On Unicorns and Fairy Dust
I’ve rejected the “savior-leader” model but still feel pressure to be one. Savior-leaders arrive on unicorns and solve problems by sprinkling fairy dust over people and organizations. Poof! Everything is magically fixed.
Internal pressure to have answers presses me to give answers. I want to be the savior. Often I believe I have answers. Not having answers is usually better.
The “burden of knowing” – even if I don’t really know – makes it hard to keep my mouth shut.
Answers given are less useful
than answers discovered.
Expectations of others press me to provide answers. Some still believe in the savior-leader. They’re waiting for me to reach into my secret fairy dust pouch and make everything right. When leaders succumb to this pressure they create dependent relationships that weaken.
Savior-leaders inevitably crash and burn
when the fairy dust runs out.
Share techniques – let others execute. I have a suit-case full of techniques I’ve learned over the years. For example, when you explain what to do, always lead with vision – give why’s before what’s. That’s not fair dust. That’s a real-world technique that others can run with, in their own way.
The difference between savior-leaders and leaders who share techniques is authority. Everyone wins when individuals are enabled and have authority.
Rise above the savior-leader syndrome:
- Lead with more questions and fewer answers.
- Answer with – not for.
- Enable and authorize. Teach how and then release.
- Praise the accomplishments of others.
- Enable and encourage others to teach others.
How do you deal with the savior-leader syndrome?
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I think savior leaders suffer from arrogance. This arrogance stops them to empower others. Other leaders in turn empower others and hence delegate authority. Savior leader keeps authority. So, perhaps the best way to deal with savior leader syndrome is to inculcate humility. Savior leaders should think from others perspective to get rid of such syndrome. It also appears those savior leaders are like traditional personnel manager who believe in treating human as an assets. They also believe in giving instructions and do not believe in participative management. I agree that they should appreciate and praise the others contribution and do not seek others appreciation for their work. Savior leaders should believe more in giving than taking.
“Answers given are less useful than answers discovered.” -Just beautiful! I loved giving answers like unicorns love rainbows.(You know they love rainbows.) How much better is it when your team has the answers and you get to focus on questions? Savior-leadership takes some time to undo, but it’s worth the effort.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy these brief words of wisdom every morning. I know they are intended for leaders in a more corporate world, and certainly I can apply these ideas in that arena. But I find that these thoughts on leadership are especially helpful when I think about my primary leadership role right now – I am a parent. You could put different pictures, titles and subtitles with your words and have a really great parenting blog! Thanks for helping me to start off my mornings on the right foot.
Dan – great post! So much of real leadership depends on how much one is willing to park their ego…being more selfless than selfish…more focused on “we” rather than “me”
Having suffered from the “white knight syndrome” for most of my business and personal life I needed this. I have a need to fix things – a lot of this is ego but it is also compassion. But sometimes my compassion gets in the way of doing the best thing – nothing. Letting others learn by their own mistakes (and successes) is difficult in the short term but better in the long term.
Now – I need to follow my own advice Today.
I find this column to be good advise for those of us who do training as well. I try to teach through discovery, asking more questions, letting them find the answers. Thanks for this reminder!
Not having answers is different from not giving information. Everyone needs to have the same facts to come to a decision that makes sense. Saviors may be (knowingly or unknowingly) withholding information from their team, which slows down the process and makes them want to be the ultimate decision maker.
Having worked for several savior managers in the past; I too have developed a coaching style of leadership that is focused on solving the trigger – rather than the symptom of the event.
Thanks for sharing your wisdom!
I agree with Christy and Linda this morning. Your blogs are helpful in all walks of life.
Being familiar with my comments, as you are, you know I will bring the teacher point of view today also.
Good teachers pass along knowledge and can be very competent at it. But great teachers ask questions and then have the patience to wait for the answers. Wonderful new insights come if you can be comfortable allowing the ‘wait time’ needed to birth unique answers. Thinking in new ways takes time.
Hey Dan, give why’s before whats – nice. and Why i am responding is because this is very true of why many leaders crash – and the what is – because I’ve been there, and go there every now and then but fortunately for short visits and without the same ‘ending’.
The problems in an organisation are (mostly) not of your making (unless it is your organisation) – and the solution is medium to long term in the same way the problems that are difficult are usually medium to long term in their genesis.
I also find it useful to remind myself the organisation has survived to this point so the real question is, in terms of why as a business we are here, “what is critical today “.
