Harnessing the lone wolf early
I’ve been working with some future leaders over the past few weeks. They’re in the early days of their careers, not really knowing what leadership means, or even that they are future leaders, but busting with enthusiasm for what they do each day.
Already, at this formative stage, before they’ve got their first formal gig – direct reports, a team to lead – you can see how their stories might unfold. The ones who get the power of team instinctively (they’re including, consulting, collaborating, building alliances) and the lone wolves who believe it is all up or down to them and who pay less or little attention to people’s opinions of them. ‘Just got to get the job done’.
Of course the lone wolf disposition may be deeply ingrained by the time we hit the world of work. It’s likely a complex cocktail of nature, nurture and the heroes we attach our dreaming to. What do I mean? Well, let’s think this through in sporting terms (conventional, I know when it comes to teamwork). Anyhow, imagine our sporting idol was a tennis player – Federer, Murray, Graf (Jimmy Connors for me) or an F1 driver – Schumacher and umm Schumacher (yes I am partisan) as we grew up.
So they were lone wolves, at least to the untrained, hero-worshipping eye, and created a mental model for success that was based on self and own efforts. What we miss in scanning our idealised picture is the talented and essential team behind the front of house talent.
Nothing without team…
Michael Schumacher couldn’t have been a 7-time world champion without a great team behind him…a fact he was utterly brilliant at acknowledging and a team he was utterly brilliant at building (according to those who were there). In the world of work we make progress because we have a team around us – supporting, guiding, challenging, sweeping up, etc., even if we choose not to recognise it.
Back to my future leaders then and the task for all of us as the leaders of now. Likely you’ll have a sense of your potential future leaders. You know who they are, give or take. There’ll be a mix of the ambitious lone wolves and the more collegiate and collaborative who already get, and are proving, that we can achieve more together. Plus, there’ll likely be some shades in between.
Of course none are the finished, fabulous article but we can embrace our legacy opportunity here to ensure that’s what they become.
Now it may sound like I believe the lone wolf is bad and the team player good. Well, it’s more complicated than that. Leadership can be a lonely road so the resilience and resourcefulness of the lone wolf is important as long as we have the sensitivity to know when to turn it up and tone it down. Meanwhile the collaborator can be snagged in the stasis of seeking consensus. Can’t move forward, can’t move back, can’t move.
What’s needed here, I believe, is the ability to lead together and alone and the discernment to know when which is needed. Surely it is our responsibility as the leaders of now to help the leaders of what comes next assimilate the understanding and capabilities to achieve this delicate and vital balance.