The Romanoff's Way: Story of the "S" 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" and "I" leaders as it was personified through Iron Man and Spiderman characters in the Avengers franchise, I will continue it by writing about the next one: the "S" leaders, reflected in the character of the Black Widow, or Natasha Romanoff, a former intelligence agent who then joined the Avengers and become the "heart and soul" of the group. As an easy way to story-tell about this leadership style, let us call it the "Romanoff" Way.
Romanoff's way is the third leadership style in the DISC framework; what is labeled as the "Steadiness" type or the "Earth Green'' in the Insight Discovery framework. In Avengers movie, it is shown in Natasha Romanoff's character: noble and purposeful, caring and protective (symbolized as Mother Earth), very loyal and heroic, willing to be the last one standing if needed (she was the one who kept Avengers running after the Infinity War defeat), trusted friend/leader, resilient and dependable, an idealist who dedicated himself/herself to a cause, a humble and servant leader who leads with heart, prefer to work 'behind the stage', and find satisfaction in leaving legacy instead of being on the spotlight rained by confetti. Because people are important to them, Romanoff leaders invest time in nurturing their team through building relationship via 1-on-1; coaching and mentoring is usually their forte. People listen to them as they quickly build trust simply because they are genuine, and trusted to keep secrets well. You will love a Romanoff leader because you can sense that he/she truly cares and has no hidden agenda when meeting you. It's inspiring to see what they do in their good days in keeping the team together. Working for a Romanoff leader feels safe: you know that someone does care and is looking after you. A successful Romanoff or Earth-Green leader is usually perceived as an omnipresent leader -- just like mother earth that one can always come back to, rely on, hang on to. One example in the Avengers movie was on how Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) keep Avengers survive as a team by going the distance by reaching out to various "lost" characters (i.e. Hulk, Hawkeye/Ronin, Captain America in the context of making peace with Iron Man post-Civil-War episode, etc). In the Endgame story, she even sacrificed herself to save humanity as Avengers tried to reverse the "Thanos's snap". If you are inspired and touched by such a story in the Avengers franchise, you probably would like to be led by a Natasha Romanoff or an "S'' Leader.
However, just as the movie unfolds, when ”bad days” come, Romanoff types of leaders could leave others feeling hanging as they avoid "difficult conversation" and try to avoid tough decisions, or pretend that everything is alright, despite it was not. Putting harmony as the ultimate state he/she is looking for, they shy away from bringing up issues on the surface, and postpone a critical action needed when they don't feel that everyone agrees to it. When Romanoff leaders must take sides, it takes time for them to decide as seeing their team scattered and fighting each other is torturing internally for them. In the Avengers stories, there were moments where the team split due to the disagreement between Iron Man and Captain America, which led to the "Civil War" episode. Romanoff ended taking side and joining Captain America considering Captain's factions stayed true to the ideal and purpose of 'why Avengers was created in the first place' -- it was quite late in the story. Being indecisive, because of not wanting to let anyone down, is the most challenging personal challenge that Romanoff leaders have to face. Another challenge for them is that they are so humble, that they deliberately avoid the spotlight. This makes them often underestimated. In the Avengers stories, Romanoff has a lot of great ideas, but she conveys it in 1-on-1 settings; not in big battle-plans discussions where the likes of Iron Man and Captain America would take the lead. Romanoff or an "S" leader should encourage themselves to speak up, as to balance the loud-yet-rushed voice of the "D" "I" and "C" leaders (within DISC framework). Another watchout is that when a Romanoff leader is unhappy, they will keep it for themselves: being silent, pulling out, and withdrawing themselves to their 'quiet place' to reflect and deal with those battles themselves. The challenge with responding with silence is that the team would be left guessing; as none of their team members have telepathy ability. Being silent is counter-productive to Romanoff's superpower, as the most caring leader among the rest. This is why I always remind Romanoff leaders to not withdraw and be silent in difficult times, because everyone under his/her leadership is waiting for a decision/answer, and can't do telepathy. So, if you think you are a Romanoff or an "S" type of a Leader, here is a simple to-do list to bring the best out of your style :
Unleash your 1-on-1 superpower.
It is often in a team, that team members feel that they are just cogwheels in a big machine. With their abundant capacity for empathy, combined with the honest approach in building trust quickly, Romanoff leaders can amaze others with their engaging 1-on-1 sessions. Most of the great coaches I happened to know in person was apparently 'a Romanoff' hence no wonder they are so natural in listening and helping others to thrive over 1-on-1 session. Here is a story of such actions: I was once partnered with a new VP who was a Romanoff. He is appointed for a newly created role, where the team was young and energetic, but has been very operational and focused on too many small things that didn't make an impact as significant as expected by the business. Using his 1-on-1 skills, he diligently met every first-line manager on the field, and quietly read existing business plans (which failed), work processes, and getting feedback from key stakeholders (also through 1-on-1 sessions) on what went well, and what needs improvement. In one month, he already amazed his team as he inspires loyalty already by holding a team engagement session where they spend hours to get to know each other as a person, beyond the job description, over an intimate lifeline-sharing session. In the second month, he already set up team norms and new meeting cadences that help address underlying issues of having "One Voice" as a team whenever they face customers, and at the end of his 100 days, he launched a team's vision that summarized what his Managers have dreamed and conveyed during the early 1-on-1 sessions he had held, and caught the team surprised that thing they said, does matters (instead of being ignored). To cut the story short, in year 1, the team was already back to normal delivering their target, and the employee engagement score of the team was at an all-time high by the end of year 2. That is the magic of Romanoff leaders: these leaders inspire others. Romanoff's team members work for their leader because they choose to: out of trust, inspiration, respect, and admiration.
