The first thing I read when I woke up this morning was Seth Godin’s post Off the Hook with Milton Friedman. In it, Godin sets out how easy it is for people to latch on to simple ‘catchy’ ideas – even if they just shouldn’t be given air-time. The first thought that followed? Leadership matters.
We live in interesting times. A quick scan of the world headlines and it is plain to see that chasms are opening up within society that seem unfathomably deep and unbridgable… That previously un-breachable boundaries are being crossed with ease… That simple slogans are winning out over facts with alarming regularity…
Leadership matters in many ways. It matters for the ability to see a better future, and to bring people along. It matters for the ability to nurture and grow talent. It matters for the ability to foster innovation and growth. It matters for the ability to inspire others to be their best selves.
But leadership matters most when it overcomes the temptation to reduce complicated things to catchy slogans, and when it enables people to understand and engage with wicked problems in new and creative ways.
Great leaders revel in the challenge of reconciling two apparently irreconcilable ideas, because they know that is where the creativity happens.
Great leaders embrace the grey areas between polar opposites, because they know life is seldom black and white.
Great leaders explore the murky complexities of important issues, because they know the devil can be in the detail.
Great leaders critically examine slogans and by-lines to see whether they pass the sniff-test, because they know that sales-pitches leave out the most important features in a bid to appeal to our emotions.
Great leaders recognise that by simplifying things to their barest essentials, we lose the essence of what made them important in the first place.
Leadership matters because sometimes long-held conventions are no longer sufficient to protect our institutions and systems from tearing themselves apart.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying complexity is good and simplicity is bad – I’m saying it’s never that simple.
So when you see something that looks complicated – resist the urge to boil it down. When you experience a situation where it seems that either option is a bad option – delve into it further, because you may find a solution that is better than either of the two bad options you thought you had.
Embrace complexity and lead with all your heart.