Phone Booths Don’t Exist Anymore…

“You can’t relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs but only after a struggle.”  -Timothy Dalton

The world has changed, and phone booths don’t exist anymore!

So, as leaders, maybe it’s time we put the Superman suits away.

For so long we have built up the wrong model for our leaders to emulate.  A model that has expected our leaders to serve as the “Superman” of their organization.

“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”

Leaders who are…

All knowing.

All capable.

All talented.

In other words, we expect our leaders to be all-powerful, super-beings.

And we act surprised when they’re not, when we find chinks in the armor.  When they are unable to live up to these expectations.

The real surprise…

Superman doesn’t exist and there are no “Superleaders” in any organization!

And for those leaders who try to put on that “Superman” suit each day, they often end up serving as a kryptonite, more than a protector and defender of their organization.  Leaders who proudly wear that “S” each day, often display it as a badge of courage and dedication, of all that they do in the name of the organization.  What they don’t understand, is that very same badge does more to diminish those they lead than to enhance the capacity of the organization.

In any organization, the tone of the culture is determined at the leader level.  It is a leadership responsibility, for better or worse.  And for that reason, the attitude that the leader puts forth can either heighten or diminish the capacity of the organization to grow, to learn.  Yet, when we place unattainable expectations on a leader or even those we lead, we effectively decrease the ability of the organization to serve as a dynamic learning community.

When a leader is willing to retire the “Superleader” (know it all) persona in favor of a more vulnerable, “Clark Kent” (learner) attitude, it serves as a display of vulnerability that changes the very dynamics of the organization.  For the hardest thing for most leaders to do is to appear vulnerable, exposed.  To reveal those chinks in the armor.  They see it as a sign of weakness.  A loss of power.

What most leaders don’t understand, it works in opposition to that theory.  Rather, we enhance our influence when we eradicate that “Superleader” theory.

Our leaders have to be able to face their shortcomings, in the name of learning.  When leaders allow themselves to be vulnerable, to open up as models for learning, they send that very same message across the entirety of the organization.  A model that provides others the permission to face their own areas of need and growth.  In other words, they create an environment that places an emphasis on the “dynamic” of learning, collaboration, and growth.

In an “expert” or “Superleader” environment, people are afraid to open up, to look as if they don’t know.  They hide their shortcomings, often to the detriment of the organization.  And inevitably, learning halts, people close up, collaboration, collegial support and trust deteriorate…and eventually, the organization, the leader, and all within suffer, often in dramatic ways.  And not only with the learning, but the overall culture.

If we are going to operate as “dynamic” learning cultures within our organizations, we have to create the environment for that to happen.

And ultimately, creating that environment begins with the leader….

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