Watchout points: do this, while holding people accountable. Being a Romanoff, the noble intent of nurturing and developing people might be 'manipulated' by others who want to take advantage of you by simply not delivering what they have asked to. Being kind and a nice person, Romanoff leaders usually give room and space to others in picking their pace and bounce back; doing dozens of 1-on-1s with the hope that those sessions will change one's conscience to finally change their attitude. Again, some 'bad apples' team members will abuse such trust by keeping themselves acting stubborn and ignoring you (i.e. by continuing to be irresponsible and not doing their job). This is where a Romanoff must find their courage and enforce discipline in the team. Because once a negative behavior is tolerated, it spills to others. There is a traditional quote in Indonesia saying: "Don't let a drop of an ink blacken a bucket of milk". This is what a Romanoff leader needs to keep in mind. They have to put the team's interest in place to encourage them to be assertive, including in not tolerating bad behavior in his team.
Purpose and Authenticity
Romanoffs are mostly genuine, humble and approachable, honest and relatable. Romanoff is authentic by nature, they are an "open book" as a human being. Being naturally reflective and liking to think in-depth, they also usually are big believers in the power of Purpose. They have an idealist vision of making a difference to the world -- despite, it might not be the most economically-beneficial goal. For them, leaving a long-lasting legacy is more important than being rich, famous, and celebrated by rains of confetti. This is the reason they inspire: they bring to life the fact that there is still goodness to believe in, out of this world. As a Romanoff, you have that power of Purpose that you must share to others. Spend time with your team members sharing personal stories on how Purpose has led you to where you are now. You would be surprised to see how stories about personal Purpose energize others to also find their own.
Watchout points: balance Purpose, with Impact. Talking about Purpose makes people get into fulfilling discussions about how one's life can be, which might detach people from the ground of reality. This is why, any conversation about Purpose, must be followed through with a question on "Now, knowing your Purpose, how can you unleash that Purpose-power into impact for our company?". Romanoffs who have the courage to ask that question will unlock the energy in their team.
Facilitate and Build Bridges
Just like in Avengers stories, Natasha Romanoff was the one who handheld Avengers from a collapse after "Infinity War '' killed half of the team. She stayed in the abandoned Avengers camp, staying believing that there's still light at the end of the tunnel. As the story unfolds, Romanoff helps to recruit back scattered heroes, including the lost-soul Hawkeye/Ronin who became a cold-blooded assassin after losing his family to the Thanos snap. Insight of the story: Romanoff is willing to go for the distance and do whatever it takes to unite a team. Such dedication for the team is very rare in other DISC styles. A Romanoff is usually the most selfless persona, which makes them an inspirational figure simply because they do awesome stuff that no one would even think of when it comes to supporting their team members. Building bridges across to other leaders, or down below team members, are a natural instinct to you as a Romanoff. A story to prove: I was once partnered with a Romanoff sales Director, who was famous for his loyalty to his team member. There are so many "urban legends'' about his kindness and care for his people. One that I witnessed myself was when one of his team members suffered from a house fire on one unfortunate evening. I received the news late at night and immediately shared the news with him almost at midnight. While the HR team was rallied the next day to provide support, guess whom that my team member found on the accident site as early as 8 am in the morning: the Sales Director. Apparently, upon learning about the fire, he rescheduled all his meetings and ensured he came to the site and support his team member in person, providing listening ears and counsel. It was such a small gesture (two hours of his morning diary); yet it was "viral" and created another urban legend about how inspiring he was as a Leader. Again, this act of building bridges is very natural for a Romanoff.
Watchout points: beware of being "ping-ponged" (yes, I made it as a word). Again, a noble Romanoff leader is at risk to be manipulated by ill-intent fellow leaders who don't want to get their hands dirty in solving a problem. When Romanoff came with a pure intent to help and facilitate, they were often unconsciously trapped and "squeezed in the middle" between competing parties. The amazing thing is this: Romanoff does have the resilience to play the game and end up making competing parties enter a peace pact, despite it will drain your energy and stamina. Make sure that you don't stress yourself out in the process. In case you find a familiar case like the above, here is the suggestion: recruit another Leader with a "D" style on your side to help you unlock the cul de sac. Someone with a "D" style can help to protect you in the process, and accelerate the bridge you are building.
Those are three key points I want to remind you of if you happened to be the Romanoff or the "S" Leaders. Do continue to lead others by investing time in building trust and engagement through 1-on-1s, unleash Purpose-Power, and continue to build bridges up, across, and down under.
As a closure, let me quote a parchment from Paulo Coelho's novel based on history, entitled "Manuscript Found in Accra" (Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 2013) that might help paint a picture of what Romanoff's leaders are looking for in life. It is told that at one's final living day, the Universe will say this to those who lived a good life:
"In this final second of your life on Earth, I am going to tell you what I saw: I found the house clean, the table laid, the fields plowed, the flowers smiling. I found each thing in its proper place, precisely as it should be (for the next generation).
You understood that small things are responsible for great changes.
And for that reason, I will carry you up to Paradise"
That was the grand epilogue that an "Earth Green" leader is looking for, as they ventured to try in making the world a better place, regardless of how small the deeds are: the bigger, the better.
Stay believing, keep inspiring, and leave a legacy in making the world a better place, Romanoffs!
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!