From Directors to Connectors

by Didier Marlier on Friday March 13th, 2015

When asked about one of the main characteristics that leaders will need to have in the Disruption Economy, Gerd Leonhard, likes to answer: “They should evolve from directors to connectors”.

Business focused or socially connected?

When organizations go through rough seas, it is wise that their leaders demand from their people that they focus on tasks that will help the ship and its crew to survive the storm. “Bad weather management”, especially when the winds of disruption catch us having been over optimistic, unprepared or awaiting the waves on the wrong side, means clear orders, specific objectives and focused minds as we are in survival mode. This is solid leadership: Clarity, focus, alignment.

The only problem with that directive and clear style is that it creates stress, tension and is rarely conducive to high creativity, entrepreneurship, measured risk taking etc. On top of that, when we focus our people on their sole business, a silo mentality rapidly emerges. This may create inward looking, politics and fighting for shared resources. Soon a “civil war” will erupt, skirmishes first then, possibly solid personal or team enmities.

When such tensions appear, it is the right time for leaders to evolve in their role: from directors to connectors.

A connecting leader:

  • Allows time and space for his people to co-create clarity, meaning and ownership. In times of crisis, “My way or the highway” maybe appropriate as a leadership culture. But if that remains the prevailing style for too long, it will create a culture of obedience, passivity, risk avoidance and a total dependency on the leader. As explained earlier, this will not create an organization ready to create disruption, flexible, innovative and connected. Leaders who wish to re-engage their people “after the storm” so that they help the ship benefiting from the good winds, will allow time and space for people to re-own thinking, reflecting, strategizing, creating, daring, risking… Too often do I still see wonderfully well intentioned leaders that pack their team meetings agendas by activities in blocs of 15’, as if a moment of reflection or exploration on a less well defined theme could be dangerous.
  • Understands and encourages the power of informality: The Director of a Global Call Center in one of the world’s leading high tech company once discovered “the power of informality”: “I have two populations with almost 50% difference in terms of numbers of calls/day they respond to and number of cases they solve (his two leading performance indicators)… Do you know what the main difference between the two groups is? Smokers/Non Smokers. And smokers have the highest hit rate”. He then inquired what it was that the smokers did differently… And apart from taking smoking breaks outside of the building, gathering with the “addicted diaspora”, discussing about the last football game or barbecue with their family, they suddenly also connected and made breakthroughs on work related topics. Their unfortunate non smoking counterparts were too far behind to take relaxing breaks and hold informal conversations. So truly innovative connections failed to happen at their level. They desperately hanged on to the work procedures and were constantly behind.

  • Transforms his own style from transactional to relational: I must have published this clip some time ago already. The story is self-explanatory and shows that territorial and “intelligent” birds were at a solid disadvantage compared to less clever and more sociable breeds. In times of disruption, when a company seeks to become much more innovative, locking people behind closed doors offices, raising the fences between SBUs and/or functions, will only turn them into “Red Robbins”. Bridging, encouraging inquiry, facilitating connections, adopting generosity as a key corporate value, will turn them into “Titmice” or, even better, sociable and smart Red Robbins.

Two weeks ago, my partners and I started an ambitious development program for the top 500 leaders of a leading, global chemical group. Its Leadership team and their C.E.O. cannot be suspected, for a second, to be “flower-power” daydreamers. They focused their organization and people on delivering results in their personal zone of influence (BU’s, support functions), which will bring them in the category of “solid performers”. And they have proven that this was bringing results. But they also realized that, should they wish their organization to become truly innovative, entrepreneurial and disruptive, they should bet on connections, collective intelligence, curiosity and generosity. I truly look forward to take on that journey with them.

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3 Responses to “From Directors to Connectors”

  1. Didier, I find myself wondering if part of the reason the teams that spent 30′ of their time connecting with others in a more authentic and personal manner, from last weeks post, ranked highest because they were exhibiting qualities more like the Titmice – sharing lessons learned because a trusting bond had been established?

    In a sense, when you share something that is more “sensitive” with me then I trust you more allowing me to share something of myself with you. Thus, knowing one at more than a superficial level encourages trust and deeper collaboration to evolve much more naturally … and quickly. It transforms us chest puffing Robins into co-creative Titmice.

    I like it! Wonderfully courageous work. Move stealthily.

    • Thank you Charley, I think this is spot on: Vulnerability (lowering my guard), inconditionality (I trust you first), bridging (inquiring about the other’s “diversity”), being relational (and not only transactional) helps create the state which generates disruptive business results and innovation. Have a good week end, thank you for your kind comment!


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