Seth Godin: ‘Let’s Go’ leadership instead of ‘Do This’ management

Best selling author of 18 books, Seth Godin addressed NBF Sweden’s crowd on Lean leadership.

“Management is different from leadership. Leadership is only possible with the enrolment of the people you are leading,” Godin said.

According to him, the principle of management – which started in the era of Henry Ford – is simple: Do it, do it again, do it again and do it again. With time, you can make a difference. He says this works for awhile – until it doesn’t anymore. Leadership, one the other hand, is about taking responsibility and risking something new and unorthodox.

It comes down to a culture of ‘Do This’ management vs. ‘Let’s Go’ leadership, where instead of giving orders to subservient workers, leaders ask for volunteers to embark on ambitious projects.

He uses the bane of office work, business meetings, as his example.

“What is the purpose of them?” he asks. “In reality, meetings are for weeding out everyone else, until someone finally takes the responsibility. Participants are absolving themselves, one by one. Otherwise we would just send a memo.”

Another key difference between management and leadership is the willingness to take the responsibility for things going wrong.

“Lean actually means wrong. You are willing to be wrong; that’s all it means.”

Godin said that we are currently suffering from a shortage: there are few people who have figured out what they can learn, when something unexpected happens. He blames the school system.

“School was invented by the industrialists. The point is to make people compliant; we don’t educate people. We don’t teach them to solve interesting problems. We don’t teach them to lead.”

What if you showed up as a human one day, not just a pawn in the corporate system? Godin asks.

“Excellence is this: What would a human who cared do in this situation? Leaders solve interesting problems, even if they’re not on the agenda.”

The management guru says that the only reason we’re not making more change happen is because we are afraid. We don’t want to take responsibility for the potential mistakes we might make.

Godin talks about writer’s block, a creative person’s fear of failure. He is quick to point out plumbers don’t get plumber’s block! In reality, its the same familiar problem:

“Let’s face it: Leadership is not something you’re born with. You just decide to do it,” he says.

In the traditional workplace, managers use Fear, Shame and Anger to get us to do what they want us to do. But Godin says we don’t have to live like this anymore.

“Quitting is for winners, not losers. With every new project, at the beginning there’s a lot of excitement. Inevitably, it starts to suck. Everyone joins the gym in January, but quits by April. Never quit in the dip! Assess your situation at the start: do I have enough resources? – and quit then. Or at the end: ‘I made it through, but that’s not for me’ – but don’t quit after things go sour for the first time,” he said.

A good leader is not put off by failure. If failure is not an option, Godin says, then neither is success.

Leaders know that there’s no right answer, no big arrow on a graph showing rising profits or productivity. They understand that innovation is a process, and possibility is the fuel. Possibilities can result in failure, so it requires a willingness and maturity in a leader to take the personal responsibility for this.

Important too, Godin tells us, are good leaders who use empathy as a path to customer and employee traction. They seek to understand what each of us, as unique individuals, want to do.

Godin says the world is basically presenting its future leaders with a proposition: “Care enough to lead us where we need to go”.


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