Leadership at a Distance—Gardener Beats Chess Master

The crisis is accelerating digitalization. Distributed collaboration from home rather than together in an open-plan office is suddenly the standard. But how does leadership at a distance succeed? Some incitements to reconsider from the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership.

The corona pandemic puts states, companies and each and every one of us in a crisis mode. But this crisis is also an opportunity. It accelerates developments and exposes grievances. Digitalization is currently being driven not so much by CDOs, CIOs or CEOs, but by COVID-19. In order to contain the spread of the corona virus, we are forced to learn distributed digital collaboration in the—fortunately aseptic—virtual space at a previously unimaginable speed.

Although we intuitively know the world has changed, most leaders reflect a model and leader development process that are sorely out of date. We often demand unrealistic levels of knowledge in leaders and force them into ineffective attempts to micromanage.

Stanley McChrystal, 2015. Team of Teams (Amazon Affiliate-Link)

Sadly, the basic attitude of managers is changing less quickly. The frequently asked question “How do I control whether my employees in the home office do their work?” is actually an oath of disclosure. It is an expression of leadership failure based on a deplorable conception of man. The micromanager has been a discontinued model for quite some time, but now he is finally bankrupt. The crisis is also accelerating that.

The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing.

Stanley McChrystal, 2015. Team of Teams (Amazon Affiliate-Link)

Leadership at a distance requires context not control. The chess master is in trouble now at the very latest. However, those who previously as gardeners primarily provided good conditions for the self-leadership of employees are now also well equipped for distributed collaboration.

The fifth thesis of the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership: Growing leaders over leading followers.
The fifth thesis of the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership

For some time now, the crucial management task has no longer been, and is even less so now, to make decisions of its own, but rather to create a framework that allows employees to make decisions independently. Leadership is only legitimate if it aims to enable the employees entrusted to it to lead themselves, as dm founder Götz W. Werner aptly puts it.

If you want people to think, give them intent, not instruction.

David Marquet

Reed Hastings therefore makes as few decisions as possible at Netflix and David Marquet also stopped giving orders on his nuclear submarine. And that’s why the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership says “Growing leaders over leading followers” because that’s the leadership culture that matters when leading from a distance.

The first thesis of the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership: Unleashing human potential over employing human ressources.
The first thesis of the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership.

Many things now work differently, some worse and some perhaps even better. Instead of wondering now whether employees are doing their job in their home office correctly and how this can be controlled, simply pay attention to previously undiscovered or unnoticed talents that they are developing and using to cope with this exceptional situation. This human potential must be identified now and these strengths must be made productive in the long term. For which the gardener has considerably more time than the micromanaging chess master and can therefore better use the crisis as an opportunity.

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