The Captain's Way: Story of "C" Leaders.
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
Closing the series of blogs on different types of Leaders based on Jungian psychology in casual and fun ways through the language of movies, computer games, and all-things-fun, let me now write about the last leadership style in the DISC spectrum. It is the "C" style, usually labeled as the "Conscientiousness" type or the "Cool Blue" (in Insight Discovery framework). In the Avengers movie, it is shown in the Steve Rogers character -- or Captain America (in short: Captain). Captains are principles-oriented, consistent and highly-dependable, strategic in nature, stepping forward as leaders whenever needed, looking for the most effective way in getting things done where the short-term gain equal to stepping stones in a long-term roadmap, a hardworking leader who enjoys completing difficult and complex project rather than being on the stage of limelights and award, and leader who loves it when they become the most-sought expert that makes them admired and respected in their profession. If you adore the "Captain" in the Avengers franchise, you probably also love to be led by a "C" or "Cool Blue" type.
However, just as the movie unfolds, when ”bad days” came, Captain could also be annoying as they tend to overanalyze and leave the team procrastinating for a perfect solution. They can also be stubborn when their mind and eyes are already stuck on certain principles that can't be violated, despite the situation has changed. In the Avengers franchise, it was the unwillingness of the Captain to 'meet in the middle' with a realistic offer from Iron-Man about making Avengers as the global-world order guardian, was the trigger behind the "Civil War" episode of the series. So, if you think you are a "C" type of a Leader and you want to ensure you are being on the "good days" all the time, here is a simple to-do list to bring the best out of you:
Be the Lighthouse of the team, and Teach.
It is often in day-to-day work, a team is drowned in operational matters and hitting roadblocks as this-and-that idea and initiatives don't seem to work. While it is easy to give up, Captains is usually the first to spot where the issue is and starts to hypothesize several options to deal with it. You can spot issues and opportunities that others might fail to see. Being analytical in nature, your natural talents of loving details, liking numbers, willing to delve in-depth into reading materials or chain of emails, make you a "walking dictionary" leader for your team. Ensure you run the "open door" policy -- means that be open for anyone to come to you, discuss things, and advise for a decision (note the word: advice).
The reason why you need to provide advice only is that you must empower your team members to make their own decision, so they have full ownership of their plan and actions. Just like a lighthouse, when the team acts like a lost ship in the middle of a stormy ocean, make it safe for them to come to you and ask for advice. However, be mindful not to give a full answer to them.
I always recommend Captain leaders to learn coaching skills, as the skills will help them get the best of both worlds: seeing what he/she aspired to see happening while elevating the capability of his/her team member in the process of doing so. As most "C" leaders are also technical experts in their field, do create a structured curriculum and program where it forces you and the team to learn together; it sounds cliche, but the best teacher for the team members remains to be their Leaders. The Leaders-as-teachers program has always been a key success of capability-building in many organizations: I have seen it tested in the last 15 years of my HR career. And as a "C" leader, it is a big loss if you don't spearhead this yourself. In my experience, investing at least 1-2 hours of your time every month sharing knowledge will bring you 10x ROI; because that 1% monthly time investment (out of 160-work hours per month) will increase your team's capability which helps them deliver an extra +10% (or even more) in terms of quality of their work, especially when you have a relatively young/junior team. Leader-as-teacher, on the other hand, also creates an additional positive effect of role-modeling; which positively improves team engagement and retention.
Watchout points: do this in an empowering way, and do not micromanage or provide them with a full answer which makes your team "addicted" and 'abuse' you by not doing their job in thinking about solutions. When you face a problem, and learn the details of what the issues are operational, hold yourself in telling them the answer immediately. Share insights, but ask the team to brainstorm the answers responding to the insights.
Do things Right, by Principles.
In the fast pace of today's competitive world, speed is the essence of success. The challenge is: how to ensure that solutions are not being rushed, and hence, waste everyone's energy. As a Captain, you are natural in filtering all noises to see the right way forward by collecting the right data points, getting the right feedback, and having the right conversation with the right people. In the Avengers movie, the solution he offered to win the "Infinity War" was the most effective one: destroying Mind Stone forever, so there will be no greed that is strong enough to destroy the universe in the future. And to do that, he stood by and kept the Principle that "We don't trade lives here" when Vision (another character in Avengers) offered a shortcut to kill himself in destroying the Mind Stone itself. For a Captain, "Class is permanent, form is temporary". They always try to identify the underlying cause of problems and define a solution that is long-lasting and sustainable going forward instead of going for the short-cuts. This is the reason why they always search for Principles: things that are universal enough to stand the test of time, and hence solve a problem once and for all. In the language of a first-person shooting (FPS) gamer, you are like a Sniper. Your mode of action is by identifying the individual General who leads the enemy camp, carrying a long-range sniper rifle and taking the General out from the battlefield, and immediately paralyzing the whole army as they lose direction. You believe that one bullet shot to the right individual enemy can end the war. In soccer analogy, you are a midfield playmaker who believes that winning a soccer match is about delivering brilliant assists that made anyone in the team able to score goals -- regardless of their outfield positions. Just like the Captain in the Avengers movies, you want any actions to be principle-based. It is interesting to see that Captain's weapon is a Shield: it is meant to protect, and when he needs to kill enemies, it's because of the right of self-defense that is justified by Principle. Your leadership motto is "Let’s do things Right, and don't short-cuts".
