Leading the "Iron-Man" Way: Story of the "D" leaders.
Updated: Mar 2
As written in my previous blog, there are different types of Leaders based on Jungian psychology. Quoting DISC/Insight Discovery framework, there are mainly Four archetypes of Leaders. I will write about each type in my monthly updates, across the next four articles. I will use visualisations, symbols (including from mythology) and stories to paint the picture about these personas. Since I am also a movie fan, I will also share how these characters were narrated in various pop-culture movies to make it a closer reference to readers. Why movies? because in my view, as if any fiction novels/books hooked us into it, great movies always portrayed various personas in their stories, so that different audience can attached themselves to one of these characters and hence loving them as they could see themselves in those characters. Note that in each Leader's persona, there's always a great contribution they would offer, but at the same time, there are blind spots they will need to watch out for, so they consistently making positive impacts. There is no one persona or 'color' is better than others, but one thing for sure: it is impossible to solve issues with only with one persona's approach. That is why, at the end of breaking down the four archetypes of Leaders, I will close the series with a call-to-action for these different personas to assemble; the bigger the challenge, the more different persona and strength needs to assemble --- just like how Avengers assembled in defeating Thanos in the Endgame episode.
The first leadership style is what usually labelled as the "Dominant" type (in DISC framework) or the "Fiery Red" (in Insight Discovery framework). In Avengers movie, it is shown in the "Iron-Man" character: goal and result focus, very assertive, natural leader, courageous and daring, risk-taker, enjoy taking the baton of leadership, loves it when they are in power and give a license to tell people to do things, has a can-do and a gung-ho mentality, competing with others enthusiastically, and very keen to see impacts immediately (hence, decisive and fast). You will admire them when they are on their "good days". If you adore Iron Man in the Avengers franchise, you probably also a "D" or "Fiery Red" type.
However, just as the movie unfolds, when ”bad days” came, Iron-Man type of leader could be irritating as they allow 'short-cuts' as long as result is there, becoming aggressive and impatient, bossy and not willing to listen, taking too-much risk that might sacrifice others, abusive with their authority, overcompetitive and lost their 'feet-on-the-ground', and didn't have enough patience to see complexity over the matters that might led into wrong decisions and jeopardize matters. In Avengers franchise, it was the unwillingness of Iron Man to listen to his fellow leader (Captain America) was the trigger behind the "Civil War" episode. Iron-Man was also the one who decided to attack Thanos in his home planet for its surprise element, yet split the One-Avengers force as the Earth lost the "Infinity War" episode. So, if you think you are a "D" type of a Leader, here is a simple to-do list to bring the best out of your style:
Energise others with your Winning Confidence.
It is often in day-to-day work, a team is drowned into operational matters and hitting roadblocks as this-and-that process doesn't seem work. While it is easy to gave up, just like "Iron-Man", you are usually be the first to wipe those dust of war, standing up, and says to everyone: "Let’s start it all over again". You want to win, and that is a good energy to spread to other team members. Just like its name: a fiery red, your superpower is to ignite the fire behind a team's energy to stand up and fight.
Watchout points: do this in a respectful way, and if you face a problem and you don't know the details of what’s the issues are operationally, hold yourself in making judgment so easily. Do ask other team members (with different personas) to feed you with data points and brainstorm the solutions. Jump into conclusion is what you tend to do, as you become impatient and want to fix a problem fast, despite it lose sights on the underlying cause. I had once partnered a Sales leader who want to act very fast, in which he/she build up an entirely new team and give them mandate to conquer a territory, yet, without being equipped with a proper knowledge and tools. The team ended up failed delivering results and lost its morale as an impact, in which a reset (which taking a longer time) was finally needed to re-start things in the right direction.
Decision, Decision, Decision.
Most of decisions in the organisation today are made by looking at various data points and hearing inputs from many sources: i.e. big data stats about macro economy, survey results, NPS (net promotor score), point of views from different departments/business units, etc. Leaders with a "D" persona usually is the one who naturally sense that discussion went too far into multi-layers depth of debates without decisions, and remind the team that there has to be a way forward and ask "What's the decision, what's our next actions?". You need to step up when any discussion became blurry and muddy, when topics are getting wide and problem analysis making the team feel overwhelmed and stuck. Iron-Man is the one who bring that debates back to action in the Avengers movie. "What we are going to do now?" is the ongoing questions in your mind, and you need to speak it up. There is a mythical creature that embodies “D” leader persona: a Phoenix. Phoenix is willing to burn itself and start its new life again, and again, and again. The reason why you dare to take decisions, because you are not afraid of change. You believe that change is only will bring the better: a new life, just like a Phoenix’s belief.
