Three Inspiring Stories on New Leadership

What we can learn from the sug­ar con­sump­tion of Gand­hi, from Netflix’s sur­pris­ing resem­blance to a nuclear sub­ma­rine, and from the fright­en­ing team dynam­ics of super chick­ens about new lead­er­ship. On the occa­sion of the X‑Conference 2020 I tell my three favorite sto­ries about role mod­els, respon­si­bil­i­ty and trust — also as video for lis­ten­ing, think­ing and imitating.

The X‑Conference on “Cor­po­rate Dig­i­tal Respon­si­bil­i­ty and Dig­i­tal Ethics” took place on Octo­ber 30, 2020. My keynote, which is now also avail­able as video, revolved — as expect­ed — around the Man­i­festo for human(e) lead­er­ship and specif­i­cal­ly around the ques­tion what (cor­po­rate) dig­i­tal respon­si­bil­i­ty has to do with mod­ern lead­er­ship. My core the­sis: Con­cepts like dig­i­tal ethics, com­pli­ance or self-orga­ni­za­tion in agile orga­ni­za­tions require all dis­ci­pline beyond obe­di­ence. They can­not sim­ply be imposed, but are based on the per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty of the employ­ees. In this talk, I will approach the ques­tion of how this per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty can be acti­vat­ed in a sus­tain­able way with these three inspi­ra­tional sto­ries about role mod­els, respon­si­bil­i­ty and trust.

Be the change that you wish to see in the world.

Mahat­ma Gandhi

Gandhi and the Sugar

Lead­er­ship always begins with one’s own exam­ple and hinges on authen­tic­i­ty. An inspir­ing sto­ry is told about Mahat­ma Gand­hi. A woman came from far away with her son to see Gand­hi. She was wor­ried because her son ate too much sug­ar and, although it made him ill, he could­n’t stop. So she asked Gand­hi to tell her son to stop eat­ing sug­ar. Gand­hi did not respond to this request until two weeks lat­er, because he him­self had to give up sug­ar in order to be able to give this advice authentically.

Netflix and the Nuclear Submarine

What does Net­flix have in com­mon with a nuclear sub­ma­rine? Although at first glance they couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent, their excep­tion­al lead­er­ship cul­ture is very sim­i­lar. Reed Hast­ings, CEO of Net­flix, prides him­self on mak­ing as few deci­sions as pos­si­ble and prefer­ably none at all for an entire quar­ter. And Cap­tain David Mar­quet decid­ed to stop giv­ing orders on the nuclear sub­ma­rine USS San­ta Fe. Both rely on con­text instead of con­trol and are very suc­cess­ful with it.

Google and the Super Chickens

William Muir from Pur­due Uni­ver­si­ty inves­ti­gat­ed the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of chick­ens. For one group, he select­ed only the “high per­form­ers” and only the best of these Super Chick­ens were allowed to breed. On the oth­er hand, there was a group of aver­age chick­ens that were not fur­ther select­ed or influ­enced. After six gen­er­a­tions the chick­ens in this aver­age group were well fed, ful­ly feath­ered and their pro­duc­tiv­i­ty had increased sig­nif­i­cant­ly. Con­trary to naive expec­ta­tions, this was slight­ly dif­fer­ent in the Super Chick­en group: all but three were dead — picked to death by the others.

Google also found out that super­stars don’t auto­mat­i­cal­ly become a team. As part of Project Aris­to­tle, Google inves­ti­gat­ed what turns a group of peo­ple into an effec­tive team. By far the most impor­tant ele­ment was psy­cho­log­i­cal safe­ty. In tru­ly effec­tive teams, there is a high lev­el of safe­ty, so mem­bers dare to express their opin­ions open­ly and take risks. This is the key ingre­di­ent that makes the whole more than the sum of its parts.

All this and a bit more can be found in the fol­low­ing (Ger­man lan­guage) video of my keynote as an inspi­ra­tion to lis­ten, think and imitate.

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