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.
Three years of agile transformation at BMW Group IT have taught me a lot about organizational change and I have summarized it in three principles. But I also learned a lot about myself on this trip. I like change. I want to make a difference and improve the world. I tend towards idealism and I have a dream. I am curious and open. And I don’t like well-trodden career paths, but an indefinite path of life, which is made by walking.
From three years of intensive work on the agile transformation in the BMW Group IT, I see three essential success factors. First, the transformation always starts with the why and the way towards it, i.e. the how and what, is necessarily unclear in the beginning. Second, leadership deliberately does not try to give the right answers immediately but instead provides an environment in which employees as adults and intelligent people can find these answers together. And third, leadership is part of change and questions itself.
Times of change are times of uncertainty. A typical reaction to this uncertainty is the call for heroes and strong leaders who bring order into chaos and show the way. On a societal and political level, we are therefore witnessing a strengthening of nationalist tendencies and the increasing popularity of politicians whose contribution consists essentially in unduly simplifying the complexity of the world by dividing it into black and white, good and wrong, us and them and other false dichotomies. In times of digital disruption, fear also increases in companies. And while in many places a strong leader is then desired, really strong leaders like Vas Narasimhan at Novartis do the opposite: “Unboss your Company!”
The naive and intuitive use of language sometimes mixes and overlays things that should be clearly distinguished. Popular among editors are, for example, the terms apparently and seemingly. The former means that something probably is in fact as it appears, while the latter means that something seems to be that way, but in reality is not the case. Seemingly (sic!) just as subtle is the distinction between the terms complicated and complex. In practice, they are often used synonymously, or at best complex is used as the superlative of complicated. The distinction between these two terms, however, makes a significant difference.