Leaders, bosses, and bastards: we all know them, we’ve been them, and we’ve probably been all three at some point in each of our lives. What sets a leader apart from a boss or a bastard? Mickey and Colin dive into the distinguishing pair of features that lead in conjunction with one another: care and sense of direction—neither should be mutually exclusive and both can result in extraordinary economic value.
The Origin of Leaders, Bosses and Bastards
0:06 Colin: Thanks for joining us. “Leaders, Bosses and Bastards,” are you Americans so rude?
0:16 Mickey: We are, in many parts of the United States, masters of rudeness. In other places, we are much more decorous. But I think everybody has something get triggered when you hear those three words: leaders, bosses, and bastards. Ah, I have known them all.
0:37 Colin: Have you been them all?
0:39 Mickey: It’s early in this. I didn’t want to get to the self-flagellation so quickly. Yes, there is evidence and there are many people who could testify that I have been all three. And you, sir, have you found yourself leader, boss and bastard, or are you somehow more cleansed?
1:01 Colin: Well, I like to live in denial, but I think of course it could be said. It’s interesting, but the phrase is the truth of many of our experiences as being led by some people.
1:21 Colin: I was really fortunate to be part of a really significant study in the early nineties. Here in Australia we went to look at organizations and why people would want to do more than the normal and breakout, with a really smart guy called John Evans. When subjects talked informally about what leadership was like around them, those words came up again and again and again, as if they were truth.
1:48 Colin: I began to realize, the words were true. There’s something about them that spoke to everybody. I loved it from that point: that you could categorize people, and once you really get underneath it, play with what it’s about. What makes a leader, what makes a boss, what makes a bastard and what’s the differentiation? The confronting reality is that you can be all three.
2:15 Mickey: There’s something to revere about images that seem to resonate across cultures, across time, across generations, because they are a window to something truthful. When so many different people laughed, they had this smile of recognition, followed by some painful reminiscence when they kept hearing those words or same them for themselves.
2:44 Mickey: That’s what opened the window to: if this is so reliably a trigger, what’s the truth of that? How does it work? What has somebody show up as a leader in my life–somebody who I’m grateful for and we’ve gotten to a place where we might not have otherwise arrived at?
3:06 Mickey: Or a boss–somebody who seems rich with instruction. Or a bastard–somebody who I can’t tell cares a whole lot.
3:17 Colin: Well, they care about themselves, quite often. It’s careless, it’s not all that altruistic.
3:23 Colin: The other thing too as I began to pay attention to this language and this notion, which on one level does sound so unsophisticated, the more I looked at it, I thought, “There is some depth here.” A leader could be a bastard for one person, a boss for another person, and a leader for somebody else. You could actually be a leader, boss and bastard at exactly the same time, for different kinds of people.
3:59 Colin: That starts to do your head in, when you start to think about how you can become better at leading and less a bastard.
The Art of Connection
4:06 Mickey: That brings us to the reason we even care about this “Leaders, Bosses and Bastards.”
It’s a large, lifelong, pretty-darn-rich-so-far investigation into how the connection we have with one another affects both the enjoyment and the productivity of work.
4:36 Mickey: It could be all three, because I could be well connected to you, distracted and semi-connected to somebody else, and completely disconnected from a third. Do the same thing, and that difference in connection gives me radically difference results.
4:54 Mickey: One of the things I hope we get to with some enjoyment and a little rigor is, “How do you keep managing that quality of connection?” so I’m not accidentally a bastard when I thought I felt so “leaderly.”
5:20 Mickey: If you ask people, “Who was someone in your life who made an enduring difference? Whether they would call themselves a leader, you know they provided something that was a leading edge for your life that you still thrive on today.” Some of the things we’ve arrived at that create leader, boss or bastard, they report.
5:53 Mickey: Because this is so resonant, so archetypical, and it seems to get the attention of a lot of different people, you and people you respect looked into what explains that these archetypes seem to resonate so quickly.
The Balanced Need for Direction and Care
6:13 Mickey: You got to something I find to be both simple and really productive. What organizes our thinking to be able to tell, “Am I occupied in the bastard spot, boss spot or leader spot at a given moment, with a given set of people?”
6:40 Colin: Where you saw a leader who had a sense of direction, a sense of movement, and where we’re going, but was disconnected at the heart level, the care level, people were interested in the direction but were still observers of the direction rather than participants.
7:18 Mickey: Also, tentative about the direction. They respected it, it made sense, but they didn’t find themselves wholeheartedly pulled into it.
7:28 Colin: That’s what I call a good boss–a kind hearted he or she who’s thought that out; however, when we saw a boss who actually understood “who I was”–not just what I could contribute–the need for detail on that sense of direction could be a lot less.
8:00 Colin: When you think about that given the world we’re in, into prototyping and emergence where there often isn’t the detail, with sufficient and the right kind of connection or care, you can live inside that complexity and keep moving and enjoy it as best you can. The boss just needed a shift of adding care into the equation.
