude and love for people is worth a lot.
The Army is proof that you’re way better off with a thousand Joes who all understand the mission and just go out and do their part than a handful of Rambos. And a thousand Rambos wouldn’t work well together anyway.
Love your contribution to the conversation.
Moving from believing in the “right way” to what are the options opens a world of possibilities. It represents a powerful shift in management and decision making models.
Just a note on your third comment. We keep saying it’s all about the people but our management models are all about the numbers. There is great opportunity to modify how management happens if we focus more on the people.
Best to you,
YAHOO—thanks Greg, will add that one definitely. Just a bunch of yahoos takes on a new meaning. Rambos often get the press, but rarely get the work done.
I’ve seen management models get in the way when they focus on activity and compliance (rules…you must) rather than results and solutions. Compliance is necessary from a legal perspective, but if that’s your main focus you’ll get compliance, but you won’t get commitment, which fuels superior performance. I have found that leaders who focus on the what and leave the how to others often create a more engaging and higher performing environments.
You remind me that Gary H. said if you put people in slotted systems they’ll produce slotted products.
I see your wise use of the term “focus.” Compliance and management aren’t going away. Perhaps new management models become more about new focal points.
Focusing on results and solutions should loosen the process and put it in the hands of those creating solutions. Tell people what you want not how to do it.
Best to you,
Broadening the definition (and focus) of compliance towards a base standard that is only a jumping off point might help.
And what standards do we have that align with organization, person, service & vision? Therein weaves commitment.
Sure, a spot compliance check may be needed, but again compliance is often only the minimum recommended daily allowance for this point in time. If you are leading well you can see those who have moved far beyond the RDA and recognize that they have moved beyond ‘average’ in what they do.
Everyone understands that above average means no more than half. Each leader is secure in his belief that he is above average. That means that half of the people who work for him are below average. How can the leader trust his important work to so many people who are below average? Management processes are designed to discover and fix mistakes rather than give everyone the opportunity to find out where their skills are best suited. I think that management models where failure is accepted as part of a learning process give people the opportunity to try things that are different and find out where they shine.
I really like the idea of giving people the opportunity to find out where their skills are best suited.
Reading your comment made me think about the place and limitation of preventing mistakes. Prevent every mistake that endangers. Welcome mistakes that enable forward movement and teach what not to do.
I respect your insights.
Today’s installment is one of my favorites from you. As usual, I’ll respond conceptually.
Your statistics are stunning! They show what a waste of time most comparisons of inferiority/superiority are. What is more meaningful to you, “Dan is an above average blogger,” or “Dan writes in a way that I find easy to read, and I often find value in what he posts”? Which is more meaningful for others to hear or read?
The ego loves comparison, but the larger part of us is much more engaged when we’re asking about what matters now, what’s appropriate now, what do I want, what’s in my highest interest, how might I serve now, etc. The answers to these wonderings are not even affected by the answer to “Am I above average?” They are found out in our active participation in co-creation and relationship, regardless of what percentile we’re in.
Sure, there are competitive sports and business situations where the actual math of comparison matters, but in a vast spectrum of day-to-day interaction we’re all engaged in, I dare myself and others to let go of the need to “be above average” and encourage us all toward making fulfilling, productive choices of highest service to others and self. We may then graciously acknowledge—but not buy into—the ratings of onlookers that might knock us off the track to both our wellbeing and best performance.
Right on, Mark. The whole concept of average is based on a few measurements, which is unfair to the complexity of people and their interactions. My wife mentors a mentally-handicapped woman who is definitely above-average as an encourager, as well as in happiness.
Thank you for taking time share your insights.
Your comment reinforces the idea that creating environments where people can thrive (revising management styles and models to become more human) is more powerful than being above average.
Stimulating, safe, enabling environments give average people the opportunity to tap into their genius.
You have my best,
Love this post…love statistics that help you understand people. To me this data reflects that the vast majority of us have a inner drive to be better than average and good management figures out how to leverage most of us “average” people into something amazing and cutting edge. Average people all should be able to pull out something beyond what they could do by themselves when working as part of the team.
There is a sense that none of us is average… we can contribute in unique ways.
You could add that none of us is as smart as all of us.
Best to you,
Another great post Dan. I agree with you. We need to focus more on the people and the process. Not so much, the end result. Yes, it’s all about the bottom line to the big dogs and CEO’s, but without the people, it is not going to happen. Let’s make it more human. I believe we need to CARE about the employees. (Communicate, Appreciate, Respect, Encourage) Take off the restraints and let them be creative, feel like they matter, that they are important.
Management obstructs when ego gets in the way. Greed takes over and there is no gratitude or humility. I have witnessed it and it is ugly.
When leaders engage and CARE, hands on, it creates a level of trust and employees are more productive. Profits are up and costs are down. a win-win. Thanks.
While I agree with the sentiment of this article, it is perfectly possible for most people to be above average.
Take a set of exam results:
30, 30, 60, 60, 60, 60.
Ok, this is simplified. But in this set of numbers 66% of people who took the test were above average!
So do be careful in assuming that half of all people are below average.
‘Nurture your inner savant’ is my take-away from Dan’s post today.
The danger is when the organization and leadership covertly stifles those non-box energies because of perceived threat to status quo, power base, et al. A true trustful and respectful management model that values learning and in tandem owns its own averageness might be a great place to work.
I’m late to the party again, but I’ve been thinking about this awhile. I truly believe that all people are amazing and magnificent, each abundantly greater than the sum of his or her parts.
If that’s the standard, then let me be average and meet it!
As to people’s inflated assessments of their own abilities vis a vis those of others, I would say that most of us human types would benefit from a true humility that doesn’t belittle one’s own self or the selves of others, but instead recognizes the true worth and value of each person and sees how one fits into the whole.
As usual, you make me think, Dan.
What a great post! I have been waiting for this. I just didn’t know it until you said it. We need a new management/ leadership model that allow people to follow a thought through – from vision/idea and birth to mature age and even in some cases to the grave. Why? Because we are people not robots. People need proper motivation to perform well.
Young people in our western culture are more demanding in this way. They have been tought how things are made and learn to explain how – and that is a good thing, not a bad thing.
Ownership and understanding gives the motivation that is essencial to achieve something better than mediocrity – i.e. exellence. I believe that we get the “right” motivation from understanding because it gives ownership. The motivation is then not a fat salary or bankaccount. We know from test results that money is a poor motivator. This is ofcourse just a dream and people will always be motivated by money and things. The seed is planted and we can together water it and – who knows – one day it is reality! 🙂
Passion is a result of caring. Caring enough to give trust and – well; love – without passion everything die.
A healty balanse between trust and controll is for many leaders extreemly hard to find. Most managers I know fall down on controll – to be on the “safe side”. “Safe side” actually means mediocre side.