Friday, 26 February 2016

Goodbye Kiss?

Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) - that's a principle we like.  We know that effective leaders strip out complexity from the narratives they tell, so we work to keep things simple.  We repeat the principle and internalise it.  It becomes a mantra, and the risk is then that we stop thinking about it, and don't notice when it over-rules other important principles.

That. at least, was what conversations with Afiniti clients at the start of the year highlighted.  Everybody agreed that good change leaders kept things simple - and that this was a good thing.  But we all agreed, too, that the really best leaders were super-comfortable with complexity and ambiguity.  They take the mind-bendingly complex on board, laden with seemingly inherent conflicts and uncertainties, then they make things simple for others.  So, there's another principle - that good leaders handle complexity. 

There should be no problem reconciling the two - complexity travels in one direction (to the leader) and simplicity in the other (from the leader).  What we were talking about, though, was how reality is different.  We all knew leaders so fixated on the simplicity mantra that those who work for and with them are never allowed to bring anything complex to the table.  We weren't talking about coaching, so that people learn to focus on the key issues, but about teams, programmes and organisations in which over time the complex can never be acknowledged and explored.  The result is not simplicity, but the simplistic.  Lazy leadership. 

So, we established a third principle, one that retained the principle of leaders being comfortable with complexity: as leaders, we need to KISS - but we don't look for the KISS to be reciprocated.

Incidentally, there's some fascinating 30 year old insight about goodbye kisses here.

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