Heroism or Co-Creator leadership?

“Khun Kriengsak, I liked your feature on re-examining leadership. Nevertheless, you talked about four aspects in one column. I feel like you had more to say.”

“Mr Yeoh, you’re right. That column came from my research into several books.”

“Coach, you referred to Ronald Heifetz’s two definitions of leadership: ‘influencing the community to follow the leader’s vision’ versus ‘influencing the community to face its problems’.

“In the first instance, influence is the mark of leadership; a leader gets people to accept his vision, and communities address problems by looking to him. If something goes wrong, the fault lies with the leader.

“In the second, progress on problems is the measure of leadership; leaders mobilise people to face problems, and communities make progress on problems because leaders challenge and help them do so. If something goes wrong, the fault lies with both leaders and the community.

“What’s the point you tried to communicate?”

“Mr Yeoh, let’s name the first one ‘heroism style’ and the second one ‘co-creator style’. Each style works best in the right context. If deployed inappropriately, they can have a negative impact on performance.

“Case in point: A hard disk drive (HDD) manufacturer is in the process of a culture change. A management consultant is hired to facilitate the project. The project consists of five sub-projects.

“The internal communication sub-project has two teams. Each team is led by a production supervisor. The company selects Den and Suparb. Both of them are star performers with track records.

“Den and Suparb have to lead two working teams separately. Each consists of six members performing various functions. They represent different ranks, from operator to senior manager.

“The assignment to both teams is for each to come up with an innovative programme to communicate the culture change. The objective of the programme is to obtain buy-in from all employees.

“When both supervisors led their HDD operators in the past, each had 30 operators report to him. The 60 operators had been with the company for quite some time. They were experienced and capable. The work process was simple and straightforward. The compensation and welfare were good.

“Den led his team using the heroism style. Suparb led his team using the co-creator style.

Both supervisors got successful results. There was not much differentiation, even though the leadership styles were quite obviously opposite.

“But now that they lead cross-functional teams, there is a mix of team members: one manual worker and five knowledge workers, and some of them even have a higher rank than the project leader. Now the leadership style has a remarkable implication.

“Den uses heroism style by influencing the team to follow his vision. He’s not sure what the outcome will be because it is an innovative programme; nobody has done it before. He tries to dominate the team discussion as he used to before with those 30 operators. From time to time, a member who was a director challenges his idea. His team comes up with some typical ideas that have been used before.

“On the other hand, Suparb deploys a co-creator style by influencing the team to face its challenge. Suparb asks lots of questions, listens to all members. They engage with passion. Together they come up with a few innovative ideas.”

“Coach, this concept can be applied to a manager who was promoted from production supervisor and one day becomes a senior manager but still manages the knowledge workers by the same old way of command and control.”

“Mr Yeoh, I have seen so many cases as you mentioned. Usually the staff turnover is high if the manager leads by command and control instead of engaging those knowledge workers.”

“Coach, how do we prevent this problem?”

“What do you think?”

“We have to coach and engage our leadership team _ be a role model first.”

“You could start with feedback. There are several tools such as employee engagement surveys, comments from employees, 360-degree feedback and even existing-interview data. I prefer the nine insight questions.

“Each manager can ask each subordinate:

1. What is the best way to assign work?

2. What is the best way to communicate unexpected change?

3. What is the best way to motivate you?

4. What would be the best way to provide feedback on your mistakes?

5. What are your strengths?

6. What are the tasks you’re not good at?

7. What is the best way to assign the tasks that you’re not good at?

8. What would be the most effective way to follow up the work?

  1. What else do you think I should know about you?”