8:29 Colin: In other words, it’s economically rational to care. It actually saves time. It’s not some touchy-feely crap that nice people do. Just in business results terms, caring creates extraordinary value.
8:58 Mickey: There’s something innately human and needed about being connected as human beings who deserve to be heard and understood. That’s in this care domain. And in that other domain you talked about, there is this sense of direction, of destination, and some notion of how we might get there–not all laid out in perfect detail, because as you said, we go through these cycles of discovery and we can fill out our plan as we live our way toward it. But all care with no semi-pragmatic understanding of how we might get there, that can cause damage too.
9:50 Colin: When we first began playing with this notion, we had four categories, which were: leader, boss, bastard and silly old bastard. What you just described is a “silly old bastard,” which is the person who cares with no sense of direction. In the end, that decays. You get dithering, paternalism, and there’s no growing up occurring.
10:22 Colin: The sense of direction without any sense of care, that’s boss-like. You can’t fault it in the sense of direction, but you don’t liberate the capacity to live inside complexity. All care without direction is dithering and patronizing. In the end, you want to go somewhere else because you want to make a contribution.
10:50 Colin: We know from your research, if there’s not a place for me to make a contribution, then I’m actually tired and withdrawn.
Looking Forward with Care and Destination
11:03 Mickey: In the work we’ve done with senior leaders using horses, one of the early things we want them interested in is to care about what it’s like for the horse. You have to learn to speak “horse” and how the horse processes information, thinks, and feels. That’s the care part of the equation. Early on, people are enamored with how if they connect well with the horse that way, the horse actually becomes less resistant and more cooperative.
11:49 Mickey: The next thing we add in is to create something to do with the horse. The earliest thing we do is to have somebody take the horse away from the herd and have them walk to a distant tree. What would happen is these people who were all caught up with feeling for the horse would start looking down on their horse. What would happen? The horse would stop. All you have to do is lift your head up and look at the tree, and the horse can feel the sense of direction and destination.
12:31 Mickey: Now you have those two together: care for the animal and a bridge to your destination.
Fear of Failure, Not Fear of Change
12:42 Colin: What does that look like in strategy terms? Let’s take it inside an organization, because I don’t think everybody wants to think of themselves as a horse.
12:55 Mickey: I think of it mostly when there’s change in an organization, when you get new senior leadership coming in, a new CEO, chairman of the board, other significant leadership turnover, or when there’s a major divestiture, an acquisition, or merger. When there’s significant change in a business both direction and care come to the fore. A lot of people say that people fear change, but I haven’t found that to be the case. People fear failure.
13:33 Mickey: If the change threatens their ability to make a useful difference and be valuable, people get very resistant. If you want people to thrive in the face of change, they need people who care about what it’s like for them to go through it, and they also need something to contribute to.
13:55 Mickey: Maybe in the early days we don’t know the next three years, strategically; however, we do know we have to integrate our IT systems, we do know we have two completely different and incompatible management systems, etc. There are some things we do know. Let’s take those on and we are going to in the next 90 days take the best from each and build our new system.
14:32 Mickey: Treating people with dignity (that’s the “care” aspect) and giving them a job to take care of (the new system) gives them momentum and a chance to make a difference. In that, you discover a lot about the future.
14:48 Mickey: Almost all strategy now is emerging. It’s not known ten years out, but we always do know something. If you give people that destination, but they don’t sense you care about creating an opportunity for them to contribute to, you drop the care part. If you get people together and tell them how much you feel for them going through the tumult and change, but you don’t give them some place to go to, then you’ve lost the bridge. There are just cycles of that. We do what we need to meet the known objective and let what we learn keep illuminating what the strategic opportunities are.
15:36 Colin: You just alerted to something else that sits inside of that. And I agree with you; I hear a lot of people say, “Our people are change-fatigued.” And I don’t think people are fatigued with change. They’re fatigued with badly organized and designed change. Transformation, done well, can be invigorating and enjoyable. And it can be tiring, but name one thing in your life that you’ve felt good at that hasn’t been a little bit of exhaustion.
Why Followers Seek Answers about Direction
16:15 Colin: And the reverse is true in thinking about it from the other side. If you’re taking care of leading people and you’re getting lots of questions about detail, that’s also a signal of insufficient care.
16:32 Colin: The number of times I get asked, “Can you come and help us with role clarity?” But when I hear that again and again, the first place I look is not is there insufficient information, but is there lack of care causing that request.
16:50 Colin: It’s very difficult to ask for care. You can only ask for information, for clarity of direction. So the asking for care can come in the form of “I want more information.”
17:10 Mickey: This notion of care deserves more than just shallow consideration. It’s not just the personal and emotional concern for another human. It’s also concern for the situation they’re in. If people don’t think that I really understand what they’re in, how it works, what its opportunities are, what its risks are, they experience that as a lack of care and it will have them feel like they’re in danger. They’re endangered because someone who has power doesn’t understand their situation.
