The Male Heroic Leader – The Enemy (of Collaboration) Within.

There is a place for heroic male leadership, just it’s not in a collaborative project or cooperative work climate.

I have become convinced that feminine weighted values (such as dialogue, empathy, cooperation, sensitivity) – whether expressed by women or men – are too often unseen, trivialized or ignored and this will seriously diminish the value generation of collaborative projects, alliancing and cooperation tactics like BIM.

The question is:

“How can we be heroes to our staff, colleagues and clients without behaving like we need to to win at all costs?

The alpha male drive for dominance, that until recently assured survival (it worked) for our businesses in a really aggressive and desperate industry has become increasingly destructive.

If anyone believes that the protectionist survival based culture and win/lose behavioural style will go away of its own accord – without positive counter action, they need to recognise they will fall behind the progressive agenda.

We are now in a work environment where intelligence, empathy and creativity count a whole lot more than power and force.

The mild mannered nine stone introverted thought leader can be a giant. That is part of the power of collaboration – the leveraging of group think multiplied by removing competition and dependence on heroic leadership by the few.

I ‘m a big fan of Marshall Goldsmith’s book What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There. He coaches FTSE 100 & Fortune 500 executives on how to stop sabotaging their own and others success via learnt domineering habits (such as micro managing, taking over meetings, interrupting rather than listening and, generally, needing too strongly to be right).

Explaining why he put the excessive need to win at the top of his list of ‘self-sabotaging’ habits, Goldsmith states ‘Winning too much is easily the most common behavioural problem that I observe in successful people.” He adds that the need to win is the core issue, because “it underlies nearly every other behavioural problem.”

I really get that – having navigated the construction industries recent tough times. The need to win and therefore, for someone to lose is deeply ingrained in our culture, systems, protocols and contracts. Factor in the ratio of male to female in senior positions and you can see why we have a fight on our hands in evolving collaboration. See I even said ‘have a fight on our hands’ – it’s in the gene pool the combative winning mind-set!

Systems Collaborating with Culture
The transition to a collaborative climate will be well supported by developments such as BIM, BS11000 and Alliance type contracts, but they won’t fundamentally shift the human conditions and habits of a lifetime in a competitive industry environment.

We need to sit up and invest energy and resources in altering at a personal level what people believe makes the world works, how results are generated and to recognise the internal shifts they will have to make to be a true collaborative master.

Much focus is given to a team building activity  narrative to meet collaborative objectives and a level of progress has been made. We now have project teams with a greater connection but still informed by their old mind-sets and historical environment. Many of the decisions we make (at a subconscious level) are informed by the win/lose belief system and not by the required values of humility, cooperation, dialogue, empathy, reflection and creativity. The next phase of progress will evolve from focussing on individual development and self-awareness.

Some key distinctions.

  • In a collaborative enterprise, it is not leadership instructing that creates a tribal following; it is dialogue.
  • It’s more valuable to be able to engage than to influence. Command and control has shifted to collaboration and empowerment.
  • Instead of a party dictating change to the rest of the team, they need to engage in enrolling dialogue by asking questions; How do they see themselves in this change? What might hold them back? What would make them willing to move forward in agreement?” Where might we have to give up our right to be right in order to make headway?

The shift here is from telling to asking, from being right to being open, from being the goal scorer to being the Team Coach.

A culture that rewards only the drive to win makes everyone want to be a hero. We admire heroes in sports for good reason: we want to be like them; collecting the gold, crossing the tape first.

Unfortunately, while most of us can’t be heroes in sports, we can all act out our drive to be a hero in our workplace.

The question again: How can we be heroes without behaving like we need to win at all costs?

If all your business needs to succeed is successful execution, you may then get away with pushing people to work harder and more competitively. However, if you need people to think creatively and to cooperate, then pushing harder ‘to win’ will become self-defeating.

The reason is that the only thing that stress and pressure can do is make people execute harder and faster. They cannot make people think more clearly and they encourage people to ‘go silo’ within themselves and their work groups.

There still is a vital place for masculine competitiveness in business. Such competitiveness, however, needs to be directed to outsmarting market conditions and busting paradigms that limit creative solutions.

Changing your style from a goal scorer to coach collaborator means that you’ll have to let go of your need to offer the majority of the solutions. You’ll have to ask more and tell less. And as a playing coach, you can follow the 80-20 rule – you should be drawing solutions out of others 80 percent of the time and 20 percent supplying solutions.

The Big Training Issue
How do you train men to value feminine behaviours?
A good start point is modelling and acknowledging. If you simply value the desired value  and point out where a particular soft quality has a clear business advantage you will be setting the conditions for reinforcement and replication.

For instance. Actually I’m a pretty sensitive bloke; I see sensitivity as a useful commodity. I don’t mean I cry during Lassie movies or throw a tantrum if you laugh at my hair style. I’ve learnt to embrace and cultivate the fact that I’m sensitive to picking up the ‘great unspoken’, or to recognising subtle yet crucial discrepancies in a conversation. It serves me well as a coach to be sensitive to a client’s revealing language or to the BS they limit their own potential with!

When I get a project team together to discuss the shift to collaborative working I don’t ask them to make models out of matchsticks to prove they can act team like. Mostly they know the theory of Team. More sustainable growth of the individual as a collaborative master will occur by asking the individuals, within the group setting, questions such as:

  • How will you temper the hard wired need to win at all costs?
  • How will you recognise the occasions when you have to lose personally in order for the project to win?
  • How will you shift from being heroic leader centric to a self-determining group?
  • How will you bring into play qualities such as empathy, cooperation, dialogue versus debate – what protocols and process will encourage them?
  • What will you do when your alliance partner inevitably goes into silo win win mode?
  • What part of yourself needs work to have you upgrade your capacity to play collaboratively?

In touch my feminine side? You bet, its a business imperative and I’m getting with the programme


Paul Fox

Paul Fox has been active as a Construction Industry Performance Coach for the last 20 years and remains at the forefront of Collaborative Working and High Performance Team Behaviours. He disrupts the status quo of individuals, project and senior teams who want exponentially more output with much less struggle.

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