If you’ve attended a seminar on leadership lately, it’s likely that you’ve run into quotes from Machiavelli’s The Prince, perhaps something on leadership or the difficulty of changing a system. Hate or love its message, the book has been influential for almost 500 years.
Although the book (and many others like it) still has a place in any leader’s library, we think its lessons are too easy and too proscriptive. Machiavelli’s message was relevant in a time of both aristocracy and bureaucracy, but today’s workforce wants more than imperatives. They want to believe. They want to have a cause.
Leadership today and in the future is not about fear; it’s about setting a vision, mentoring, coaching, and building a team. If you’re looking for a model for outstanding leadership, we suggest that you stop trying to model a prince, and consider looking to a frog: Kermit the Frog.
- Kermit is inclusive.
Kermit’s team includes every kind of creature you can imagine. If you think managing a multigenerational workforce is hard, try dealing with pigs, bears, chickens, humans, and whatever the heck Gonzo is! Yet, Kermit always finds a way to communicate with each of his team members. He welcomes their quirks, seeing them not as flaws but as unique abilities that bring value to the team. His focus is to leverage strengths, and not worry about addressing weaknesses. More important, however, than the physical diversity of his crew is their cognitive diversity – they come from different backgrounds and experiences, but they come together successfully with his leadership. Leaders need to remember that cognitive diversity is just as important as any other when bringing the team together. More importantly, finding ways to communicate with your team, motivate them, and build a shared sense of purpose is critical.
- Kermit encourages imagination.
William Blake wrote, “What is now proved was once only imagined.” Kermit lets his team imagine a new future and then challenges them make it real. He believes in their ability and gives them space to operate and innovate. He accepts their failures and always makes sure they are learning from them. As a leader, you have to give you team room to imagine – room to find a way to make the impossible probable. It is not just about “space to fail” it is about a “safe space to fail.” And Kermit knows something about failure. In fact, he fails A LOT. His plans go wrong, his teammates let him down, the world often disappoints him, but he never gives up. He is always positive, reminding his team how much he believes in them.
- Kermit leads with vision.
Kermit doesn’t just want to solve problems; he wants to save the world. He is inspirational and always focuses on the ultimate goal. It was not really about finding the “Baseball Diamond;” it was about beating evil and restoring justice! For Kermit, it was never about putting on a show; it was about making people happy! Kermit always finds a way to tie the tactical steps, the immediate challenge, to the accomplishment of a greater good, giving the Muppets a sense of purpose in all the small things they do. No matter the business, leaders need to have vision and they need to find a way to connect their team to that vision. Leaders must come with a perspective and have the courage of their convictions to follow them – that confidence will bring others along.
- Kermit never really needs formal authority to lead.
What is Kermit’s title anyway? “The Frog”? The Muppets follow him because he believes in them, and he gives them the power to believe in themselves. As a leader, he is authentic. He cares. Leadership comes from all levels of an organization. So stop worrying about your title or your role – worry about being a leader and let your teams feel that confidence.
Today’s world is changing faster than ever before and if you aren’t innovating, you’ll soon be left behind. Your team is the key to disrupting before you are disrupted and meeting new challenges. They can be great, but only if they have a great leader who expects the best, includes diverse voices, and focuses on the greater good.