17:47 Mickey: That will have me ask questions. I want assurances about how the future is going to go, because I can’t count on you to know what I’m actually in, so maybe you can give me more detail on where we’re going. Care is caring about the conditions, the circumstances, and the people who occupy those.
18:08 Mickey: It’s amazingly inconsistent with the nature of being human, to act like clarifying the plan can in any way make up for having a connection with people in which they feel respected, included, and regarded.
18:38 Mickey: People are also constantly looking for “what’s the path forward?” We need both. We need care and the destination. We need the path and care for the people who are trodding the path.
Care and Confrontation
18:57 Colin: It’s an interesting challenge here, because care is scary. You can read books, you can work out how to use Gantt charts and all of that, but the care thing can be confronting.
19:16 Colin: “I’m introverted. I’m not someone who has high emotion. Does that mean I’m never going to be a leader? Is it impossible because I don’t have those things?” We’re not asking we become teddy bears, are we? No, in fact care can be confronting.
19:30 Mickey: Three months ago, I saw a relatively new CEO, who is in his first six months. The question is, “Who’s actually running this company going forward?” Some people were going to leave and some people were going to stay.
19:57 Mickey: There was someone that the CEO thought was really talented and had a whole lot to give and he was getting in his own way with his apparent disregard for view of others. Intellectually brilliant and he keeps occurring to other people on the executive team that if they ever say anything inconsistent with his point of view that he’s disinterested.
20:32 Mickey: The CEO sat him down, in an act of care, and he said, “There are two things I want you to know: you’re one of the more talented people whom I’ve met in my thirty year career; and you are one of the people most at risk of not making it through the transition of this company. I want us to talk about that, because if you don’t make it through, it will be us squandering a chance to profit from your really unusual talents.”
21:13 Colin: That is a beautiful act of care. That’s not “touchy-feely, blah blah.”
21:28 Mickey: It’s not to be shallowly understood, this notion of care. And also, what you said earlier about change—it’s so difficult to discuss change because there are so many hackneyed things said about it. There is no question that life itself is dynamic, and just about the time I think I’ve got it all together and things are working brilliantly and beautifully, something in the conditions changes.
22:10 Mickey: We know that life is dynamic; it’s constantly moving. Do we help people profit from that movement, actually enjoy that movement, keep discovering new things we can do given the movement? It takes both–care and bridge–to be able to do that. If you don’t have both, you end up having people who don’t engage in the change as a chance to make an even bigger difference.
22:41 Mickey: Organizational revolution is an act of desperation for people who are bad at evolution. What you said hit me—this care and bridge duality is important to be able to lead evolving enterprise.
No Care, No Bridge, All Bastard
23:03 Colin: Let’s take this thing with bastards: I say “bastard” and others say, “b—.” Bastard is the identity and act of no care and no bridge.
23:17 Mickey: There are people who get trapped in a way of being that is demand without care or bridge. Usually the way you find out what is important to that person is after you do something wrong in their eyes; you lack that information ahead of time, so you are constantly in danger of being a disappointment.
23:54 Mickey: A bastard is a person who has their own ideals and notions of what great looks like, but they don’t actually do the work to work with people. If they did, those would be shared ideals, which would be an act of care. And they don’t do the work to have a sense of the journey and know if they’re going to be on that journey with others, it will be shared. “No, I’m just going to sit over here, with my right to judge.”
24:27 Colin: I used to report to a CEO who I think fits pretty much in this category. In many ways this person was good at care and actually was brilliant at seeing the future, but was very inconsistent, around the “care” piece particularly.
24:54 Colin: I began to know this person was a bastard and I didn’t want to be there anymore, because he would walk into a meeting and the first thing that would go through my head was, “I hope he’s had a good day.” The moment that’s gone through your head, what is the capacity for anyone else in that room to be brilliant, smart, brave, connected? Zero.
25:14 Colin: He was only connected to his own circumstances and fears.
25:19 Mickey: There are a lot of people who occur as bastards, who in their own minds just think of themselves as having very high standards. Frequently, it’s people who don’t stop and consider that maybe they have some abilities that are unique to them.
Making a Measurable Impact as Leaders
Rather than decide we should all see what they see and think what they think, maybe understand we all have different things to give. If you care enough to cause the connections that allow us to build the bridge together, we could produce some amazing things.
26:01 Mickey: That’s what I care about as we go forward in our podcast. The thing that we’ve both lived our way to caring about is proving you can produce bigger results faster but managing both care and direction.
26:29 Mickey: I like what you said about the economics of care. Caring actually has economic benefit, as does helping people clarify the bridge to where you’re going. This is about making a measurable impact and doing it with less time, money, and stress than a boss or a bastard.
27:00 Mickey: What’s the leader doing? Getting a lot more done with less time money and stress—
27:05 Colin: —for themselves, as well as for others. And if they happen to have a family, it will include their family, by the way. There’s a whole lot here about wellbeing that we don’t even want to get into today.