Todd Henry: Herding TigersPublished August 13, 2019
TOPICS IN THIS ARTICLELeading Others
The following are notes from Todd Henry’s talk at #GLS19. Use them to help you apply the content you learned at the Summit.
Story of the t-shirt: Todd was in a Disney World gift shop and saw the perfect t-shirt. It had instructions on how to draw Darth Vader. It had a step-by-step process. Step one, draw the head and body. Easy. Step two, add the cape. Easy. Step three, draw the face, gloves and boots. Still easy. Step four, add shading and detail. Not easy.
● This is similar to how we talk about leadership
● The brilliant work happens between panels three and four
● Dedicated people doing what it takes to make it happen
Leaders should aim to be:
- Doing a lot of work
- Lack of sustainability
- “Walking zombies” of the organization
- Works for a while but will cause the loss of the brilliant and healthy pieces
- Performing good work
- Not prolific enough to keep up with the organizational demand
- Unreliable–can’t be counted on to do the work and deliver
- Working in a sustainable way
- Working consistently but producing terrible work
- Not brilliant work
If this were your definition for success, how would you be right now? Is my team prolific, brilliant and healthy?
What creative people need from leaders:
- Creative boundaries and a stable environment
- Creatives do not want freedom; it is not helpful to the creative process
- The absence of limitations is the limitation of art
- Your team need clarity and process
- Your team needs to feel protected so they can produce the best work of their lives
- When your team does not feel protected and secure, they take on the “tell me what to do” attitude and lose creativity
- Creative people want to be pushed
- Maintain stability and challenge within the organization
High challenge and low stability = ANGRY team
Low stability and low challenge = LOST team
High stability and low challenge = STUCK team
High stability and high challenge = THRIVING team
Shooting star organizations: Challenging our team without the stability needed to support what we’re asking them to do.
Maintaining stability and challenge is going to differ for each person on your team.
- Leaders, know what each person on your team needs from you in order to produce their best work
- Some people need a couple of check-ins a week and they’re great
- Some people need more frequent check-ins in order to feel like they’re on the right course; they need more of a sense of stability
- You need to understand what the people on your team need so you can provide it for them consistently
- They will reward you by producing the best work of their lives
How to instill stability and challenge:
- Earn the right to be followed every day–never assume they’re with you
- Trust is the currency of creative teams
- Without trust you can do wild, imaginative, brilliant, risky, world-changing work
How leaders break trust:
- Most leaders aren’t blowing trust in big ways; it’s often in the little things
- Leaders can have a misunderstanding about how trust functions
- Trust is not like a bank account you can make small withdrawals from
- Trust is like a water balloon–if you puncture it in a tiny way, you’re going to lose it everywhere
Ways leaders forfeit trust:
1. Declaring Undeclare-ables
Story of the bear: A few years ago, Todd’s town had a bear spotting. His kids were scared and asked him if the bear would come after them. He said no that there’s not a chance in the world they’re even going to see the bear because it’s 50 miles away. One week later, the bear was a block from their house and appeared around town at their favorite places. He lost a bit of credibility with his kids and for the next six months when he gave answers to them, they questioned if that was the truth or if it would turn out like the bear.
- In the workplace, leaders lose credibility when they say, “Maybe next time you are absolutely in line for the promotion”
- The client changed their mind, we have to go with something else
- Agreeing to meet at a certain time then pushing or cancelling the meeting
Is there any place in your leadership where you’re declaring the undeclared?
2. Being a Superhero
- Pushing everyone away and pretending you have all the answers
- Pushing away fails the fundamental responsibility of leadership incorporating the values, ideas and diversity of opinion-brilliant people we have on our team
- Brilliance is forged in the cauldron of creative conflict
- When leaders push people away, we play the superhero and betray their trust.
- What that’s saying is, “I know better than you.” “I don’t trust you to do your job.”
- This asks why should the team trust you?
- Playing the superheroes sources insecurity
- The greatest potential to cause damage as a leader is directly tied to your biggest insecurity
Leaders can fall into the likability trap.
- Wanting everybody to like you because of the insecurity in leadership
- Insecure leaders play the superhero
- Superhero leadership wants to make people think they know all the answers, but these leaders don’t know all the answers, can’t stand up to the questioning
- Leaders, your area of greatest insecurity is the area where you have the potential to do the most damage to your team
3. Loosen Your grip
A message for all control freaks
- Lead the work, not control the work
- People on your team will give up and say, “Tell me what to do.”
Example of card magic trick: Asking everyone in the audience to select a card on the screen, then shows the next slide asking if we see our card. All of the cards were replaced, not just one.
- This happens when we get tired and are anxious as leaders
- When you tell your team how to do something and you step in and you control the work–micromanage and tell them exactly how you want them to do it, they shut off their brain
- They stopped paying attention in the context
- They stopped looking for nuance
- They stop asking questions and they say, “Just tell me what to do.”
- This happens when we get insecure, when we get tired, when we get anxious as a leader, so we have to transition from leading by control to leading by influence
Leading with Influence vs. Control
Control: Leaders who are about presence
Influence: Leaders who are about principle
Leadership Philosophy: Establishing your point of view (POV) as leaders
- Have a clear and defined set of values
- Does your team know how you define success?
- Does your team know what a good idea looks like?
- How do you as a leader know what these values look like?
- How do you choose a good idea?
- Does your team know how conflicts should be handled?
- What does an acceptable and unacceptable risk look like?
- Have you instilled these principles in your team and given them the freedom to do what they do best within the rails of what you’ve set?
- If you haven’t communicated a leadership philosophy to your team, they are guessing about it
- Ghost rules emerge in our organizations when it should be filled with a leadership philosophy
Ghost Rules: An invisible narrative limiting a team’s ability to engage fully and bring themselves to the work they’re doing.
- Establish clear and effective principles within which your team should function; make these simple
- The team will reward you with the best work of their lives
4. Take Care of Number One
- The old saying, “As goes the leader, so goes the team”
- If you are not inspired, you cannot inspire
- If you are not taking the time to fill your well, you will have nothing to give to your team
- Your team should be drinking from the overflow of inspiration in your life
- Make time for the discipline
- You owe it to your team to be a model of what prolific, brilliant and healthy looks like
- Build time in your schedule to fill your mind with great thoughts of others and your passion
- Put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable
- Interact with the world in new ways and unleash your latent creative potential
Jack London quote: “You can’t wait for inspiration to strike. You have to go after it with a club.”
- What are you going to do to model for your team what prolific, brilliant and healthy look like?
Analogy of Greek proverb: A society grows great when old men plant trees
- As leaders, plant the seed
- Produce fruit that’s going to bless countless people, even ones you may never know
- The influence you have on the person you lead will echo for generations to come as you model for them what generous, trustworthy leadership looks like
- People will be influenced by you and sitting under a tree that you planted
A bad leader’s influence dies with them.
A great leader’s influence echoes for generations.
The measure of your greatness as a leader is the brilliant work you unleash others to do. Everyone has a mandate to change the world around them–this is what leaders do.
Choose to be a leader who makes echoes.
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About the Author
Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. As host of The Accidental Creative podcast—with millions of downloads—Henry delivers weekly tips and ideas for staying prolific, brilliant and healthy. He is the author of four books, including Die Empty which was named by Amazon as one of the best books of 2013. Henry’s latest book, Herding Tigers: Be the Leader that Creative People Need, is a practical handbook for anyone charged with leading people and teams to creative brilliance.
Years at GLS 2019