Herding Tigers: Be the Leader That Creative People Need (1/16/18)
Portfolio/Penguin (January 2018)
How to become a leader who “makes echoes”
As I began to read this thoughtful and thought-provoking book, I was again reminded of several of the great creative teams and those who led them. They include, of course, Thomas Edison and his research center in Menlo Park, New Jersey. More recently, Walt Disney and the animators whose classic films include Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, and Pinnochio; Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project; “Kelly” Johnson and Lockheed’s “Skunk Works”; also, George Pake and Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).
However different these and other great teams and their efforts are, all of them share these commonalities: mutual respect and trust between and among the team members and their leaders; individual freedom in appropriate balance with the team’s best interests; and everyone involved driven by a shared ambition to achieve the given objective.
With regard to the title of Henry’s latest book, he disagrees with a familiar simile that leading creative people is like herding cats. “If you’ve hired brilliant, driven people, it’s more like herding tigers [or, worse yet, tigresses], powerful beings who cannot be corralled but must be carefully, individually, and strategically led.” That is true of teams in competitive athletics: the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls in the NBA as well as U.C.L.A., Tennessee, and Connecticut basketball teams in the NCAA. Add to that them the Navy SEALs and Army’s Delta Force.
Todd Henry wrote this book in order to share his thoughts about HOW to become the leader that creative need. He offers an abundance of information, insights, and counsel. I agree with him: “The greatest impact you make on the world will not be the things you made or the products you brought to market. It won’t even be the company you helped to build. The greatest impact you will make will be the lives that are changed through your leadership, which happens as you build into and empower the people who follow you.”
These are among the dozens of valuable insights that Henry shares:
o There are two things creative people need more than anything else: stability and challenge.
o To create stability, shift your mindset from doing the work to leading the work.
o To create freedom, shift your mindset from from control to influence and from personal to total accountability: “my stuff” must become “our stuff.”
o To create stability, you need to distanced yourself (a bit) from your team.
o To challenge your team, you need to help people see those aspects of their abilities to which they are now blind.
o To provide stability, you must earn, manage, and strive to maintain your team’s trust: always remember that leading is a privilege to serve others.
o To create stability, you have to actively grow a healthy culture: prune proactively.
o To challenge your team, boldly and effectively channel its collective attention: stay on target and focus on how to reach “our destination.”
o To create stability, manage your team’s margin by aggressively producing “white space”:defend their space.
o To challenge your team members, push them outside their comfort zone: be their muse.
o to create stability, recognize that conflict isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a sign of a healthy and productive team: fight well and fight fair.
I agree with Henry that creative leaders who “commit themselves to developing the people around them — unleashing their potential, helping them to recognize their greatness, and teaching them to curb their destructive impulses — will build a body of work that echoes down through generations as their influence multiplies through the lives of the people they’ve led.”
Here is a similar insight, expressed in my favorite passage from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:
“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”
Todd Henry urges everyone who reads this book to become a leader who makes echoes.