Matt May, author of In Pursuit of Elegance posts JJ Abrams', creator of Lost and, in theaters now, Star Trek, TED talk on The Mystery Box. Watch it, then we'll talk.
Matt's point in pointing to Abrams' talk is to illustrate the importance of the missing element in a product or story that makes it more compelling, more elegant.
How do leaders create The Mystery Box in their leading?
One of the things that I've learned over the years is what I call leadership by vacuum. A vacuum is a space that is empty, but not meaningless. Space is a vacuum, but it isn't meaningless. It is a place where things exist. Here are two ways leaders create a leadership vacuum that must be filled by the leadership of others.
In organizations, leaders create vacuum by refusing to do everything everyone expects them to do. Instead, leaders limit what they do to what they do best, and they create the space for others to step forward and fill the vacuum. This is how leaders expand leadership throughout their organization.
In this sense, leaders lead by subtracting the number of responsibilities that they are required to do by turning them over to people who can do them better. The leader is still responsible for the outcome of the responsibility, but not necessarily for the administration of them.
Of course, this requires a high level of maturity on the part of the leader. They must be comfortable with the ambiguity that comes with giving away control, and with admitting publicly that there are areas that they are not the strongest person in the business.
Another place I see this happening is with the difficulty with issue resolution in business. Last month, I wrote about Resolving Complex Issues Simply.
An issue arises between two people or with a process. Who is responsible for resolving the issue? Is it the leader's responsibility? The logical answer may be yes. The realistic answer is no. In fact, deferring all issue resolution to the leader is to create a higher level of crisis in the organization. It forces leadership to be concentrated on putting out fires instead of acting on strategic initiatives.
When leaders create space, open up space for others to lead, they lower the crisis level of issue resolution. To the degree that they can, issues should be resolved by those who are charged to implement the resolution. The problem is that most organizations are not equipped for leaders to lead this way. In fact the whole structure of most businesses is predicated on no one taking initiative beyond a very narrow range of responsibilities. As a result, not only does the leader have to spend his or her time resolving issues, but everyone else thinks in terms of avoiding taking that responsibility and passing the buck up the chain of command.
Creating a leadership vacuum forces issue resolution to its lowest level of responsibility. It doesn't happen by simply issuing a memo stating so. The structure of the organization has to function to give people the safety and security, the boundaries and methodologies to follow, that results in quicker and less painful issue resolution.
The mystery box in most businesses can be the vacuum that leaders create that compel people to step up and lead. I've seen it happen. It requires an intentional process of change to make it happen. If you want to know more, just ask.