As a Saviour leader you can get caught up with what everybody knows to be a problem, instead of dealing with those matters which really matter but aren’t necessarily on the surface – and the best place to work on those is in building the culture of the organisation, leading with vision, engendering trust and knowing that to earn respect as a leader, it’s often best done from behind.
nice to be back
I have the same kind of “basic personal operating system” as Brent, wanting to always help fix something. Since 1993, I have been using a cartoon of a wagon rolling on wooden Square Wheels with a cargo of round rubber tires – the metaphor is about continuous continuous improvement as well as being about engagement and innovation and motivation.
People KNOW what needs to be done differently. They just need something I call “dis-un-empowerment” – a leader who can involve and engage and who can help them to eliminate the roadblocks to improvement.
So, that is kinda like how I see my role. I always see opportunities for improvement in how things work (systems and processes) as well as how people can be engaged.
One of the things that caused me to pop in here — I also really like Dan’s posts and thinking!! – is his typo: He initially said “FAIR” dust in the email push instead of “fairy” dust, and I was thinking that his thought on “Fair Dust” might be a better reality — we ought to start selling cans of this stuff (like a can of “whoopass” that you can buy) and putting these things on leaders’ desks as a reminder.
Fairness is one of those basic leadership operating principles that can dis-un-engage and thus better intrinsically motivate people in the workplace to make improvements and thus improve working conditions.
You can see the basic approach to this at http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com/category_s/115.htm and there are LOTS of articles on my blog around these same themes…
For the FUN of It!
At interesting post with good insight. I agree in principle that the ‘savior leader’ comes on unicorn and try to play his magical wand to bring a total change at the organization for its turn around in no time. It’s a fact of life that when things go wrong ‘the savior’ is called to save the sinking ship.
He can do miracles and he does that by taking people along. Facts-finding exercise takes ‘the top of agenda’ list and with the select team of core people coupled with refined approach & proven techniques he brings back the lost glory.
‘The savior leaders’ in true sense are boon if given a free hand to go ruthlessly in changing the work culture of any organization. In the commercial world, things work this way only and expected results do come if the chosen savor is of right type and has full support of the top management/Board.
I am with you all the way on this one Dan. I did the savior leader and crash and burn was heading my way. I adhere to all of your points now and life is great and those I work with are so much better too. Great advice!
The savior-leader is sometimes necessary, mostly during a crisis. As I often say (and wish I could remember who first said it), ‘organizations are full of people anxious to be told what to do’. The trick is to: a) only use the savior-leader approach in order to keep the patient from catastrophe, b) practice the non-savior leader techniques you outline during this period, c) know when to exit the approach, d) know what kind of leadership is required once things begin stabilize (not after they stabilize).
Incidentally, some consultants might want to learn from your thinking about being a savior-leader. I’ve seen them take this approach and it’s always a disaster.
i Agree with Majority of this post with the Exception of “Answers given are less useful than answers discovered.” While answers discovered are glorified at time of discovery. Answers given to me are just as useful as discovered ones, b/c an Answer is just that, they are an “Answer.” Just like discovered answers they are not always fully understood at 1st. Now this is just my opinion, i might be wrong but my personal experience has proven this true for me. Yet like i said at 1st i agree with most of this post, for example i believe a leader leads by example, leads in love and leads by serving those whom that leader leads. That is a leader is not served by those being led but instead serves them.
Answers. THAT is an interesting issue in and of itself. And something to play with for a couple of reasons.
I had been telling a joke during training sessions for a couple of years. It goes like this:
Two caterpillars watched a beautiful butterfly float by. The one caterpillar says to the other, “You’ll never get me up in one of those things.”
Get it? Well, I did and I thought everyone else did too. I was using it in sessions on change.
ONLY when I was in Hong Kong, and while presenting to an English speaking Chinese audience and their reaction was “muted” did I ask them to chat about it amongst themselves so that they might tell me The Answer.
Well, like always, this group process is an enabling one and I got a LOT more than I expected. I got 22 different answers to the simple joke, including my favorite: “My mother was a moth.”
I elaborate on this a good bit on my blog at http://performancemanagementcompanyblog.com/2012/01/18/funny-thoughts-and-ideas-on-teaching-the-caterpillar-to-fly/
and I have a full-blown article called, “Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly” that gets into a good bit of detail about change and involvement and similar.
But the key is that, “It’s Dangerous to Know The Answer.” The reason is that once you have “gotten” it, you WILL quit thinking of other possibilities. In organizations, that causes all kinds of resistance to change, especially when the person who knows the answer is The Boss. (Boss spelled backwards is self-explanatory).
By NOT knowing the answer, one will continue to search for possibilities.