Category: Leadership

Management, hands-off leadership and the line

Jocko Willink

Time to read: 3 mins.

No employee wants to be micromanaged.  At the same time, offering employees complete freedom with little guidance can lead to chaos without the organisation’s vision and goals being realised.  The balance between micromanagement and hands-off leadership is the line that leaders walk on when managing teams.

Defining micromanagement

Micromanagement is an extreme form of management.  It involves not only trying to control the actions of others but even their thoughts. When micromanagement exists, people are passive and wait to be told what to do next.  After a while, it inhibits their personal growth. The initiative for action and deep thought fades. Eventually those individuals are not able to bring the value and innovation that organisations crave.  It’s easy to see why micromanagement has a negative association. It’s particularly frustrating for those who are accustom to working autonomously in high performing teams

Defining hands-off leadership

Hands-off leadership also comes with its own set of problems.  With hands-off leadership, leaders can fail to provide clear and specific direction as to what needs to be achieved.  This results in team members thinking too much and forming their own plans and strategies. Without proper guidance, the plans that are formed are outside of a teams boundaries, beyond their capabilities and the strategies rarely align with that of the organisation.  Without any coordination from the top, they move in different directions and disrupt and do not support other projects that are already in flight.

The line

The solution is to walk the line between management and hands-off leadership.  While there is no secret formula, finding the right balance comes from gauging individuals and the team as a whole. Here are some signs to look out for.  They can inform you on whether there is too much management or too much hands-off leadership.

Warning signs of micromanagement

  • There is a lack of initiative.
  • The team doesn’t seek out solutions to problems (the wait to be told about a solution).
  • In an emergency, the team does not mobilise and take action.
  • Bold and aggressive action becomes rare.
  • Creativity comes to a halt.
  • The team tends to stay within their own silo. They are not willing to step out ans coordinate with other teams out of fear overstepping.

Too much management (i.e. micromanagement) requires you to provide less detail and direction.  Instead, just describe the end state and why it is important.

Warning signs of hands off management

  • Lack of vision in what the team is trying to do.
  • Lack of coordination between between teams.
  • They have created their own initiatives that overstep the bound of authority.
  • The team is focused on priorities that are not aligned with the greater strategic vision.
  • There are too many people trying to lead and not enough people there to execute.

When there is not enough management (i.e. hands-off leadership) it requires that you give clear guidance.  Your team must understand where the boundaries are. You also need to assign roles, responsibilities and a chain of command.

Take some time to think about the warning signs as mentioned above.  Maybe you can see the signs within your own team, a team that you manage or more alarmingly within yourself. In either case, it may be time to bring these issue up to the leadership team or address the issue yourself.

 This article was inspired by the book The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

When leading gets risky.. (and why it’s a good thing)

Cynthia Carrol

Time to read: 2 mins

I have been building on the habit of writing daily. Not only to write, but to write with risk.


It’s easy enough to first learn about a topic and then write about it, but there is very little risk in that. You know that it won’t fail, because the ideas that you are presenting have worked before (for the previous author). When you are regurgitating ideas that are not your own, chances are no one will say that you are wrong.


What’s harder to do is to think and reflect and come up with your own idea, link that to other ideas, examine the reality of the world and then challenge them.


To come up with your own conclusions and not look for something that has already been done and proven is a risk… In essence, this is what it means to lead.


When we do anything to stand out and introduce something that is different from the norm, we stray from the herd and become vulnerable and an easy target. This is not only true of writing but for any other endeavours that we choose to follow.



Followers and leaders

When we follow, there is no fear of being rejected or being called a fraud and there is some comfort in that. Leaders, on the other hand, are constantly fighting off the lizard brain. They work along the edge and try to push the boundaries.


The boundaries are around what is perceived to be our ‘safety zone’ (i.e. what is good enough’) and our ‘comfort zone’ (what we are willing to do).  Think about that last sentence for a minute before reading on.



The amazing Cynthia Carroll

I recently finished reading Seth Godin’s book The Icarus Deception. In the appendix, Seth told the story of Cynthia Carroll, the first female CEO and the first non-South African to head the 100 year old company, Anglo American, a multibillion dollar major mining company that employs over 150,000 staff. As one of her first act as CEO, she visited the Rustenburg mine.


Cynthia found out about the dangerous work conditions (where on average 40 employees die a year) and opted to shut down the mine for 9 weeks; a mine that was the most profitable platinum mine in the world. After a multiyear battle with unions, government and other mining companies, a year later, fatalities dropped by half.


Cynthia (illustrated above) did something that no other CEO before her had ever done, she shared stats, provided options and made herself vulnerable.  She pushed the boundaries of what is good enough and what she and Anglo America were willing to do.



