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Unboss Like a Boss: Part II

In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part I of "Unboss Like a Boss." There I discuss some foundational elements of unbossing: be human, be self-aware, and be vulnerable (aka authentic). Don't miss a thing, subscribe to get the latest in your inbox.


As I outlined in Part 1, Unboss is not the latest management fad. In fact, its decades old and basically boils down to principles from Peter Drucker and Jim Collins. In the last installment, we discussed self-awareness, maintaining your humanity and authenticity. Be sure to check that out here.


Build Trust. There is nothing more humbling than the trust that your teams place in you as their leader. Just think about it for a minute. As a leader, your job is to pull the future forward. You are asking your team, or your company, to come along on a journey that is not yet mapped. Where there may be dangers. Where they will need to grow and change to get to the destination. And perhaps you won’t even make it there in the end. The fact that people agree to this and follow you down this path is both a privilege and a huge responsibility.

Trust is built slowly and can be destroyed quickly. Integrity in message and in action are key—if you don’t do what you say you are going to do, you are toast. Like most of this, there is no “7 step plan” for building trust. It takes time, but as a new leader you can accelerate the process in a few ways. When you start a new role managing people, let them get to know you through a new leader assimilation exercise. This could be as formal as a facilitated workshop or a town hall if you’re leading a large organisation. Or it could be a simple series of 1:1’s or small group meetings.

While these are good tools, the hard work of building trust is done by following through on your commitments, self-management of your emotions, and standing up for your values when it really matters. Don’t let your people down. They are watching.


Connect to Purpose. To connect to purpose, “Start with Why." I told you Simon Sinek was on this like a boss! Purpose is a key component to being human. We all crave belonging to something greater than ourselves, to know that what we do is meaningful. Connecting people to the wider purpose of the organisation (and their own personal purpose) is inspirational. Drucker wrote that you have to manage knowledge workers like you’d manage volunteers. Anyone who has ever managed in the matrix knows this to be true.

When I was leading the Entresto team at Novartis (a highly matrixed role), we had a mandate to file our major regulatory submissions by the end of the year. Keep in mind this mandate came in early April, on the heels of the early stop of the landmark PARADIGM-HF trial. Nine months may sound like a long time, but there was a lot yet to do! Namely, we needed to close out the trial and lock the database--a massive task. The trial randomized nearly 8500 patients in 45 countries. And since it was an outcomes trial, most of the patients were still on study drug and had to come back to the sites for their last visit. If scheduling thousands of patient visits in 45 countries wasn’t daunting enough, there were still hundreds of event packages that needed to be assembled and adjudicated—each with dozens of pages of documentation which had to be translated in most cases (45 countries after all). And all of this information had to be entered into an already staggeringly huge database which had more unresolved queries than anyone was comfortable with. Working backward from our submission deadline, we figured we had to lock the database nearly 4x as fast as was typical for a Novartis cardiovascular outcomes trials (and we’ve done quite a few).


As the leader, what was I supposed to do to make this happen? Much of the work was done in our country organisations, by people whom I had never even even met. Frankly, the bulk of the work was done by our study sites and investigators! How do I motivate a team I don’t even know, most of whom have to turn around and motivate people who don’t even work for Novartis in order to get all this done?


Connect all of those people to our purpose and make it their purpose. Convince them they were part of something much bigger than themselves, something important. The stuff of legacy. Luckily I had Entresto on my side! Entresto (then known as LCZ696) had just made a big splash at the American College of Cardiology meeting for delivering a shockingly large effect size on cardiovascular (and total) mortality. This was definitely an historic event. I knew it and I made sure they all knew it too. I sent out email messages to our internal teams outlining what it would mean for patients if we could do this twice as fast. I estimated the days of life we could save by delivering a day sooner, or a week sooner. I helped them connect with their purpose to serve heart failure patients by pulling the future forward--what would the future look like for these patients if Entresto were approved even sooner?


While I communicated this to our internal teams, they communicated it to our investigators and study coordinators. By connecting this vast global network to a shared purpose, we met our goal and delivered those submissions right on time. And you know what? When it was all said and done, it was them who inspired me, not the other way around. But that’s how it always works I’ve come to find out.


Provide clarity. I find lack of clarity is where implementation of an unbossed culture can really fall apart. While misinterpretation of “unboss” from the associates perspective is that they are free to do their own thing (you’re not), a common misinterpretation from the leader’s perspective is that somehow associates become magically proactive and accountable without any effort or action on their part. This is where clarity comes in.


Clarity is key to all management styles, but it is absolutely essential in an unbossed environment. Without clarity, there will be chaos. Luckily, providing clarity is a concrete action most any manager can learn to do well, and doesn’t require years of therapy! First, start with the big picture—think of this as the specifics just below your purpose as an organization. And always connect back to why—clarity and purpose go hand in hand.

So if your company's purpose is to “erase cancer,” what is the next layer down that would be most meaningful for your team? What is the organisation trying to accomplish specifically at your level? Why were those targets chosen and why are they important for the success of the company? It in other words, connect the dots for your team. Why does this matter? Once you are clear on the big picture for the organisation and for the team, then you can coach individuals on how they can contribute to these goals. Importantly, you don’t tell them what to do, or how to do it! That would be bossing. Instead, objective setting and accountability becomes a series of conversations—a series of coaching conversations if you will.


Coach, don’t manage. For me, being a great coach required honing two skills. Learning to ask great questions, and disciplining myself not to give answers or advice too quickly (still working on that). Of course giving timely and honest feedback is a key part of coaching as well-but that deserves its own post. Stay tuned.


The sad truth of the matter is, no matter how good and well-intentioned you are as an unbossed boss, aka Level 5 Servant Leader, you cannot escape the power dynamic of hierarchical organisational structures. And with rare exception, all human organisations have some element of hierarchy, even if its not formalised. Its part of being human, part of belonging to a tribe. So it is important that you are keenly aware of this power dynamic in a coaching situation or you could be at risk of creating parrots who just tell you what they think you want to hear.


How do you prevent this from happening? Talk a lot less. Speak last in meetings (something I fail at regularly). When asked a question, answer, “What do you think?” before giving your opinion. Better yet, don’t give an opinion. Keep asking questions until the individual or the team figures out a path. Let them decide. Its a discipline, a practice, but it will yield great rewards.


So there you have it. Seven easy steps to unbossing like a boss. Just kidding. Let me know what you think. Share your boss unbossed stories below.

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