Jeff Eggers about leadership, humble heroes and teamwork.
Jeff Eggers on Big Heroes
The definition of a hero can mean many things to many people, and in different contexts.
At work, perhaps it is the charismatic and dynamic CEO who leads the business toward international growth and recognition, or the sales director who just brought in a multi-million dollar contract for the company. In a military context, perhaps it is the team leader who performed a high-risk raid of an internationally wanted fundamentalist group. In my home, my cleaner is placed on a heroic pedestal once a week!
As leaders, we try to inspire and motivate our teams to perform at their highest potential, with greatest efficiency. But how much of that is about being a big hero and leading with flashy chest-beating, loud accolades and save-the-day moments?
In his speech at WORLDWEBFORUM 2017, Jeff Eggers speaks about leadership in a most engaging and inspiring way. Richly peppered with childhood anecdotes, dramatic wartime tales, examples from performing arts and sports, moving tributes to lost buddies and years of experience working in the Obama administration, Eggers spreads gospel on the power of humble heroes.
Drawing an example from nature, Eggers shows how beehives are a natural example of operational performance in an absolute democracy, where all the workers know exactly their job and are entrusted to perform it, without micro-management. Another example is taken from Formula One pit crews, where microseconds can affect the performance of the team’s result. In a slowed-down clip, we can see that the 3 second process is a magically orchestrated (read: tirelessly rehearsed) operation where each team member does their role to perfection. The leadership here lies in the preparation and planning.
However these examples are suitable in a predictable, organised world where the variables are few – not the world in which most of us live today. So, the question remains – is it necessary to be a big hero to motivate and inspire your team?
Eggers argues that it is a more fine-tuned version of a hero that is required for leadership of empowered teams. Sure, leaders need to have a charismatic element to pull people towards shared and compelling vision. But remember to strip away the egos, and uncover the competencies and values of your team. Speak in the collective pronoun: US and WE. Humble leaders celebrate and lift their teams.
Whilst serving in the Iraq war, Eggers recognised that he made a misjudged decision and realised he needed to step back and let the highly trained specialists in his team tap their ground training, whilst he organised their safe exit. It is this humility that allowed Eggers to own his infallibility and properly leverage his team to greatest effect. The key difference lies in saying “I will lead us together”, as opposed to “I will lead, and you will follow me”.
Another point made was that 75% of the time, people quit their bosses rather than their jobs. Assuming we have the right people on the bus, he proposes that our role as leaders is to prepare the team to step up and self-manage at the right time. This means providing tools, support and empowerment. Teams who know what they need to get done, and have the training and experience to execute it properly & efficiently tend to work more collaboratively and efficiently to achieve goals.
But are there times when teams do need superheroes?
Research has shown that following times of crises such as the Great Depression and 9/11, consumption in comic superhero stories have increased. Eggers’ theory is that when we see such challenges exceeding our capabilities to overcome those as a society, we feel overwhelmed and look for superhuman qualities in populist properties. In a particularly hilarious slide, Eggers shows that superheroes are the creations of Hollywood….and politics!
To conclude, Eggers shares a deeply personal and moving tale of The 2 Erics: his late best friend and his son. The overarching message is that we are infallible humans and when seeking heroes, we should look to the us, look to the we. In our world of noise and ego pollution our humility and fallibility are strengths that connect us to a stronger community spirit and authenticity to strive towards a shared vision.
Jeff Eggers is a senior advisor at the McChrystal Group, a leadership consulting firm working with private and public sector clients. Jeff is also an executive coach and conducts research on organizational and human performance. He is a senior fellow at New America, an adjunct senior analyst with the RAND Corporation, and an advisor to the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue where he assists with international conflict mediation efforts.
In government, Jeff served most recently as a Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and worked at the White House from 2010 through early 2015. In 2014 President Obama presented Jeff with the Samuel Nelson Drew Award for “Distinguished Contribution in Pursuit of Global Peace” for his role in mediating the political crisis following the 2014 Afghan presidential elections.
Jeff retired from the Navy in 2013, serving over 20 years as a combat veteran Navy SEAL. Jeff served in the military as Strategic Advisor to General Stanley McChrystal, Special Assistant to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, Branch Chief for Combating Terrorism on the Joint Staff, and White House Fellow and Director for Combating Terrorism at the National Security Council. Jeff’s operational tours included several SEAL Teams, commander of the Special Operations Task Unit in western Iraq, and Operations Officer and Mission Commander for the U.S. Navy’s undersea special operations command.
Jeff currently serves on the board of a non-profit that cares for and assists the families of veterans killed in action. Jeff is also a member of the NationSwell Council, a forum for advancing innovative solutions to America’s most pressing challenges. He holds an M.A. from Oxford University and a B.S. from the United States Naval Academy.
The United States Navy’s Sea, Air and Land Teams, commonly abbreviated as the Navy SEALs, are the U.S. Navy’s primary special operations force and a component of the Naval Special Warfare Command. Among the SEALs’ main functions are conducting small-unit maritime military operations that originate from, and return to, a river, ocean, swamp, delta, or coastline. The SEALs are trained to operate in all environments (sea, air, and land) for which they are named.
The United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG), commonly known as DEVGRU or SEAL Team Six, is the U.S. Navy component of the Joint Special Operations Command. It is often referred to within JSOC as Task Force Blue. DEVGRU is administratively supported by Naval Special Warfare Command and operationally commanded by the Joint Special Operations Command. Most information concerning DEVGRU is classified, and details of its activities are not usually commented on by either the Department of Defense or the White House. Despite the official name changes, “SEAL Team Six” remains the unit’s widely recognized moniker. It is sometimes referred to in the U.S. media as a Special Mission Unit.
DEVGRU and its Army counterpart Delta Force are the United States military’s primary counter-terrorism units. Although DEVGRU was created as a maritime counter-terrorism unit targeting high-value targets, it has become a multi-functional special operations unit with several roles that include hostage rescue, special reconnaissance, personal security, and other specialized missions.
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“I’M HONORED FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE IN WORLDWEBFORUM AND PROVOKE THOUGHT ON NEW MODELS OF LEADERSHIP AND ORGANIZATIONAL PERFORMANCE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY.”