When to lead

It’s important to understand that we don’t need to be a leader in every aspect of our lives (nor should you try). But there are times and places when you should:

  • When you have the passion
  • When you have the expertise on a particular subject and
  • When it’s your duty to do so.


Leading is risky, it’s sometimes scary and can be painful, but as we have seen in Cynthia’s case, anything that is worthwhile, anything that will make a real difference and anything that creates a lasting change will involve some level of risk (most of the time, it’s on a personal level).


But when we have a noble enough cause, trying and failing is not such a big deal and the risks that were once seen as obstacles, after moving forward, are now viewed as trivial.

Obtaining Charisma


Elon Musk

Time to read: 5 min

On the 31st of March, Elon Musk stepped out on stage to introduce Tesla’s first mass production electric sedan named the Model 3. That day I watched Elon present to an excited and enthusiastic audience.  While his delivery was not the best, the Model 3 did not disappoint and as a result has had 300k pre-orders to date.

Musk has a long list of incredible achievements from co-founding Paypal and building innovative companies such as

With an amazing track record of success, its obvious that Elon must be a great leader.  And as with all great leaders of magnitude, he possess the elusive skill of charisma.


The charisma link
We often associate charisma with those who are in positions of power, who dress well and have a job title to match. But today this is not enough to tick the charisma box.

Businesses operating in an environment controlled by a culture of fear and authority alone will not last (at least not in the long term).  Our expectations of what a workplace should embody have changed and as a result more leaders and less managers are needed.

You may have seen this table (or something similar) on your LinkedIn feed:

Management Leadership
– Controls + Empowers
– Authority + Goodwill
– Takes credit + Gives Credit
– Uses others + Develops others
– Fear + Enthusiasm


From the table above and using Elon as an example, leadership requires a different set of skills that we traditionally associate with charisma and which are more personal.

Elon is an interesting example, as I mentioned earlier Elon’s delivery was not the best, he stuttered through his presentation and at times struggled to find the right words to purvey his ideas.  If we assume that Elon has a high level of charisma, it lead me to think:
• What is charisma? And
• Can charisma be demonstrated in different forms outside of speeches and presentations?

The belief I have is that charisma and leadership are tied closely together.


Charisma defined

“Compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others”

By examining the definition alone, its easy to see why charisma is synonymous with leadership.  The good news is that displays of charisma can happen everyday in the interactions we have with our friends, family and co-workers.  And who wouldn’t want to have a number of devoted followers!  😃

Charisma can generally be categorised into four groups.  Two of them are immediately accessible to everyone, so we’ll start with them.


The Focus Charisma
The focus charisma is easy to access and is highly effective.  It requires you to be completely present, free from distraction and be able to fully absorb what others are saying.

The focus charisma demands giving someone your full attention, this can be achieved by not doing other tasks, fidgeting and letting your mind drift while listening to someone else speak.  Keep strong eye contact in short bursts.  The outcome is to make people feel heard and understood.


Kindness Charisma
The kindness charisma is expressed entirely through your body language.  The kindness charisma will make others feel cherished and embraced;  as result this charisma style is heavily reliant on your ability to show warmth through your face.

Those who are genuinely caring and sympathetic towards others are easily able to express warmth through their eyes and avoid signs of tension, coldness and criticism.  For others who don’t have this natural tendency it may take a little more effort to bring up those feeling of empathy.


Using the visionary charisma takes a little more skill… The visionary is able to motivate others, show passion and is able to deliver their message with a level of conviction that sheds away any self doubt that others may have.

There is a tendency to associate visionaries with popular figures like Steve Jobs or a Martin Luther King.  But visionaries can be used on a small scale too, it alss helps that the message being delivered has some level of altruism in order further inspire others.


The authority charisma has to be earned through position, job title and status; consequently it is not directly accessible to everyone.  Those with the authority charisma have the ability to affect our world in some way or form.

The authority charisma is displayed through high level of confidence and is used as a means to get others to simply listen and obey without questions.   Earlier in the article I noted that working on authority alone is not enough and this is due it’s supplementary effects.

The authority charisma:

  • doesn’t invite feedback and
  • inhibits critical thinking in others

It therefore should be balanced with other types of charisma styles to avoid the ivory tower syndrome.


Where to from here..
Its fun to go out and try on a particular charisma style or see if you can identify a charisma style with others that you work with.  Choosing the right charisma style will depends on a few factors:

  • What you are comfortable with (i.e. you own personality)
  • What you are trying to achieve (the goal) and
  • The situation you are in.

As it turns Elon Musk is a master of the focus charisma.  In the workplace he sits in the corner of the office and hides behind two giant monitors.  He uses this as a way to shield himself from the rest of the office.  But when he emerges behind those monitors he is completely present and 100% focused on who he is listening to.

