Dear Boss: Be More Like Yoda, Less Like Superman

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Photo: Pixabay/EsaRiutta

What's your leadership style? Are you a friend, fixer, or fighter?

When discovering your leadership style, it’s easy to slip into some bad habits. Some of the best-intentioned leaders are guilty of micromanaging, changing directions, and trying to be “just one of the gang.” We’ve all been there, but how do we bypass these impulses in the future?

Jonathan Raymond is a CEO at Refound, a personal growth teacher, and the author of Good Authority. I recently interviewed Jonathan for the LEADx podcast to learn more about his thoughts on what real leadership means to him. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity)

Kevin Kruse: What do you even mean by good authority, and is it the opposite of bad authority?

Jonathan Raymond: Yeah, so what I think historically, let's go back really briefly. So old school authority, command and control, top down, the omniscient omnipotent CEO or boss, whatever, usually a man in the past. Not so much these days, but that kind of old line authority, right? Where you do it for the boss. It's not that that model doesn't exist in the world anymore, it's still around; we still see it popping up here and there. But what's happened over the last 10 or 15 years in particular, especially in North America, but elsewhere too, there was this snapback. We went all the way to the other extreme where we’re― at least pretending to be― no authority. That “We're all on the same team,” “Let's all get along,”, “Isn't this such a wonderful culture?,” “We don't have an org chart!”, all those kinds of, I would say, aspirational ideas. Which was in the realm of no authority.

I think we realized, well, that doesn't work either. You can say we're all on the same team, but if you have somebody's paycheck in your hands, well there's a different power dynamic at work. What good authority is, is attempting to strike that middle ground. It's not ‘all knowing, all powerful’ authority. It's not ‘no authority’ either. It's in that spirit of mentoring, coaching, being able to acknowledge your role as an authority to say, “Hey look, I'm in charge of this team. I have certain responsibilities, I'm exposed to certain data, I have certain pressures that the people on the team don't have. At the same time, it's my job to create a space for other people to discover their own creativity, and to take personal ownership of their work.”

If you think of it as maybe a 20-degree slope of authority, rather than a 91 or a zero one.

Kruse: One of my favorite things you wrote was we should not actually be striving to be like Superman as a leader. Who's a better choice?

Raymond: So if you think about the tagline we use a lot in Refound, its ‘More Yoda, Less Superman.’ When most leaders come to me, they already implicitly know, “You know what? I'm actually being Superman, or Superwoman. I'm constantly running around, chasing everybody. Having the same conversation about company values. My door's always open, people are always asking me for nine million things. I don't have, in my week, an actual space to create. I don't have it, it's not there.”

The problem is that when you're, as a manager or a team leader, when you're in that Superman state, there's no room for anybody else. There's no room for anyone else to discover their inner leader, their inner manager. You've taken up all the room. You're the go-to guy, or gal. You're the one that everybody knows, whether they say it out loud or not, you're the one that's going to check it before that email goes out. You're the one that's going to follow up with the customer. You're the one that's going to track down that missing data. You're the one that's going to mediate the inner personal conflict when things get too ugly. You're the one, and this is what happens with leaders who care. We don't know how to modulate our care.

We don't know how to set a boundary and say, “You know what? I care so much that I'm going to stop interfering. I'm going to let you make mistakes, and I'm going to be here to help you grow if you're willing to look at your mistakes and say, you know what? I really screwed that up. I don't know why. Can you help me get to the bottom of it?”

That's Yoda, right? That's the Yoda style of leadership that says, “Hey, I'm here to support you. I'm not here to solve all your problems.” The Superman leader is the one who's constantly running around saving the day. The joke that I made in the book is right. He never takes Lois Lane aside and says, “Hey, so that time when you decided to go down the dark factory in the middle of the night with nobody around to find out the evil genius…? Maybe don't do that next time. What was your game plan there?”

