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Throughout the ages, the world has seen many different kinds of leaders – good ones, bad ones and, well, some very, very bad ones.
From Gandhi to the Godfather to. . . I dunno, Gandalf and Genghis Khan, the world has been shaped by a bunch of guys (well, mostly guys) who have hailed from all corners of globe to lead the masses to either greatness or destruction, writing themselves into the history books forever.
Despite their obvious differences, one common thing unites them: For better or worse, they’ve done it in style. Outstanding leadership takes vision. It takes skill. And it takes style. But what type of leadership style is most effective? How do we know? And what do we call it?
Well, it depends who you ask of course, but one hot-button conversation about leadership happening right now revolves around the research conducted by leading business guru Brené Brown, who came up with the concept of Armored versus Defensive Leadership.
Now, I gotta tell you that I’m not it’s greatest fan. But before I tell you why, let me explain, in twenty-five words or less, what Armored versus Defensive Leadership actually is. . .
In a nutshell, then:
Armored Leaders focus on being a knower and being right, whereas Daring Leaders focus on being a learner and getting it right.
There. Simple. But if you want a little more meat on the bones:
Apparently, ‘armored leaders’ protect themselves by being know-it-all, cynical, perfectionists who foster fear, criticize others, never offer recognition and run their businesses like a cult. Sound familiar?
On the other hand, ‘daring’ leaders ‘live, love and lead with a whole heart’[i]. Whatever that means. And this is where it gets a little tricky for me. . .
They allow themselves to ‘feel’ and they model kindness and hope for the future, as well as self-compassion and empathy for others. They are also learners who are interested in finding the skills to get it right rather than displaying a need to just be right. And they identify and embrace fear and uncertainty while setting appropriate boundaries and supporting their team to be inclusive and diverse, which fosters a culture of belonging.
Now, if I’d read that last description to you out of context, you could be forgiven for thinking I was reading the manifesto of a hippie commune Santa Cruz, instead of the sensibilities and skills of a 21st Century super-leader – a ‘daring’ leader.
To be honest, though, all of it’s just common sense, right?
I’m certainly not saying that I’M an inspirational super-leader, but ANY decent leader knows that a mix of what I guess I’d call defensive and offensive approaches – what Brown calls ‘armored’ and ‘daring’ – is essential in being truly effective at all levels, whether in terms of achieving financial goals or fostering harmony and productivity within the organization.
After all, no professional business-person wants to work for a deranged dictator, who rules with an iron fist and uses scare tactics and bullying to achieve their goals. But at the same time, no-one wants to work for a raging hippie with flowers in their hair and a heart of gold, who rules from a place of vulnerability, love and compassion either.
Now, I don’t mean to get all defensive myself here, but I don’t. . . get it. I just don’t get the terminology or the concept of the ‘armored’ leader versus the ‘daring’ leader. Both terms seem to me like an unnecessary convolution – a slightly pretentious repackaging of something pretty obvious.
I mean, why use the word ‘armored’ in the first place? I get the idea that insecure leaders suit-up in their metaphorical armor every day because, well, they’re insecure. But that’s nothing new! Insecure people are always defensive; it’s in their job description. And defensive creatures, whether human or animal, lash out at those around them, especially when they feel their importance or power is being diminished.
So, why not just replace the word ‘armored’ with ‘defensive’? Which leaves us with ‘Defensive Vs. Daring Leadership’. Personally, I think sounds better (it’s alliterative, at least) and, to my mind, it says immediately more than ‘Armored Vs. Daring’.
And what about the term ‘daring’? To me, it’s a little unwieldy, too.
In this context, the word daring seems to suggest that leaders should ‘dare’ to be vulnerable, without protecting themselves at all. They should dare to wear their heart on their sleeve and live, love and lead with a whole heart, rather than suit up in their metaphorical armor and wage war on the world and their own team.
Okay. . . I get that. But the term also suggests a sense of recklessness, at least subconsciously. After all, it’s daring to jump off a 50-floor high-rise without a parachute. But it’s also very stupid. Obviously.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being a bit reckless in life – God knows we need to let our hair down once in a while, especially given recent events – but I’m not reckless in business. Bold? Yes. Open-minded? Sure. Avant-garde, even? I like to think so. But the idea of being recklessly daring is, in my book, bad for business. So is celebrating your vulnerability with naked abandon in the face of stiff and cut-throat competition.
The truth of the matter is that in leadership, just like in battle, a good leader needs to not only display both a bold and brazen attitude – let’s call it an ‘offensive’ approach – with a more careful, contained and calculated one – let’s call it a ‘defensive’ approach. They also need to be able to communicate effectively with the teams.
Again, that’s nothing new.
Good leadership, to my mind, demands a careful mix of both offensive and defensive approaches, which is why, frankly, I think the armored versus daring model should be termed Offensive & Defensive Leadership. You’ll notice there’s no ‘versus’ in the equation, because we need the best of both.
In business, just like in battle, leaders are always fearful, always vulnerable. But that doesn’t mean we need to clad ourselves in armor and hurl commands and threats of death at our troops from behind a self-made parapet. Nor does it mean we live, love and lead from the heart, drop all our armor and run naked into battle.
The Ancient Celts tried that one against the Roman army and trust me, it didn’t end well. . .
And on that happy note, in the name of elite leadership, I’m off to find a 50-story high-rise and, from the heart, lead myself right of it. Naked.
This is Chris Machut. See you next time – maybe!
Stay safe out there!
[i] [i] https://inbusinessphx.com/leadership-management/armored-leadership-vs-daring-leadership#.YQu-UIhKhPY
Latest posts by Chris Machut (see all)
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- Episode 10 – “Offensive and Defensive Leadership” - September 15, 2021