It would be fair to assume that Elon is super focused on everything he does, including his people.  And that’s where it all starts and where it all finishes; its all about the people you know (in work and in life) and how you can touch them.

Where will you lead your ‘devoted followers’ ? and how you can influence them towards something bigger or direct them onto a better path?

You can read more on the topic of charisma in the book The Charisma Myth by Oliva Fox Cabana.

Thoughts on Leadership

Coach K

Time to read: 5 mins

Last year I had a close friend of mine (Ryan) recommend a book called “Leading from the Heart” by Mike Kryzyewski (illustrated above).  Ryan has completed his MBA and has spent some time as a consultant, he described the book as one of the best he has read on the topic of leadership.

So with such a glowing endorsement I purchased and finished the book late last year.

Unlike some of the other topics that I have written about, leadership has a major element and without it that topic does not exist. That element is other people.  Leadership needs people, without it you are the leader of nothing.

What determines a good leader from a bad or incompetent one is the people that they lead.

With that being said I thought that I’d take some time in identifying the attributes and characteristics of a leader.  You can use these six characteristics to do a self-assessment or an assessment on those that have a leadership role.

And because we are all people, the position or title we hold in the work place is irrelevant.  We should all be able to identify these leadership qualities within ourselves and our co-workers.


#1.  A leader uses inclusive language

A leader will use inclusive language, when acknowledging a job well done.  The goals that a leader sets are not his own, or by higher management;  a leader has the ability to create and convey goals so that they become shared goals among each team member.

When things don’t go to plan, a leader won’t single out individuals, instead ‘if one person fails, then we all fail” approach is adopted.  This line of thinking shifts the focus on helping out other team members as opposed to just looking out for themselves.


#2.  A leader admits their own mistakes

Leaders can sometimes make the wrong  decision or set the team off in the wrong direction.  In these circumstances a leader should not make excuses or blame others (by the way blaming others is the quickest way to destroy trust).

A leader has the humility to admit mistakes as their own and openly and honestly apologise for them.  Unlike making up their excuses and blaming others which only creates hostility, this vulnerable act builds trust between them and the team and shows that they truly have the best interests of the their team before their own interest.


#3.  A leader make time for others 

A leader makes time for others because they understand the importance and value of the people who work for them.  They understand that people are most effective when they are working ‘for someone’ and towards a shared goal.  Connection is important, it’s hard to be engaged with someone you can’t relate to or to something that you don’t believe in.


#4.  A leader shouldn’t have too many rules

Another aspect of leadership is decision making, which is sometimes avoided for multiple reasons, here are a few that come to mind:

  1. It’s time consuming
  2. Requires effort and investigation
  3. Has consequences
  4. Requires someone to take responsibility

Generally when you see someone that implements and advertises a lot of rules, they generally do so to avoid making decisions, which in turns allows them to avoid responsibility and avoid consequences.

Clearly avoiding the decision making process for such reasons does not conjure up images of a modern day Gough Whitlam or Tim Cook.


#5.  A leader is always positive and motivates others

A leader has the ability to stay positive. Which is easy enough to do while everything is smooth sailing and going to plan but it can only be demonstrated when things go wayward or when unplanned events occur.

I remember working on a small team as a Business Analyst.  It was a Wednesday and on this day we were planned to do a production environment update for the first time. There was quiet a bit of planning leading to this event.

And so Wednesday morning came and we heard  that the Release Manager (who plans and manages the days proceeding) was sick and would not be coming into the office.  Our immediate reaction was:

‘What are we going to do… Who will manage the deployment… (and finally) We will just have to postpone, there is no other option’

We waited until the project manager came in and to my surprise he took all of the news with a smile and said:

Well, this is a good opportunity to test our contingency plan.  We will have a lot more of these deployment in the future and our Release Manager may not always be available’


#6.  A leader treats his team like family

I have left this one till last, because it’s only on the rare occasion that these situations exist and even rarer that you have the opportunity to be a part of.

If this can be achieved it is the pinnacle of any team.  A lot of businesses ‘talk about’ this concept but few will actually ‘be about’ this concept.  So much can be said about the benefits of having a family type environment in the workplace that it deserves to be a topic on its own (maybe for another time).

Leading into my the final thoughts take a moment to think about your own family and the lengths you go to ensure their happiness, well being and safety.  Think about those that have done the same for you, most likely it will be a parent or maybe your partner or sibling.


Final Thoughts

I know (like our workplace) we can’t always choose our family but we can choose our behaviour and how we choose to treat others.  Most of the points made in this article (e.g. making time for others, not having too many rules, being positive)  are naturally associated with family.

Adopting such behaviours is what makes family important and something that we want to be a part of, which leads me to think:

Is there any reason why we shouldn’t try to bring the same behaviours into the workplace..?   Or maybe it’s someone else’s job to think about.

A job for a leader perhaps…