The Spidey's Way: Story of the "I" leaders.
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
As written in my previous blog, I'm trying to bring to life stories of different types of Leaders based on Jungian psychology. As I have started in March with a story of the "D" leaders as it was personified through the Iron Man character in the Avengers franchise, I will continue it by writing about the next one: the "I" leaders, or the Spidermans of the world.
This second leadership style is what is usually labeled as the "Influence" type (in the DISC framework) or the "Sunshine Yellow" (in the Insight Discovery framework). In Avengers movie, it is shown in the "Spiderman" character: creative and fun persona, immediately build energy when they are around, very bubbly and charismatic, natural networkers, love to crack jokes and laughs, enjoy being on the spotlight and a natural public speaker, enjoy taking the challenge of finding solutions to unsolved puzzles, thinking two or three steps ahead with out-of-the-box ideas, and very keen to see impacts by energizing people around him. Because people are important to them, this type of leader invests time informally catching up and talking to people: a wide range of them. They naturally make friends with their team members, stakeholders, peers, and even their boss. You will love the "Spiderman" persona (Spidey) leader when they are on their "good days", it's fun to be around them and their creativity will amaze you. One example of amazing creativity in the Avengers movie was when Spidey easily eliminated Ebony Maw, one of "The Children of Thanos" by vacuum-pressuring Maw through a hole in the spaceship -- an idea that not even the genius Iron Man had thought of. When Spidey was asked where he got the idea from, he responded lightly: from a sci-fi film called "Aliens". They are 'that creative'. If you adore Spidey in the Avengers franchise, you probably will like to be led by an "I" or "Sunshine Yellow" Leader.
However, just as the movie unfolds, when ”bad days” come, Spidey's type of leaders could be irritating as they avoid "difficult subjects" and try to mask it along -- hence, underestimating a degree of an issue. They also become jumpy, lack focus, and come out with a laundry list of actions that all need to be done at the same time during work's pressure. Being frantic is a blind spot for Spidey; where they tend to solve easy-fix stuff and avoid delving deeper into more complex-and-complicated issues (which often happens!). Complex problems that need a lot of rigor and nitty-gritty details to delayer in order to find the root cause to solve it long-term is not a favorite subject for Spidey. In the Avengers franchise, you would see the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, and many other more mature Avengers discussing battle plans -- Spidey is more into "I'll wait outside, go ahead discuss and let me know how I can help you guys, yes?". Another watchout is that when Spidey is unhappy, he/she can talk for hours, complaining; and they unconsciously turn themselves into those who 'talked behind' about others. The challenge with 'talking behind' about others is that it risks trust to be destroyed immediately; this is why I always remind Spidey leaders to not become "gossipy" as it is so tempting for them to turn gossipy when they don't like what they see. So, if you think you are an "I" type of a Leader, here is a simple to-do list to bring the best out of your style:
Lead others with your People-centered approach.
It is often in day-to-day work, a team is drowned in operational matters and hitting roadblocks as the this-and-that process doesn't seem to work. Such a feeling of being stuck may demoralize the team. Spidey leaders can bring back the energy into the room in a snap of a finger, and shoot four-to-five genuine and out-of-the-box ideas that might bring the team away from being heavily attached to familiar answers. Just like Spidey, you are usually the first to ignite back the light in the room, standing up, and says to everyone: "Let’s stand up, pat the back of a friend next to you. Now, let's open up to other ideas on how to fix this. Here is mine". Remember, as an extrovert, you solve issues by talking through them: so do open up and rally your team members to brainstorm and solve. As a CEO, you will define your job as the "Chief Energy Officer" who would lead the team by having you at the center: stage townhalls, give out speeches, call out team meetings, walk around the workspace and talk with them. You lead your best by being at the center of the actions, being on the ground with them. Spidey leader is the most-casual in comparison with the other types, you can easily become your team member's friends. Just like its name: sunshine yellow, your superpower lies in spreading the positive energy, and light of hope, so that your team can continue finding solutions and making things happen by self-energizing themselves.
Watchout points: do this in an accommodative way, and if you face a problem and you don't know the details of what the issues are operational, hold yourself in concluding an action plan so easily. Do ask other team members (with different personas) to feed you with data points, prioritization and how to ensure the right stakeholders are onboard to make sure your solutions will make the biggest possible impact. Jumping into a conclusion is what you tend to do, as you want to get things done fast, and bring the team back on happy moments, despite its risk of underestimating the deeper underlying cause of a problem. I had once partnered with a Spidey Sales Leader: he plays electric guitar, is a vocalist in a band, and is a great stage performer. His town halls and team meetings are always done with fun and spark huge energy boosts that would last for weeks. After being a successful middle-manager, he was appointed as a Sales Director handling outer islands regions. His high self-awareness made him land in the role smoothly: knowing that there are various underlying issues behind the decline of the region's sales, he formed his core leadership team by appointing a leading-edge analytics Area Manager to co-lead his sales forecasting and planning workstream, and a strong field-commander Area Manager in making priority on Region's budget allocation. He leveraged a different persona within his leadership team well. While he empowered his core leadership team to focus on "core business" to deliver week by week numbers, he pioneered a new 'source of growth' by digitizing small shops order-taking and setting up sales depo 2.0 (agile workspace) with less capital cost and operational expense. Spidey leaders need to create a web of different persona and synergize them to deliver the hygienes while creating a space for them to do what he does best: bringing the future now, or pulling in out-of-the-box ideas and experimenting it with the team.