There's a huge pivot to make, and a lot of my clients, they started mirroring it back to me. They said, “Oh yeah, I totally Supermanned that.” People start using it as lingo, so that's when it really started to catch on.

Kruse: You say when it comes to leadership there's really three main archetypes. Talk about that.

Raymond: I think of them as leadership and/or management archetypes. What I call “the fixer,” “the fighter,” or “the friend.” It's not that you're only this thing; this is the really important thing. This is both a shadow, and light. This is good and bad, best and worst of us in these archetypes. I'll start with the one in the middle, which is the fighter.

{With) “the fighter,” you always have a new idea. You're always pushing things forward, you never take no for an answer. You're always driving, there's always momentum. What's the good side of that? The good side of that is that's fun. It's fun to work for somebody like that, where you feel like you're part of something, the train is moving, there's vision. Fighter style leaders and managers–they have a sense of where they're going, or at least they're good at persuading other people they do. The shadow side of that is, it's really hard to keep up with that fighter. It's really hard to deal with the constantly shifting priorities and tasks, and, “Well, I thought we were doing this thing, but now we're doing this thing.” It places an enormous amount of torque on your team if you don't keep that fighter gift, that fighter impulse in check. That's the fighter.

“The fixer” is the one who's really the most closely, easily identified as such. In the sense that the fixer's the one who's always checking every email before it goes out, catches every typo, nothing goes out unless it's absolutely perfect, gets really upset about minor details and glitches, which is not to say that minor details and glitches are not important. They're critical. That's the best of the fixer is their sense of craftsmanship. Is the job done well in excellence? That's the best of the fixer.

The problem with that gift, again, unchecked, is everybody feels like, “Well I can never do it well enough for them.” It's never good enough for the fixer. To be able to dial that back, and choose your battles as a fixer. Realize, “You know what? This is a learning opportunity for somebody because this one here, this is not okay that this went out this way. You know what? I can actually let this other one go.” I'm more of the fighter than the fixer, that took me many, many years to be like, “You know what? It's just not that important. I'm going to let that one go. I'm going to find another moment to make that teaching point.”

The last of the three is much more and more common these days, but are called the “friend” archetype. This is the one who's everybody's pal. Really thinking about culture, thinking about the vibe. Their door is always open, their collegial, they often talk about business as family, “We're all on the same team.” That's the good side, and the bad side. The good side warm and welcoming vibe, people know they're somebody to talk to. The downside is, there's always somebody to talk to. The friend style leader struggles with boundaries, struggles with accountability. Says, “You know what? We actually talked about this before. I don't want to spend another half an hour talking about it. I need you to go do a piece of work on this. Then you come back to me with what you found.”

The friend leader in mentoring, when I work with friend type leaders, is I really try to get them to see that the people on your team, they don't want you to be there best friend. I promise you, they don't want you to be there. They want firm, clear expectations. They want firm boundaries. They want it delivered kindly, they want it with compassion. That's the best at what you do. If you don't set boundaries and hold people accountable, you're missing the better half of the equation.

Kruse: I always like to challenge our listeners to get at least 1% better every single day. What's a specific thing you'd like to challenge our listeners to try today?

Raymond: Think of one thing, one frustration, or worry, or concern that you have about one person that you work with. Maybe it's an employee, maybe it's a peer, who knows. Ask yourself, “What is that thing? What is that frustration, or worry, or concern that I haven't voiced?” Write it down, that's step one. That's the thing we most often don't do is we just pretend it isn't there.

There's a two-part challenge. First, write it down. Say, “You know what? I've been meaning to tell Susan about… I've been meaning to talk with her about her, she's always on her phone in meetings. It's distracting everybody else. I haven't said anything.” That's step one.

Then step two, is go and talk to Susan and tell her that you've been noticing something that's a little worrisome, and you just want to make sure that you don't hold it back for her.

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.

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Kevin Kruse
CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE trial of the LEADx platform at https://page.leadx.org/demo.