Transitioning from a Bossy Boss into a Digital Age Leader [Series Conclusion]

Now that we are to the end of our 8 POST SERIES, BRAD SZOLLOSE AND ROB HIRSCHFELD INVITE YOU TO SHARE IN OUR DISCUSSION ABOUT FAILURES, FIGHTS AND FRIGHTENING TRANSFORMATIONS GOING ON AROUND US AS DIGITAL WORK CHANGES WORKPLACE DELIVERABLES, PLANNING AND CULTURE.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our discussion about digital management over the last seven posts. This series was born of our frustration with patterns of leadership in digital organizations: overly directing leaders stifle their team while hands-off leaders fail to provide critical direction. Neither culture is leading effectively!

Digital managers have to be two things at once

We felt that our “cultural intuition” is failing us.  That drove us to describe what’s broken and how to fix it.

Digital work and workers operate in a new model where top-down management is neither appropriate nor effective. To point, many digital workers actively resist being given too much direction, rules or structure. No, we are not throwing out management; on the contrary, we believe management is more important than ever, but changes to both work and workers has made it much harder than before.

That’s especially true when Boomers and Millennials try to work together because of differences in leadership experience and expectation. As Brad is always pointing out in his book Liquid Leadership, “what motivates a Millennial will not motivate a Boomer,” or even a Gen Xer.

Millennials may be so uncomfortable having to set limits and enforce decisions that they avoid exerting the very leadership that digital workers need! While GenX and Boomers may be creating and expecting unrealistic deadlines simply because they truly do not understand the depth of the work involved.

So who’s right and who’s wrong? As we’ve pointed out in previous posts, it’s neither! Why? Because unlike Industrial Age Models, there is no one way to get something done in The Information Age.

We desperately need a management model that works for everyone. How does a digital manager know when it’s time to be directing? If you’ve communicated a shared purpose well then you are always at liberty to 1) ask your team if this is aligned and 2) quickly stop any activity that is not aligned.

The trap we see for digital managers who have not communicated the shared goals is that they lack the team authority to take the lead.

We believe that digital leadership requires finding a middle ground using these three guidelines:

  1. Clearly express your intent and trust, don’t force, your team will follow it
  2. Respect your teams’ ability to make good decisions around the intent.
  3. Don’t be shy to exercise your authority when your team needs direction

Digital management is hard: you don’t get the luxury of authority or the comfort of certainty.

If you are used to directing then you have to trust yourself to communicate clearly at an abstract level and then let go of the details. If you are used to being hands-off then you have to get over being specific and assertive when the situation demands it.

Our frustration was that neither Boomer nor Millennial culture is providing effective management. Instead, we realized that elements of both are required. It’s up to the digital manager to learn when each mode is required.

Thank you for following along. It has been an honor.

When Two Right Decisions Make Things Wrong [Digital Management Series, 7 of 8]

In this 7th Installation IN AN 8 POST SERIES, BRAD SZOLLOSE AND ROB HIRSCHFELD INVITE YOU TO SHARE IN OUR DISCUSSION ABOUT FAILURES, FIGHTS AND FRIGHTENING TRANSFORMATIONS GOING ON AROUND US AS DIGITAL WORK CHANGES WORKPLACE DELIVERABLES, PLANNING AND CULTURE.

The Duality Trap is one digital management danger that’s so destructive, we felt this series would be incomplete without a discussion. It’s especially problematic for The Digital Native managers and often mishandled by traditionally trained ones too.

Each apple is delicious. Which would you choose?

Each apple is delicious. Which would you choose?

The Duality Trap occurs when there are multiple right answers to a question. How often does this happen? Every single time. In fact, it’s a side effect of good digital management. Why?

In hierarchical management, the boss is always right so there’s no duality. Since we’ve thrown out hierarchical decision making, every team action is potentially subject to review by everyone on the team. The very loose structure that allows individual autonomy and rapid response has the natural consequence of also creating cognitive friction when individuals approach problems differently.

These different approaches are generally all valid ways to progress.

Digital natives fundamentally understand choice duality and may present alternatives just to ensure team diversity. Unfortunately, while where may be multiple valid solutions, the team can only pick one [1]. Nine times out of ten, the team will simply pick and move on. In that outlier case, they are counting on you, their digital manager, to resolve the selection.

Here’s the trap: resolving a duality does not mean “picking the winner” because having a winner implies the choices were unequal. If you’re team is stuck then there are at least two good choices.

If you are a traditional manager, the temptation to become Ronald “the decider” Reagan is nearly irresistible. Under the title=authority to decide model, you must justify your salary with making a “right” decision. You’ve been waiting for this moment to exert your authority for days. But, unbeknownst to “the decider,” this big moment will immediately undermine the team’s autonomy. On the other hand, If you are a digital native then this is the moment you’ve been dreading because you’ve got to be decisive. Despite 5 to 10 really good choices, you have to make ONE. So, a digital native can appear to be indecisive. However, not deciding is the worst possible choice. So what should you do?

First, remember that teams are strengthened when they are clearly aligned around an intent.

Resolving the duality trap is an opportunity to emphasize your intent. The best approach is to ask your team to review the options again in light of your shared objectives. In many cases, they will be able to resolve the issue from that perspective. If not, then you should:

  1. validate all options could work
  2. have the team state desired outcomes that can be measured
  3. pick the option that most aligns with your intent
  4. ask if the option your team does choose fit the overall agenda of; speed of delivery but quality drops, quality of deep diving into the project (upping the quality) but you may miss a crucial deadline (this may narrow down your choices.
  5. ask the team to monitor for the results

In this case, even as you are driving a decision, you are still sharing the responsibility for the outcome with the team. It’s important for the team that you focus on the desired results and not on which course was chosen. It is very likely that any of the choices would work out and achieve positive outcomes.

