November 6, 2019

The Last Word on Hansen (for now)

Steve Hansen may be celebrating his last media appearance but I really hope we hear his voice again, not on rugby but on management, leadership and performance. You will know that I am a total fan of his leadership philosophy and practice. I’m sure there are great leaders out there in business, however we don’t get to hear them week in, week out.  When I do hear them speak (or what they’re quoted as saying), I’m usually less impressed than I am with Hansen.

There’s not a lot to say about the result that hasn’t been said. That’s sport. That’s life.

But I was interested in how Ian Foster characterized Hansen’s approach. He praised his combination of high expectations, empathy and compassion, which I thought was just a fabulous definition of what good leadership looks like.

High expectations are based on a belief in peoples’ potential. Empathy is the ability to understand what motivates (and demotivates) people to reach their potential. And compassion is essential for the times when we fail to achieve our potential, when we fall short as we inevitably and invariably will from time to time.

It’s a big challenge to have high expectations of other people. You’re going to be disappointed. It’s a lot easier to have modest expectations and accept mediocre performance. Not bad enough to fire, not good enough to promote.

It’s hard work empathizing. It’s a lot easier to proceed on the basis that everybody is just like you so what the hell is wrong with these people?!?

And compassion. Can you imagine how hard that was this week when everybody, including Hansen, was in a world of disappointment? It’s a lot easier to stick to your high expectations and flail around you when they are not met.

There are plenty of leaders with high expectations and low empathy and compassion. Many are successful at work. But they tend to be assholes (technical term – insert your own here).

There aren’t many leaders with low expectations and high empathy and compassion. Why would you appoint someone who didn’t want to grow?

And in the middle, there’s the rest of us. Balancing those three dimensions requires a high degree of mindfulness. Judge whether the situation requires staunchness or compassion means being present and open in the moment.

How present are you?

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