The Sniper Conundrum

A friend recently told me about his boss. He said he’s a sniper. “What, he shoots people down?”, I asked. “No, you give him a target and he will hit it whatever what”, my friend replied. His boss is really good at what he does, an achiever, if you will. The trouble is, he is a really bad manager and leader. 
In most traditional organisations, or ‘Mechanistic Organisations’, you award people with status by making them in charge of other people. The more people are ‘under you’, the higher your impact and importance within the company. This is not a new experience. In fact, the Peter Principle from 1969 describes an aspect of this. According to this principle, people get promoted based on their performance in their current role, not based on the potential they have to be successful in a new role. This means that people get promoted until they reach their level of incompetence and remain there, doing something they are not actually that good in anymore. It’s a straight path to loneliness; accumulating signs that you matter because it doesn’t feel like it at all anymore in your work. Like running on a treadmill in a bland room and after years of doing that you’re still as unfit as you’ve always been. 


But it doesn’t need to be that way. There are many ways to appreciate good work and award status to people, not just making them in charge of others. A higher salary, freedom, independence, reduced working hours, or the ability to pick the most interesting problem to work on next, to name just a few. 
There is a new form of working on the rise, one that is not mechanistic, prescribed and hierarchical. All over the world we can see small innovators that do business and co-work in new ways. We call them Organic Organisations. These are organisations that are in balance with their context and always evolving. They are internally dynamic, with distributed decision making and shifting forms based on need and environment and purpose. In such organisations achievers (or snipers) add value by doing what they do best and they are appreciated for it. Leaders emerge and recede as necessary and as required by teams for a specific project at a specific time. You don’t need to manage a big group to be feel relevant and important. 
Mechanistic Organisations focus a great deal of their time and energy on the mechanics of their organisations. Office politics, power struggles and incredibly long approval paths are the results. 
Organic Organisations focus on the work, on being of value to their context (their community, their customers and clients, etc.), on actually going somewhere. They organise and re-organise as necessary in balance with their context and the results are remarkable.

Leadership is storytelling

Humans tell stories. Rarely do we tell these stories by sitting down with someone and say: “let me tell you a story my dear friend…”. No, but we express the story that we want to tell about ourselves through the decisions we take, how we behave and what we aspire. We experience our live as stories and we tell stories by how we live our lives.

A great story touches and moves you. They literally move us, because every good story is a journey and it takes us with it.. Great stories give meaning to our lives (i.e. religion), they enable us to identify with the protagonist and thus motivate us to do things we haven’t done (like a great documentary) or they give us metaphors how to navigate the complexities between good and bad, light and darkness, ego and consciousness (i.e. Star Wars, yes, really). 

I would claim that leadership is nothing but storytelling. Great leaders manage to tell multiple stories on multiple layers that are all coherent: the organisation, the individual and the external world. 

Within the macrocosm of the communities we live in, an organisation can be described as a single entity. Leaders who are capable story-tellers manage to see and describe the organisation as the protagonist. They can clearly describe what journey the organisation is on and why this journey is worthwhile. They can paint the picture of the obstacles that are necessary to overcome and how the sacrifice and effort is worthwhile because reaching the destination is not just nice, it’s important and necessary. 

On the individual level within the organisation, great leaders are capable of telling each employee the story of them as the protagonist; how what they do is enabling the organisation to reach the goal. 

Towards the external world, leaders can tell their potential clients and customers the story with THEM as the protagonist and their organisation as the support to reach THEIR goal. You are (or your product is) not Luke Skywalker. Your client is Luke Skywalker. You are the light-sabor that enables Luke to fulfil HIS journey; HIS story. Allegro has just achieved this beautifully in their Christmas Ad. For those who haven't see it: An old man orders over the internet a book to help him learn how to speak English and mostly we observe him do just that. In the end we learn that he went through this difficult journey because he wanted to connect with his small grand-child that grows up in England. Allegro is basically never shown, we only later realise that he ordered the language-learning book on the platform. What a beautiful way to be a light-sabor. 

A common mistake many leaders make is that they think of themselves as the protagonist of the story they tell. Those leaders never spark the intrinsic motivation of their employees and so they have to motivate with money, force and pressure. Leaders, who understand that they are not the protagonist but the guide (think of Dubledor, Gandalf or Obi Wan Kenobi) are capable of leading without force. 

Stories are incredibly powerful and we tell them whether we want to or not. Every leader should ask themselves what story they tell and if it’s the story they want to tell; if it’s the story that they should be telling if they want to reach their goals - not alone but with others. 

Reframeing Feedback

When I speak with people about Learning in organisations, the conversation regularly shifts quickly to a specific place: the training room. And yes, that's definitely a place where learning takes place. But taking a step back, I would say that this is not where the majority of the learning in an organisation takes place. Most learning happens, on the one hand, when we observe our colleagues - what do they do that is being rewarded, what do they ignore, what focus on, where are they particularly careful? On the other hand, it happens when our colleagues, our bosses or even people that work under us, comment either explicitly or implicitly about what we do. Call it what you want: voicing, commenting, social learning, informal learning or feedback. I like to call it feedback. And it's through feedback that we learn a lot if not almost everything. The problem is - we're not good at giving feedback and we're not good in receiving it. Receiving badly given feedback often times results in defence, or worse, counter-attacks. And more often than not, we don't give feedback to those around us, because we don't want to deal with whatever reaction we might get. There is a lot of potential and it's not being used. Instead of thinking of feedback as a nuisance to be avoided, we need to reframe it as a professional service to our colleagues, a normal thing to give and ask for, a daily routine. Just let that sink in for a moment - I think it would be an big step forward. 

I talked about this at a conference a while back. If you have a moment (well, around 15 mins), I'd love it if you would watch it tell me what you think - do you agree with my thoughts, or am I missing something? 

New Website

A while back, I decided that my website needed a breath of fresh air. I wanted it to look good on mobile phones and tablets as well as on the good old laptop and desktop computer. I also wanted to rethink how I can present myself honestly, clearly to anyone who might be interested in working with me. 

It's been a great exercise to draft the copy for the different sections, to get feedback on them from friends and colleagues and to redraft them and redraft them and redraft them until I was satisfied that they actually say what I do and offer, without hot air, catch phrases, or buzz-words (at least as little as possible of that). 

I also decided to move the platform where the website is hosted and went with Squarespace. I did this, on the one hand, because their interface is really simple and well designed, which helps me with my limited programming knowledge to change things and manage the website on my own, after it's been handed over to me by the designer. On the other hand, I chose them because they appear to sponsor almost every Podcast I listen to. It's my current favorite way to be entertained while walking places, traveling or driving, so I wanted to support those who support those that make something that gives me so much joy. 

The design comes from the capable mind and hands of Pawel Hawrylak of haveasign. He is my go-to person whenever I need professional design work. What can I say: he's really good. You should hire him too. 

The website has been live for a few weeks now, but I wanted to wait to promote it until I have the video of a talk I recently gave, so that, by the time you have read all this, you can also enjoy a little film and who doesn't like a little film? Please let me know what you think about the talk, what I missed, what you liked, etc. And also, please let me know what you think about the new website, ok? I would be most thankful!