So it’s OK to get out of the trap of picking “best” options when there are multiple right choices.  

In an age of ambiguity, it is easy to fall into the duality trap. Just remember, there is no one way to get it all done these days. Which means a GREAT people manager realizes 2 things; a) your people need more of your support than ever. This comes in the form of training, finding solutions, and building a team that has the right chemistry. And b) getting out of their way.

Get ready as we wrap up this series in post 8: Transitioning from a Bossy Boss into a Digital Age Leader.

[1] If you are in a situation where you an allow divergence for minimal cost (like which phone brand people use) then do not force your team to choose!

Leading vs. Directing: Digital Managers must learn the difference [post 5 of 8]

Fifth IN AN 8 POST SERIESBRAD SZOLLOSE AND ROB HIRSCHFELD INVITE YOU TO SHARE IN OUR DISCUSSION ABOUT FAILURES, FIGHTS AND FRIGHTENING TRANSFORMATIONS GOING ON AROUND US AS DIGITAL WORK CHANGES WORKPLACE DELIVERABLES, PLANNING AND CULTURE.

On the shouldersDigital Management has a challenging deep paradox: digital workers resist direct management but require that their efforts fit into a larger picture.

If you believe the next generation companies we discussed in post #4, then the only way to unlock worker potential is enable self-motivated employees and remove all management. In Zappos case, they encouraged 14% of their workers to simply leave the company because they don’t believe in extreme self-management.

Companies like W. L. Gore & Associates, the makers of GORE-TEX, operate and thrive very well in a team-driven environment… This apparently loosey-goosey management style has brought about hundreds of major multibillion-dollar ideas and made W. L. Gore a leading incubator of consistently great ideas and products for more than fifty years. To an outside observer it looks as though the focus is on having fun. But to the initiated, it is about hiring intense self-starters who contribute wholeheartedly to what they are doing and to the team, and most important, who can self-manage their time and skill sets.

— Liquid Leadership by Brad Szollose, page 154

Frankly, both of us—Brad and Robare skeptical. We believe that these tactics do enhance productivity, but gloss over the essential ingredient in their success: a shared set of goals.

Like our Jazz analogy, the performance is the sum of the parts and the players need to understand how their work fits into the bigger picture. A traditional management structure, with controlling leadership and über clear, micromanaged direction, backfires because it restricts the workers’ ability to interpret and adapt; however, that does not mean we are advocates of “no management whatsoever” zones.  

The trendy word is Holacracy.  That loosely translates into removal of management hierarchy and power while redistributing it throughout the organization.  Are you scared of that free-fall model?  If workers reject traditional management then what are the alternatives?

We need a way to manage today’s independent thinking workforce.

According to Forbes, digital workers have an even higher need to understand the purpose of their work than previous generations. If you are a Baby Boomer (Conductor of a Symphony), then this last statement may cause you to roll your eyes in disagreement.

Directing a Jazz ensemble requires a different type of leadership. One that hierarchy junkies —orchestra members who need a conductor—would call ambiguous…IF they didn’t truly know what was happening.

Great musicians don’t join mediocre bands; they purposely seek out other teams that are challenging them, a shared set of goals and standards that produce results and success. This may require a shift in mindset for some of our readers.

Freedom in jazz improvisation comes from understanding structure. When people listen to jazz, they often believe that the soloist is “doing whatever they want.” If fact, as experienced improvisers will tell you, the soloist is rarely “doing whatever they want”.  An improvisational soloist is always following a complicated set of rules and being creative within the context of those rules.  From Jazzpath.com

In the past generation, there was no need to communicate a shared vision: you either did what you were told, OR just told people what to do. And people obeyed. Mostly out of fear of losing your job. But, in the digital workforce, shared goals are what makes the work fit together. Players participate of their own will. Not fear.

Putting this into generational terms: if you were born after 1977 (aka Gen X to the Millennials) then you were encouraged to see ALL adults as peers.  In the public school system, this trend continued as the generation was encouraged to speak up, speak out and make as many mistakes as possible…after all, THAT is how you learn. And the fear of screwing up and making mistakes was actually encouraged, as teachers also became friends and mentors.  Video games simply reinforced the same iterative learning lessons at home.

Thousands of years of social programming were flipped over in favor of iterative learning and flattened hierarchy.  Those skills showed up just in time to enable us to survive the chaos of the digital work / social media revolution.

But survival is not enough, we are looking for a way to lead and win.

Since hierarchy is flat, it’s become critical to replace directing action with building a common mission.  In individual-centric digital work, there are often multiple right ways to accomplish the team objective (our topic for post 7).  While having a clear shared goals will not help pick the right option, it will help the team accept that 1) the team has to choose and 2) the team is still on track even if some some individuals have to change direction.

Just listen to the most complex work out there that has been influenced by Jazz; the late Jeff Porcaro, pop rock drummer and cofounder of Toto admits to being influenced by Bo Diddley for his drum riffs on the song Rosanna. Or if you are a RUSH fan you know that songs like La Villa Strangiato owe the syncopated rhythms, chord changes and drum riffs to Jazz.

Or the modern artist Piet Mondrian who invented neoplasticism, was inspired by listening incessantly to a particular type of jazz called “Boogie-Woogie.”

Participants in this type of performance do not tune out and wait for direction. They must be present, bring 100% of themselves to each performance, and let go of what they did in the last concert because each new performance is customized.

You have until our next post to cry in your beer while whining that digital managers have it too hard.  In the next post, we’ll lay out 12 very concrete actions that you should be taking as a leader in the digital workforce.

PS: Brad some important insights about how their childhood experience shapes digital natives’ behavior.  We felt that topic was important but external to the primary narrative so Rob included them here:

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