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Leadership Lessons #2: Necessity

Arvid Buit | 29 April 2020

Today we discuss the concept of necessity. Definitions are important, as we talked about in the previous article, so let’s look at this word: necessity.
If the leader get’s the ship safely in the harbour: make sure he leaves the ship.

A necessity is always something that is both required and indispensable. So people have to want it, and people should not be able to go on without it. That might sound a bit theatrical to you, if it concerns leadership. But it really isn’t.   Necessity in this perspective, is all about the collective we’ve talked about before. A leader cannot live, grow or act without a collective to lead. The other way around, the collective cannot live without a leader.   Or can they? Actually that is the question we are going to talk about today. Because in a lot of cases they actually can. Because there is a difference between a leader and a director. In later articles we will have a look at the psychological differences of the two, but for now it is about these two roles.   View the leader as this stereotypical dominant, decisive and strict person, steering the ship through the storm. But the director, and you can also use the word governor, is more of a diplomat. Being reciprocal, this man or woman is able to connect with the people within the collective and create a personal relation.   In the world of executive search, experts look at the resume of a candidate, sometimes take a personality test, and conduct a lot of interviews and meetings with people inside the new company. But that’s the wrong start. Because you cannot connect a certain type of leader, if you’re not aware of the fase a collective is in.   We typically see two types of fase. First we have the fase of growth/change or crisis. This is the fase we want the typical leader to join the collective. But, and this is a big but, as soon as the collective is in a more calm fase, recovering, consolidating, stabilizing, we need the director or governor type to run the collective.   Please let me tell you a great story, to make you understand why this is the case. It is based on scientific research done by Professor Leo Witvliet, at the Nyenrode Business University.   Let’s say you are moving to another city and just unpacked all your furniture and setting up the house with your family. You obviously need to find a new dentist, as the other one is 300 miles away. So you are checking out two new dentists, you want to meet before you decide.   The first dentist you visit, is in this beautiful office, in this nature rich surroundings. You arrive on time and the assistant gives you both a cup of coffee and a friendly smile. In the waiting room you read some nice magazines and everything looks good and smells nice. You feel very comfortable and exactly on schedule this lady dentist invites you to the treatment room. She shows a warm and very caring personality, welcomes you to the city and asks how the children are doing on the new school. The treatment room is colourful and the chair moves to the flat position as the dentist is going to check your teeth. But just before she is putting the mirror inside your mouth to check, you see a strange thing. Her hand is a bit shaky…   The other dentist is in this industrial area and it is hard to find. You cannot park your car properly and just in time you arrive. No assistant to welcome you and the waiting room is grey and smells like a hospital. Some three month old magazines are places on this little table and the dentist is twenty minutes behind schedule. As soon as he calls your name, you stand up and walk towards the sound. This old man with eyebrows like an owl, is sitting there and points towards the chair. You are absolutely not feeling comfortable, but anyway: you take place. And just before he puts the little mirror in your mouth, you see the wall behind him. There are six framed diploma’s hanging there, two of which are from Harvard Medical School.   Question to the respondents in this research was: which dentist would you choose? And that’s where the magic happened. Because if you are not in pain and just there for a yearly check-up, you will probably choose the nice lady in the first case. But as soon as the pain is building up, you will go for competence and choose the old man with the Harvard education.   Let this sink in for a minute. People tend to listen to less likable people that are competent, but only in a situation that
  • they are not able to solve themselves
  • there is a certain amount of pain
  And if people are just fine, they like someone to help them, connect and be nice and reciprocal. Exactly why you should always make this distinction when covering the subject matter of leadership.   If a company is just fine, don’t hire a leader. And if the shit hits the fan: don’t hire this director/governor type. They will endlessly organise meetings and sessions and debates until the ship has sunk. But if the leader get’s the ship safely in the harbour: make sure he leaves the ship. Because the character of these people dictates, that if you take them on board again for the next journey, they will probably steer the ship into a next storm intentionally. Purely out of boredom and an urge to show their skills and value again. It’s all about a quest for recognition. And as long as the collective is willing to pay this price, life is good. But if the collective is not, it’s a recipe for disaster. Or an accident waiting to happen. Or fill in your own metaphor.   So the point I would like to make, is that leadership is not always necessary. Only if the collective is in a fase of growth, change or crisis, it’s a good match. In the first article we took the definition of a leader, being this man or woman ultimately responsible for the strategy of a collective. Take in mind that if all is good, and there is no storm, the ship can just continue on the chosen course. And you don’t need this person changing it all the time. People just want to enjoy the trip and ocean view.  

For this moment, let’s see what the lessons are:

  1. We only need leadership if the collective is ready for it
  2. The collective needs a leader in times of growth, change or crisis
  3. If they are just enjoying the trip, get a director/governor personality to keep control
  4. People accept a dominant leader, but only if they experience pain and urgency
  5. As long as there is no pain involved, people look for reciprocity and connection
  Read Casestudy with Juliet: A breath of fresh air to learn more.   If you would like to know more, feel free to send me an e-mail or add me as a connection on LinkIn.   The next subject we will discuss in this series is: Symbiosis.