The Iron-Man's Way: Story of the "D" leaders.
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
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 visualizations, symbols (including 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 audiences can attach themselves to one of these characters and hence love 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 make positive impacts. There is no one persona or 'color' that is better than others, but one thing is for sure: it is impossible to solve issues with only 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 need to assemble --- just like how Avengers assembled in defeating Thanos in the Endgame episode.
The first leadership style is usually labeled as the "Dominant" type (in the DISC framework) or the "Fiery Red" (in the 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 given 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 are 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 the result is there, becoming aggressive and impatient, bossy and not willing to listen, taking a too-much risk that might sacrifice others, abusive with their authority, over-competitive and lost their 'feet-on-the-ground', and didn't have enough patience to see complexity over the matters that might lead into wrong decisions and jeopardize matters. In the Avengers franchise, it was the unwillingness of Iron Man to listen to his fellow leader (Captain America) that 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:
Energize others with your Winning Confidence.
It is often in day-to-day work, a team is drowned in operational matters and hitting roadblocks as this-and-that process doesn't seem to work. While it is easy to give up, just like "Iron-Man", you are usually the first to wipe the dust of war, standing up, and saying to everyone: "Let’s start it all over again". You want to win, and that is 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 operational, hold yourself in making judgments so easily. Do ask other team members (with different personas) to feed you with data points and brainstorm the solutions. Jumping into a conclusion is what you tend to do, as you become impatient and want to fix a problem fast, despite it lose sight of the underlying cause. I had once partnered with a Sales leader who want to act very fast, in which he/she build up an entirely new team and give them the mandate to conquer a territory, yet, without being equipped with proper knowledge and tools. The team ended up failing to deliver results and lost its morale as an impact, in which a reset (which took a long time) was finally needed to re-start things in the right direction.
Decision, Decision, Decision.
Most of the decisions in the organization today are made by looking at various data points and hearing inputs from many sources: i.e. big data stats about the macroeconomy, survey results, NPS (net promoter score), point of views from different departments/businesses, etc. Leaders with a "D" persona usually is the ones who naturally sense that discussion went too far into the 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 makes the team feel overwhelmed and stuck. Iron-Man is the one who brings that debate back to action in the Avengers movie. "What we are going to do now?" is the ongoing question in your mind, and you need to speak it up. There is a mythical creature that embodies the “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 is that 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 a "D" leader wants to think and act fast, your default thinking mode is to simplify (hence, at risk to over-simplify) situations. The risk of being reactive and rushing decisions that would make you regret it, later on, is a typical challenge that you often faced in the past. Understanding underlying cause, getting the right data points, and bringing people to be on board with your decision is as important as seizing momentum: do remember that. One historical example was the case of the 1986 Challenger 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 of the risk of "O-ring" failures within a 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 an enemy in the game and winning it by killing all the enemies. You are a striker who believes that winning a soccer match must be done by scoring as many goals as possible; and hence, seizing 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 want to be in action now, shooting down enemies while flying around the battle zones without having to choose any strategic enemy to defeat. (We will compare how important this different approach is 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 about where we end up later"
Watchout points: complete your sense of urgency with proper planning and project management, without losing the agility brought in by your energy. As a "D" leader who 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 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 much 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, but 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 with 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 the company's brand equity into an ROI-driven event where we convert participants into successful hires as a 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 oversimplifying (that usually lead to underestimating the nature of the situation). Balance simplicity and complete your sense of urgency by considering the long-term impact of your decision. As "D" leaders want to simplify everything, compliance processes that are created for certain purposes 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 controlled robot troops that only obeys him; we knew how the story went, as Ultron ended up exterminating human beings as they logically believe that earth will be safe only when mankind is 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 the fact that he/she was away off in the pay scale, and it was a complicated matter because the candidate needed to be hired by a different legal entity within the companies before he/she can receive an expatriation contract and is 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 getting the candidate onboard only after 3 months (where so many interim arrangements were 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 of, if you happened to be the "D" Leaders or the "Iron-Man" of Leaders. Do continue to energize others with your winning confidence, rally the team to make decisions and embrace change, encourage the team to "act now" and seize momentum, and think simple and simplify, while keeping 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!