Saturday, May 17, 2008

Quiet Strength, Quiet Leader, Quiet Winner

Tony Dungy, quiet leader, coach of the Indianapolis Colts and the winning coach of Super Bowl XLI, is the fifth leader to take a place in my personal Quiet Leader Hall of Fame.

With this profile, Coach Dungy joins a distinguished group of leaders that includes:
Granted, it feels like an unusual choice to me to propose a sports hero as a Quiet Leader of note. Nevertheless, I was moved by his leadership and approach when I read his autobiography, Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of a Winning Life. He may be the ideal Quiet Leader role model, a contemporary figure who is very public about his quiet approach, his faith, and his success. I'm not alone in my admiration. Time Magazine in 2007 named Dungy to their list of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World."

In 1972, I was a student at the University of Minnesota when Tony arrived on campus to play football and basketball. As a member of the U of M Football Marching band, I watched from the sidelines as Dungy grew as the quarterback/leader of the Golden Gophers. I was a Dungy fan in those early days when I knew nothing of his leadership approach. I only knew that he was a winner.

Dungy reconnected with Minnesota in 1992 when he returned to become the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings. I remember thinking at the time as I enjoyed listening to Dungy on sports talk radio thinking how I would prefer Dungy to be the Vikings head coach. It wouldn't happen at Minnesota.

Dungy left Minnesota to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and it was in this this role where his style, unique in the football world, become public and prominent. Let's explore his leadership from using snippets of his book.

On Vision
"The first step toward creating an improved future is developing the ability to envision it. Only vision allows us to transform dreams of greatness into the reality of achievement through human action."

On his quiet approach
I don't yell a lot. In fact yelling will be rare," ... if my voice at this level won't get your attention, and you believe you need someone to yell at you to correct you or motivate you, then we'll probably need to find you another team to play for so that you can play your best."


"Take Ownership No excuses, no explanations."

Family Balance
In his book, Tony stresses the importance of family and life balance. He cites that football is only a game. But tells the team directly at the beginning of every season, " I want each guy to understand this his family is his first priority."

Albert Eienstein provides a quote that nicely underscores the Dungy approach,
Try not to become a man of success but rather a man of value.
A great summary of the quiet leadership style of Tony Dungy.

Thanks for reading. Please lead quietly.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Be a good leader. Be incomplete. Don't be perfect, don't even try.

There is evidence that the best leaders are distinctly far from perfect and simply incomplete.

Woohoo. When I look at my personal skills, this is the best news I've heard in some time.

An article in the July 2007 volume of the Harvard Business Review caught my attention this past week as I continue my exploration of collaboration and leadership. In Praise of the Incomplete Leader, is the collaborative work of a group of authors MIT that includes Peter Senge, author of the previously cited business classic, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization.

The article resonated with me from the first read of the summary tag line:
No leader is perfect. The best ones don’t try to be—they concentrate on honing their strengths and find others who can make up for their limitations.
The authors state that it is time to stop visualizing the complete leader as a person at the top who has all the answers. They go on to say that leaders shouldn't even try to fill the gap. As they say,
... the sooner leaders stop trying to be all things to all people, the better off their organizations will be. In today’s world, the executive’s job is no longer to command and control but to cultivate and coordinate the actions of others at all levels of the organization. Only when leaders come to see themselves as incomplete—as having both strengths and weaknesses—will they be able to make up for their missing skills by relying on others.
A quick summary of the author's findings suggests that a leader, although incomplete and imperfect, should focus on four essential capabilities:
  • Sensemaking - trying to understand the contexts in which in which an organization and its people operate. Sensemaking is similar to creating a roadmap that the team can follow.
  • Relating - building relationships within and across organizations. Building a community of confidants who can collaborate to solve problems.
  • Visioning - creating a compelling picture of the future. A leader should be able to articulate what the team wants to create.
  • Inventing - developing new ways to achieve the vision. Similar to the innovation skills required of entrepreneurs, this is more about execution than creativity.
These capabilities are very compatible with my principles of Quiet Leadership, i.e. community, vision, learning, and balance. I also couldn't help but relate the findings of this article to a previous HBR article I referenced in What Leaders Really Do where author John Kotter proposed distinct differences between leadership and managment.

Once again, we quiet leaders are going to disappoint people around us who feel that we should have all of the answers. In fact, I shouldn't even try. Instead we should focus on sensemaking, relating, visioning, and inventing.

One final thought for Quiet Leaders
You know how one might struggle in an employment interview when the question is, "What is your biggest weekness?"

The standard recommendation for this response was to either present a weakness that was inconsequential, e.g. I am addicted to brushing my teeth, or present a weakness that you could turn into a positive, e.g. I'm a workaholic.

Well, now quiet leaders have a response.

Hiring manager: "What is your biggest weakness?"

Quiet Leader: "I am imperfect and have given up trying to be perfect. Fortunately, there is research that says that I am a better leader because of it. I forces me to "cultivate and coordinate the actions of others."

Thanks for reading. Please lead quietly and woohoo for imperfection.

June 2008: I humbly ask for your support in the Best Leadership Blogs 2008 competition. Here are the top ten reasons why you should vote for Lead Quietly. Thank you.