Society

Management insights from the ‘Blacklist’

leader

Summary

  • Management is based on controlling a group to accomplish tasks to achieve goals.
  • Leadership is more subtle, relying on a person’s ability to influence and motivate, and enable workmates to achieve organisational success.
  • What separates managers from leaders is their ability to inspire and influence, not relying on the power and control a manager has. “A leader is someone who influences from the back of the line” is one definition.

“The more you know him, the less you know him.” This is how actor James Spader describes Raymond Reddington, the enigmatic character he plays on the popular NBC TV drama: The Blacklist.

Graduating from the US naval academy at age 24, being groomed to become an admiral, Reddington takes a different career path by becoming a criminal mastermind, on the FBI’s most wanted list.

Reinventing himself, Reddington reaches an immunity agreement with the FBI, to assist them in prosecuting the worlds’ most dangerous criminals on his Blacklist, based on the agreement that he works closely with rookie profiler Elizabeth Keen.

Despite being fictional, the Blacklist highlights some useful management insights, as we begin ‘predicable unpredictable’ 2022 -- which is going to require Reddington-like qualities of reinvention and resilience, bouncing back, when facing what may seem like almost impossible problems.

An ability to master paradox is an essential ingredient, where it helps to understand what leadership and a team really are, plus the value of practicing mindfulness.

LEADERSHIP VERSUS MANAGEMENT

In recent years, leadership matters have become all the rage. At some point, one has to ask: What’s the difference between a leader and a manager ? Does everyone have the potential to become a leader, as the Canadian writer Robin Sharma suggests in his book: The Leader Who Had No Title?

How do you know when you have crossed the line, from management to leadership ? [Or, is there even a clear line ?] Quick test is to ask: Are you counting value or creating value ?

If you’re in the business of measuring value, making sure the daily tasks management are carried out efficiently you’re probably a manager. In contrast, if you take a longer term view, deciding what to focus on, to create value, then voila, your likely a leader.

Flip side of the coin, is that managers can often also destroy value through, for instance, arrogance, a lack of competence, just plain bad management, usually hidden behind a curtain of confused management jargon, that amounts to fluff.

Using the Blacklist, as our case study, Reddington is clearly the leader, deciding on the big picture, what to focus on, that has significant value.

Management is based on controlling a group to accomplish tasks to achieve goals. Leadership is more subtle, relying on a person’s ability to influence and motivate, and enable workmates to achieve organisational success.

What separates managers from leaders is their ability to inspire and influence, not relying on the power and control a manager has. “A leader is someone who influences from the back of the line” is one definition.

Classis example of a leader is M.K. Gandhi, who in the absence of an official title, inspired millions to fight for their rights and achieve independence for India in 1947, by walking shoulder to shoulder with his followers.

Insightful managers are able to ask the right questions – to solve management problems. But perhaps it is leaders, who are able to think beyond problems, and to consider questions to answers, that most have never yet imagined.

Litmus test for leadership qualities is to consider the number of people who come to you for advice, outside of those who report to you.

TEAM VERSUS A GROUP

Ask almost 99percent of managers ‘What is a team ?’ and they will likely get it wrong. Most attempted definitions of a team, will go something along the lines of – a team is a group that aims to work collectively to achieve agreed shared measurable goals. So far so good, but that is not a team, one important element is missing.

Distinction between a group and a genuine team is that a team is collectively and mutually accountable for achieving those goals. That shared ownership, that collectively felt responsibility for achievement is what makes a real team – shown by Reddington, Keen and colleagues.

MINDFULNESS

You don’t need to be told -- business can be quite stressful in the best of times, and is only compounded by uncertainty. One of the striking things about Reddington's character is his confidence and coolness under pressure.

Business is really an artificial construct, for what we agree to call what we do nine to five, or perhaps for some, more than 10 plus hours a day for six days a week. Yet the domain of business, is just part of being alive where -- “How you do one thing, is how you do everything” is likely the case.

Mindset is the number one determinant of success or trying times, or a likely mixed salad of both. One way to stay calm and being able to focus is to practice mindfulness, which is really a focus on ‘mind – lessness’.

“Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.”

“Spending too much time planning, problem-solving, daydreaming, or thinking negative or random thoughts can be draining. It can also make you more likely to experience stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression” advises the Mayo Clinic.

Paradox is that by being in the present, emptying your mind, by just focus on your breathing -- inhale and exhale -- that in trying to enter a state of the absence of something, nothingness, that one comes closer to their true self.

“In Soto Zen, you simply sit without striving. But single mindedly sitting zazen [meditating] does have an effect: it hones your wisdom, and after awhile can lead to enlightenment. The purpose of sitting, though, is not to reach enlightenment - it just happens that enlightenment is the result of sitting” writes Shunmyo Masumo, in his wonderfully elegant book, Zen The Art of Simple Living published in English in 2019. Undoubtedly, Reddington would approve.