Gardening is a better metaphor than chess for effective leadership in today’s environment, according to General Stanley McChrystal, the retired four-star U.S. Army General.
In his book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, General McChrystal explained that leaders need to give up their move-by-move controls and instead nurture the organization—its structure, processes, culture, and of course its people.
That advice is reverberating with me more than ever right now. Starting this week, five college seniors will be observing me as I role model leading as a book circle mentor.
These seniors are members of my book circle for the College of Charleston business school class #401-01 Organizational Behavior & Change.
As background, the students choose which book they want to read — or which of the three volunteer mentors they want to work with if they react more to our bios than the change management books we selected to read.
The role of the mentors is threefold: 1) facilitate a discussion about the book over four in-class meetings; 2) provide context while being a mentor; and 3) evaluate the students’ group presentations about an organizational change from the perspective of their book.
The book I chose for my circle is Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age by Edward Hess and Katherine Ludwig.
According to the authors, the book is a call for action for anyone 17 or older. Their point is that we need to prepare for massive changes as the adoption of smart machines accelerates.
Because the age range of the students in my group will probably be 20 to 23 years, they’re all going to be better positioned for our brave new machine future than I am.
From my perspective, it will be fascinating to observe them. For example, how will they think, listen, relate and collaborate with each other and me?
And by the way, those are the top four Smart Machine Age (SMA) skills Hess and Ludwig have identified. They refer to them as: 1) critical thinking, 2) innovative thinking, 3) creativity, and 4) high emotional engagement with others that fosters relationship building and collaboration.
In addition to these four skills, the authors maintain that individuals will need humility to continue to be relevant and productive in the machine age.
To the authors, humility means adopting “a mindset about oneself that is open-minded, self-accurate, and ‘not at all about me,’ and that enables one to embrace the world as it ‘is’ in the pursuit of human excellence.”
In other words, by practicing humility, you will need to defy your fears and your natural inclination to defend your ego. You also will need to be more open-minded, stress-test your existing beliefs and assumptions, and take generous actions to help others think at higher levels to collaborate.
For me to successfully role model the book’s key points for these students, I’ve also got to show them that I’m not the expert in the circle.
Instead, I’ve got to act like I’m one of them even though I’ve been gardening (and leading) longer than these students have been alive. (In fact, I’ve been ordering books from Amazon.com since 1997 when these students were probably wearing diapers!)
Yet like them, as we learn about each other, I also need to ask questions and be comfortable with not knowing what’s happening in our world. Together, we’ll figure out how to collaborate and remain relevant.
Any suggestions for me on what to do?