In Australia the slang term “Gunner” is a derogatory term for someone who is always shooting off ideas but rarely does anything about them. It comes from their constant verbal shots of “I am gunner do this and they are gunner do that…”. The lead gunner wants to look good by spruiking ideas, but knows that attempting delivery of their “great idea” is a risk. It requires action and capability they are not confident about, so they have handy a list of complex barriers they use as a excuses for their lack of delivery and commitment. I often wonder what they see when reflecting (assuming they engage in genuine self challenge). Are they aware of their limitations, or blissfully in their own little “reality”.
Typical of the dry and not so subtle Australian sense of humour is you can buy such people a circular wall decoration called a “tuit”. This removes their excuse of “I’m gunner do it when I get a round to it”. In contrast, the slang term “Gun” applies to someone at the peak of their performance. A gun athlete wins the gold medal, they are the best and everyone knows it. A gun leader is a highly respected individual who delivers on sustainable promises. People trust them and are inspired by them.
I have observed lead gunner behaviours in many of today’s so called “leaders”. Many are fantastic at describing their vision or mission (assuming they know the difference). However, they have very little idea (or intention perhaps) of acting to convert these into reality. This is often driven by fear of the unknown and the unpredictability of the longer term future. The fact that we live in a complex world should be seen as a great advantage and source of opportunities for innovation, not an issue. However, it has resulted in many at the top (I refrain from saying leaders) making decisions that are short term focused to reduce risks and “optimise” short term gain. A better leadership approach is foster “collaborative opportunity before issues” (see earlier post). Although risks are important to decision making, the risk analysis needs to come after the creative interactions to generate a wide diversity of opportunities. This mindset of focusing on short term “risk free” actions for immediate benefit to the few is the action of gunners not leaders. Now more than ever we need genuine authentic leaders who think, behave and act in a sustainable manner. It is far easier to describe what a house is, than to build it. It is even more difficult to convert the newly constructed building into a home, which a family of people “own”, identify with and feel a sense of belonging and safety. Organisations often lack this sense of belonging, causing stress, a lack of loyalty and high employee churn. So back to our Lead gunners…
How do we encourage the decision makers to shed the gunner mentality and remove the barriers to realisation, rather than constantly talk about what is stopping them. “I can’t deliver this until….” echoes along the corridors of the top floor, along with “I wasn’t my fault, we couldn’t have known and this has never happened before”. Get over it! The world is complex and unpredictable. If you want the privileges of being a leader in such a world, deal with this – or get out of the way for someone who can! In fact, if you are a capable leader you will revel in the uncertainty and leverage the diversity and emergence whilst acting in a responsible manner. Such an approach will drive a positive performance spiral in your organisation and contribute to the “greater good” not to mention your reputation.
So, where are we going to find people who get this? Leaders accept the challenges and the responsibility of creating a shared vision which all members of their “tribe” want to willingly follow. Because, if they don’t have willing followers, they can hardly be leaders can they! So are you gunner join the typical leaderless or be a gun leader?