Leaders: Myth and Reality

Jeff Eggers

Leaders. Myth & Reality

Former US Navy SEAL Jeff Eggers was one of the crowd’s favorite speakers at our 2017 conference, not only because of his combat service, but also for his perspectives about leading with humility.

He is releasing a new book that profiles prolific leaders titled, “Leaders. Myth and Reality”.  In a study of 13 different historical leadership personas, retired General Stanley McChrystal and Jeff Eggers strip away myths around leadership, allowing us to see leadership through different lens.

What shifts do you see happening in leadership styles to make this a more effective and sustainable position?

Leadership is an area where learning is more effective when it is experienced.

When I was a Navy SEAL, I failed multiple times with my old-style. I owned my failures, and learned a powerful lesson each time.

One example occurred in Iraq. I was leading my team with the old-style of top-down “Command-and-Control”. Here leaders are expected to have the answers and make the right call. I almost killed two of my own people because of  bad decision making, when the truck they were riding in hit an IED because of my error in leadership. Luckily these two men lived, and they lived because they were evacuated very rapidly to a nearby trauma center. And the evacuation of those two men was a decentralized decision without my involvement. That was a powerful lesson.

What was wrong with the old-style?

Many of us have been trained that leadership involves making decisions and issuing directions. Sure, there is a time and place for that, but it is an outdated model. I could see often that this style was not helping with many of my situations. It’s too centralized and hierarchical. What I learned is that we do much better, and move much faster, when we decentralize authority.

At first it felt risky and unnatural because I had been trained to retain command and control at all times. But after some time, you realize that you have good people who will move mountains once they’re empowered.

Contrary to instinct, it’s actually not riskier: If you give good vision and you communicate it clearly, you end up with people making better quality decisions, and also better ownership of those decisions because people have been given autonomy within the decision making process.

When leaders empower their people to do what they would normally do themselves, leaders fear that they’ll feel less relevant. It’s a psychological fear of obsolescence. However, good leaders will see that as an opportunity to do other things with higher strategic value for the organization, and to reinvest your time into something that stretches you to grow.

Can you give an example of when you experienced a shift in leadership, and what effect it had on the followers?

The first thing that comes to mind is whenever I go on vacation – I increasingly try hard to unplug and not work. One of the greatest measures of a leader is how well prepared their team is to be independent during his or her absence. It’s also important to demonstrate to the team that you trust them and that you believe in their abilities to go on without you keeping a watchful eye all the time. And we also simply need the time away from job.

What will leaders of the future need to do to ensure their power is respected and appreciated?

  1. Leaders need to learn to be more modest about the source of their power, and to realize that it comes from others, so they should garner respect for them. Do not internalize the power but rather see yourself as a temporary custodian or steward of that – it’s more of a responsibility and less of a source of authority.
  2. Be humble – leaders are still the same people when they rise in rank. They still make mistakes, they still do not know the answer to everything.
  3. Learn when to exude confidence and strength. Leaders need to demonstrate this especially in times of crisis as it gives people hope. In times of crisis, people are asking for someone to help them fix the mess.  The ability to be both humble and confident is very difficult but it can be very powerful.

You will join us as WORLDWEBFORUM Fellow in January. What are your thoughts about the topic “Master and Servant”?

From the technology point of view: All of us are becoming servants to the digital technology Master. For example: LCD screen addiction, the social media dopamine hit, processed and aggregated personal data that leads to polarized groupthink; reliance on automation, such as GPS or address books. We are on the verge of a man and machine interface transition.

You will join us as WORLDWEBFORUM Fellow in January. What are your thoughts about the topic “Master and Servant”?

From the technology point of view: All of us are becoming servants to the digital technology Master. For example: LCD screen addiction, the social media dopamine hit, processed and aggregated personal data that leads to polarized groupthink; reliance on automation, such as GPS or address books. We are on the verge of a man and machine interface transition.

You will join us as WORLDWEBFORUM Fellow in January. What are your thoughts about the topic “Master and Servant”?

From the technology point of view: All of us are becoming servants to the digital technology Master. For example: LCD screen addiction, the social media dopamine hit, processed and aggregated personal data that leads to polarized groupthink; reliance on automation, such as GPS or address books. We are on the verge of a man and machine interface transition.

Join Jeff for an Interactive Session at WORLDWEBFORUM 2019, get your copy of “Leaders. Myth and Reality” signed and learn what style of leadership is closest to your own.