Activate Energy, Energy, Energy.
Most decisions in the organization today are made by looking at various data points, involving a lot of stakeholders, making choices out of so many priorities, etc. These can overwhelm a team. Spidey Leaders usually are the ones who naturally spot that the energy in the team is low, and know that regardless of how brilliant a plan looks like, it is useless if people are not energized to do it. This is why, "I" leader put in a lot of effort in the activation and launch of projects, and really pay attention to ensuring any team's town hall is done with perfection as it is the moment of truth that predict future success. As an HR professional, partnering with a Spidey leader is enjoyable: you don't have any difficulties convincing them of the importance of People and team building. They are simply natural on it. I recently partnered with a Tech leader with an "I" style, which is very rare (as most Tech professionals are mostly born out of deep technical expertise, which is classified as "Compliance" within the DISC framework). Within one year, he has completed all team-building fundamentals required to ensure trust, collaboration, and teamwork embedded throughout the whole team. His leadership town hall is well-crafted in the most creative ways with various touches of excitement: unique title of the town hall, the topics that covered, the rosters of speakers he invited into the town hall, etc. With such a people-centered approach, he built a presence as a trusted Leader whom his team members can approach and ask for a chat to simply give suggestions/constructive feedback to improve the overall state of the team.
Watchout points: balance these energy-building initiatives with holding people accountable for results, and leveraging other personas in your team when you need help to work on details (which may not be your forte). Ask for different viewpoints before making a decision. As "I" leader wants to make things exciting, your default thinking mode is to creatively activate things as fancy and amazing as possible to create the biggest energy effect behind everything. Failure to prioritize on which one requires big activation, and which one is not, might have drained your team's energy (ironically speaking). For some works that require basic fundamentals only, simply doing it in a "business as usual" manner remains the best.
Hope, and the Light of Optimism.
In any Spiderman story, you'll find that even in the most difficult fight against mighty villains, Spidey always stays bright, optimistic, and keeps making jokes along the way. In many war movies, there's always this one charismatic soldier who helps bring back the energy in the team, battle-after-battle. Your leadership motto is: "Let’s think of another way if things fail. We will only fail if we stop trying. Stand up and follow me". I was once co-leading the Indochina region HR team as the L&D partner for a 'Spidey' HR Business Partner Director. It was a difficult time because both of us were literally working in a startup mode for countries like Myanmar once they declared themselves as "open for business", the post-military-dictatorship regime in the mid-2010s. Setting up companies, recruiting locals, getting regulatory compliance on manpower management, etc was a challenge by itself. My leadership style is a "C" in the DISC spectrum: so I naturally bring in various ready-to-implement principles, policies, and processes to the new country. Guess what: it failed. However, as Spidey leader, my HRBP partner turn things around: he introduces many out-of-the-box initiatives, starred in many of the employee townhalls himself (filling in the void that the "D" style Country Director left), and manage to re-launch so many 'regular' HR processes through a 'marketing' approach that makes it fun, exciting, and easily adopted by almost everyone. For example: after the company left disappointed having directly recruited fresh graduates from top-tier campuses, the business feels frustrated in finding talents. He initiated out-of-the-box initiatives on two fronts: on recruitment, the company shifted our strategy to recruit from vocational-courses academy instead (private institution, non-degree) once he found out through one of the random coffee chats that many bachelors in Myanmar had actually gone to this particular non-degree academy to prepare themselves for work, practice English, and ride on the networks of the academy's alumnus. On another front, he also initiated short-term "talent expatriation" from Thailand, where young rising stars from the Thai sister companies are commissioned to drive certain projects in Myanmar as part of their Graduate traineeship scheme. Those two ideas were operationalized by me (as his 'rigor' partner), but I have to admit that the idea didn't cross my mind at all before. Kudos to him, as those non-familiar initiatives closed the talent gap situation during those early setups.
Watchout points: complete your hope and optimism with proper planning, project management, and support from complementing personas (i.e. detail-oriented person, who can operationalize things beyond big-picture thinking). Just like the above story, it is important for Spidey to collaborate and surround himself to ensure he/she is grounded to reality. The second watchout under this heading is about the "gossiping" temptation that an "I" have as leaders. When Spidey doesn't like what they see, they want to talk it through with others. This is where 'drama' stories about things could be exaggerated (remember: these are the creative types), where facts and perceptions mixed into 'news and reality. The reason why it is the most dangerous pitfall for "I" leader is that by the time they gossips, their credibility as a positive and energy-building leader would be tarnished as gossips would only create a sense of uncertainty, distrust, despair, and negativity --- which opposites to hope and the light of optimism that a "Sunshine" ideally sprays.
Those are three key points I want to remind you of if you happened to be the "I" Leaders or the "Spidey" of Leaders. Do continue to lead others by putting People first, building energy through great activation and creative ideas, and by being the "Sun" of the team spraying light of hopes and optimism, while keeping the watchout points in mind so that you can be adored for your unique contribution and impacts.
Have fun, Spidey!
Disclaimer: all the perspectives in this blog is a 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!