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Good enough leadership

Tired of a command-and-control leadership style? Gurnek Bains has discovered a new way to lead. It's a style that promotes a high level ...

By Gurnek Bains 01 December 2007

Tired of a command-and-control leadership style? Gurnek Bains has discovered a new way to lead. It's a style that promotes a high level of meaning for people in the organization. Here’s what that means to you
Good enough leadershipMany leaders have an obsessive, disciplinarian mindset oriented around execution. Indeed, the default setting for many leaders when the going gets tough is to grasp the levers themselves and make the decisions. However, this ends up shrinking other people and making them feel less capable.

There is another way – an approach to leadership we increasingly encounter in organizations. We call it Good Enough leadership.

Good Enough leadership is based on empowerment and facilitation rather than control. Instead of a laissez-faire orientation, Good Enough is about respect and humility. It is a subtle yet powerful concept. Critically, Good Enough is as much an underlying attitude as it is a set of behaviours.

Many managers and organizations struggle with the unhappy results of leadership which is perfectionist, obsessive and striving. Such behaviours often lead to exhausted and disempowered staff and cultures that discourage freedom of responsibility and personal development. Yet, some people enjoy working with this sort of leader because it means they don’t have to think for themselves. Good Enough leadership, on the other hand, both expects and fosters individual responsibility.


Motherhood statements


A Good Enough mindset doesn’t require heroes or water walking. It requires leaders who are very human. By which, of course, we mean flawed, awkward, anxious at times, doing their best, capable of great moments of brilliance and compassion but also of stupidity and mean-spiritedness. It requires people who can accept the great strengths as well as the imperfections of the human spirit. Being Good Enough means providing the platform for, rather than the answers to, the range of meaning needs their people have. It is about creating space for people to grow and develop independently and to create meaning for themselves rather than being told what their meaning should be. This constitutes a shift away from the heroic, egocentric perspective of leadership in which the leader achieves success to one that recognizes that the leader must create an environment within which others can connect to things that matter to them.

Good Enough leaders also show a heightened sensitivity to the needs of others. It is this that lies at the heart of their ability to create authentic organizations that meet people’s needs for meaning in a way that is energizing but not overwhelming. A few lucky people have this talent naturally; most of us have to work pretty hard at it.

The Good Enough approach is derived from Donald Winnicott’s notion of good-enough mothering. Winnicott is often considered the most significant British psychoanalyst of the 20th century and is admired for the profound, subtle and often poetic insights he brought to the question of human development and, in particular, to the relationship between mother and child. For Winnicott, one of the mother’s central skills is her ability to provide a facilitating environment for the child’s true self to survive and flourish.

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