Watchout points: balance this decisiveness with data and empathy; do listen to different viewpoints before deciding. As "D" leader wants to think and act fast, your default thinking mode is to simplify (hence, at risk to over-simplify) situation. The risk of being reactive and rushing decisions that would make you regret it later on, is typical challenges that you often faced in the past. Understanding underlying cause, getting the right data points, and bringing people to be onboard with your decision is as important as seizing momentum: do remember that. One historical example was the case of 1986 Challenger's disaster, where NASA's space shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight. The post-mortem analysis of the case was because the Mission Leaders (who was mostly “D” persona) decided to launch the shuttle although the engineering counterparts remind them the risk of "O-ring" failures within certain/threshold degree of temperature. The team decided not to dig in for further data points and rushed themselves into a launch that ended up in a tragedy instead of victory.
Result and The Urgency of Now.
In the fast pace of today's competitive world, speed is the essence of success. You are natural in rallying yourself and other people to move fast by the time a decision has been taken, and driving everyone to get results. In the language of a first-person shooting (FPS) gamer, you are like an Infantry. Your mode of action is by bringing in an assault rifle and taking as much as enemy in the game and win it by killing all the enemies. You are a striker who believe that winning a soccer match must be done by scoring as many goals as possible; and hence, seizing a momentum is important to win (i.e. through counterattack, or kick-and-rush kind of playbook). Just like Iron-Man in the Avengers movies, you wants to be in actions now, shooting down enemies while flying arounds the battle zones without having to choose any strategic enemy to defeat. (We will compare how important this different approach later with the second type of Leader with a "C" persona in my next article). Your leadership motto is "Let’s start now, don't worry too much on where we ends up."
Watchout points: complete your sense of urgency with proper planning and project management, without losing the agility brought in by your energy. As "D" leader wants to do things with speed, your default action mode is to get into the shortest route possible, hence, at risk to be trapped in a blind-spot situation. Just like an infantry in an FPS game, you are attacking the battle zone as if there are unlimited bullets in your assault rifle. The truth is: resource is limited. It is very often to see that ”D" leaders started something and ended up not seeing it through into completion because the decisions led to resource requirements that is beyond their reaches, just like an infantry who run out of ammunition in the middle of a battlefield.
In an era where there is just too many information flying around, you have the natural talent to filter all these noises and ask sharp questions, leading to sharp decisions that really hit the target. Not only from a thinking perspective, your communication style is also more into a simple "bullet points" style. With all the above comes naturally, do help your team members to make things simpler. I partnered a Leader who asked me to change the way I do employer brand, and transform a student event where the objective was to solely build company's brand equity into a ROI-driven event where we convert participants into successful hires as high-potential talent pool for the company. It was a good idea that helps me save more time in HR too as we integrate both employer brand activities followed through by networking events and hiring camps.
Watchout points: Simple doesn't mean oversimplify (that usually lead to underestimating the nature of the situation). Balance simplicity and complete your sense of urgency with considering a long-term impact of your decision. As "D" leaders want to simplify everything, compliance processes that created for certain purpose might be perceived as a barrier. In the Avengers story, Iron Man's initial solution to keep the world safe was by creating a huge army of Ultron -- a supposed-to be a controlled robot troops that only obeys him; we knew how the story went, as Ultron ended up exterminating human being as they logically believe that earth will be safe only when mankind are no longer exist. Apparently, things are not as simple as Iron Man thought of.
I was once partner a "D" Leader who lead a regional team, and wanted to hire a candidate despite of the fact that he/she was a way off in the pay scale, and it was a complicated matters because the candidate was need to be hired by a different legal entity within the companies before he/she can receive an expatriation contract and being based in the destination country. The "D" Leader was pushing it through and 'rock the boat' HR leadership team of two-countries, a global mobility team, and ended up with getting the candidate onboard only after 3 months (where so many interim arrangement made, and an overall bad candidate experience). The candidate ended up leaving after two years, due to many reasons but one of those was the integration that was far from smooth.
Those are four key points I want to remind you, if you happened to be the "D" Leaders, or the "Iron-Man" of Leaders. Do continue to energise others with your winning confidence, rally team to make decision and embrace change, encourage the team to "act now" and seize momentum, and think simple and simplify, while keep the watchout points in mind so that you can be admired for your unique contribution and impacts.
Fly high, Iron-Man!
Disclaimer: all the perspectives in this blog is casual interpretation I personally made. There is no official literature over the "Avengers" characters mapping into leadership/management. So do take it lightly, and have fun reading!