Hacking Leadership

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Mike Myatt, in his newest book, Hacking Leadership, shares with us that this is one of the two questions he likes to ask new clients. The other is: “What do you stand for?”

If you were to ask my children, they would say that I will never grow up. Always reading, writing, learning, investigating new hobbies, examining new ideas and fresh perspectives.

Every one of us can sense the gaps between where we are and where we would like to be in many aspects of our lives. We all know that big parts of our current systems are broken. There is a yawning chasm between the way things have always been done and considered, and what we should be doing right now. This is no truer than in leadership.

Mike Myatt defines hacking for us: “to discover an alternate path and skillful tricks, shortcuts and workarounds, breaking the code, deciphering complexity, influencing outcomes, acquiring access, creating innovative customizations to existing/outdated methodologies.”  So, he is not driving at the quick-and-dirty, work-around, fix-it-for-now, short-cut methods that the word hacking often engenders. He is calling us and charging us to move away from our stale, dated, and outmoded thinking about the who, what and why of good leadership.

It is always easy to point out the flaws of other organizations, leaders or individuals, but what if we instead took a deep, honest, introspective look at ourselves and our own brands of leadership?

Myatt’s goal here is to have us poke around in our own stuff and make some relevant and specific changes.

But, before I press on, let us dispense with everyone’s nagging question: Are leaders born or made? The real answer is, “Yes! Both.”

The Golden Egg

Golden Egg: The biggest takeaway from the book

Leadership is NOT About You

"Any individual who holds responsibility for any person, aspect, function, or task within an organization [including family], is in fact a leader." "
- Hacking Leadership, page 63

Every person is a leader in some arena of life. But, not every leader is good at it. Good leadership requires many things of us. It requires a willingness to continue to learn and explore ourselves, others and opportunities. It compels us to have and present both stability and a forward-looking vision to lead people and organizations forward.

Anyone who is a leader has witnessed disconnects in themselves and in others in at least one of the areas that Myatt highlights:

Leadership: A form of entitlement rather than service.
Purpose: Focusing on self-interest rather than impacting and improving the lives of others.
Future: Resistance or refusal to change.
Mediocrity: Accepting and working to maintain the status quo.
Culture: Letting culture run amok rather than managing.
Talent: Not owning up to responsibility when we do not hire or use the best talent available to us.
Knowledge: Refusing to acquire new knowledge because of ego.
Innovation: Confusing ideas with innovation, which are ideas that are solutions.
Expectation: Managing expectations rather than aligning them with our values, purposes, goals, and mission.
Complexity: Making systems unnecessarily complex for ourselves and our customers/ consumers.
Failure: Focusing on failure as the main thing, rather than learning from it.

Each of these gaps come with some “tried and true.” and trite expressions that we all take as common wisdom, like “failure is not an option”. There are two issues at play here. The first is that they are almost invariably false. The second issue is that these old ways of thinking keep getting resurrected, and keep us bound to the paths of mediocrity and apathy when it comes to making decisions about how we lead ourselves, our colleagues and our organizations.

It is only by careful scrutiny of these “truisms” that we all seemingly accept at face value that we can come to see who we have become and do something concrete about it. And that’s where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it? To do something about it!

Making organizational change begins with the ability to make changes in ourselves first and foremost. We must begin with how we think and what we choose to see. This must be followed by executing well-thought out processes of advancement. Being able to change is what keep us in the game, in business, and a step ahead of our competition.

Gem #1

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Everything is a teachable moment, or a learning opportunity

"Prior proper planning prevents poor performance."
- Hacking Leadership, page 153

This is one of Mike Myatt’s favorite quotes. He uses it several times in the book. It is succinct and on-point. Preparation, remaining flexible, yearning to learn, the ability and agility to step into areas of discomfort, stepping away from the illusion that we know everything helps us reach across and fill in those gaps that this book shines a spotlight on.

I shared in a previous summary that we are having a software and learning issue going on at work. Looking closely at Myatt’s list, I can see that we are languishing in at least half of these leadership gaps, or abysses in our case, and that is why we have failed to make progress in rectifying the problem. No one has ever taken the reigns and used a leadership style that has had any teeth in it. So, things the same, we accept mediocre performances, and we do not align expectations of ourselves, others, or even the software. Leadership is neither something mystical, nor is it “rocket surgery.” It is something to be done intentionally!

Gem #2

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Who You Are Is Infinitely More Important Than What You Do

"If you're a superstar at work, but a slacker at home, you're not succeeding at anything other than being a disingenuous, egocentric charlatan."
- Hacking Leadership, page 179

In the last few chapters of this book, Myatt takes off his professional mask and gets truly personal. He talks about himself in the light of his family life. One that would make some of us squirm as well. For many of us, we have been sold the usual bill of goods that sacrificing your family on the altar of success—and calling it taking care of them—somehow absolves us of our duties and civility at home. It is a lie! This I can tell you from Mike’s book and from personal experience. I speak often to “youngsters” in my profession as their future self in an attempt to convey this message. There is no excuse, no benefit, and no getting that squandered time back.

The key to good leadership, personally, organizationally and family-wise, is to look inward. Hopefully that doesn’t sound too “New Age” for you. But, to look at who you have become and what you have accepted as unchangeable, and make the decision to make changes. To change yourself, your work environment, and your leadership style to do better work instead of putting up with stuff, punching the clock, getting by or dialing it in. Pick your favorite phrase for not doing your best.

Mike Myatt’s book is densely packed with pearls of leadership wisdom. But each of these gaps comes with actionable, (mostly) easily executable steps.

The choice, just like the problem, lies within.

It should be on your list of must-reads.

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Martina McGowan

ABOUT Martina McGowan

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