Watchout points: complete your intuition of finding the right solutions through proper planning with a sense of urgency of seizing the momentum. As the "C" leader wants to do things with perfection, your default action mode is to get into the best and most effective way possible, risking yourself losing momentum. Putting it in the analogy of a Sniper in an FPS game, you are busy finding the highest tower possible to shoot your long-range rifle, while the battlefield is being lost as you do it. The truth is: things change and you have to be agile enough to be flexible in winning the battle, without having to find that perfect tower. Be ready to do a melee fight and secure the perimeter first, before being over-obsessed with the perfection of the "one shot, one kill" philosophy of a sniper when you finally find that perfect tower.
Unlock Dead-Ends with Rigor, and Empower.
In an era where there is just too much information flying around, you have the natural talent to identify and collect the right data points, connect the dots, pinpoint underlying insights, and find the most effective solutions (short, and long-term). You love details: you will read attachments in emails, digest charts, read emails, and be very comprehensive in offering solutions. You will not provide answers that are not backed up with data. With all the above comes naturally, do help your team members to build a data-driven culture in your organization. I once partnered with a "C" Leader in a restructuring effort, and I was amazed at how she redesigned the job of every role in his organization in meticulous detail -- job description, by job description. By the time the new structure was announced, she herself met everyone impacted and briefed their role one-by-one: before, after, and what's changed. While other teams struggled with their ways of working post the change, her team was not, as there is a sharp clarity in the first place about how the team works in the 'new world'.
Watchout points: Rigor doesn't mean overanalyzing (that usually leads to the inertia of being unable to choose the way forward, as there was just too much data that tells you different things). Balance rigor with decisiveness, and tone down your need for perfection with the urgency of the result. As "C" leaders want everything to be perfect, micromanaging is also a potential blind spot for them. With a good intent to help, "C" leaders didn't realize that they were tempted to go into too much detail and ended up dictating everything that their team members ended up doing. Micromanage will only make your team members discouraged: they will doubt their capability, and start asking a very tricky question: "Does my leader trust me?". When trusts start being questioned, "C" leader has gone too far, and must step back and restore those trusts as fast as possible. I was once observing a "C" Leader who was the no.1 person in a company. As the CEO, he has all the good intentions to build a data-driven culture, and digitize key processes as wide as possible to simplify the life of everyone and change the culture from a conventional company to a more digitalized enterprise. The company has grown fast in the last few decades and grown into a huge corporation with all the complexities as the result. Before he was CEO, he was famous for his sharp analysis on issues, and pioneering few but very impactful solutions. Naturally, when he became CEO, he started to pinpoint areas for improvement and wanted to change the conventional ways of doing things, into more technology-enabled and data-driven. Unfortunately, he was not patient enough to bring senior leaders and middle management into the vision. Unable to see the result of changes he had introduced, he started to talk directly with people on the ground and caught middle-management surprised by feedback from the field that the frontliners has received direct orders from the top, which might not be aligned with the middle management's initial plan/direction. It created confusion in the team and a feeling of 'not being trusted' at the middle-management level. When such restlessness happened, senior leaders also started to feel uneasy being in the middle of the situation. In this case, clearly, there is no intent from the CEO to create all these climates; however, the impact of going into the micromanagement mode out of a passion to start seeing results was behind the distrust, especially in a culture with high trust in Southeast Asia. Things would have been different if there's an investment of time in empowering the structure (senior leaders and middle management) to own the vision and making them onboards. And instead of auditing them through micro-management, he should have built a culture where those who operationalize the vision to happen, getting recognized and let the role-modeling starts.
Let me end this chapter with a quote from Stephen Covey: "With People, fast is slow, slow is fast" -- Covey's direction in managing change always starts with People: invests time to intensively talk to them, get them onboard, inspire them, and build ownership in them. Those early investments take time only in the beginning, and you'll see how empowered people would make your vision come true exponentially in the later stage. I don't run marathons, but from what I hear, that is the same with running marathons: you train your body to get into a certain pace first before you go for the long-miles run. This 'pace training' took time, but once you get it right, you can then finish a marathon with ease. Getting people onboard first is like your 'pace training' time investment.
Those are three key points I want to remind you of, if you happened to be the "C" Leaders or the "Captains" type of Leaders. Do continue to be the lighthouse of the team and get your boots on the ground to teach, coach, and mentor your team. Stay firm in making Principles as the basis of your decision to do things right, and use rigor to unlock dead-ends but encourage the team to make their own decision based on your advice.
Live by Principle and prosper, Captain!
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!