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Leader Pulse
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The 5 Songs on Your Manager’s Playlist

by Mark Busine & Beth Almes

Leadership Greatest Hits In case you missed it: Check out the previous tournament blogs below!
Round 1 Recap & Round 2 Predictions
Round 2 Recap & Round 3 Predictions
Round 3 Recap & Round 4 Predictions
The Champion Revealed!

It’s all over, and it’s time for the clueless bosses of the world to join in a rousing rendition of “We Are the Champions.” Yes, seeded 16 out of 16, “Having a Clueless Boss” rose to the top of the charts to win the DDI Leadership Tournament.   

It was a surprise ending to our DDI Leadership Tournament we’ve been running for the past four weeks, in which thousands of people voted via Twitter on the leadership challenges they find most daunting, and eventually narrowed a list of 16 challenges down to the single “clueless” winner.  

And while it’s concerning that many feel that leaders of leaders are clueless, there was so much more we learned from debating these challenges for frontline leaders. 

Since we did so poorly in our own predictions, we put ourselves firmly in the clueless category and joined in singing the “victory” song for clueless bosses. As we were already in song, we started thinking about the themes that emerged from the tournament as a sort of playlist for leaders.  

While we originally sang covers of all these songs on video for your viewing pleasure, our crackerjack editorial team here at DDI kindly suggested (while using DDI Key Principles to maintain our self-esteem) that we let the original artists do the work and link to their renditions instead.  

So here it is, the DDI Leadership Tournament, recapped in song: 

Song #1: “One” by Three Dog Night 

“One is the loneliest number….” In the DDI Leadership Tournament, we were asking the Twitter-verse to share their collective wisdom about what’s troubling frontline managers, but the reality is that most managers are left to deal with these challenges on their own. In the transition to leadership, managers lose the camaraderie and support of their former peers, and we know from the popularity of “Having a Clueless Boss” that they don’t feel supported by their own managers, either. 

Perhaps toughest of all is that managers typically get little training to deal with all these challenges. As the data from our Frontline Leader Project shows, it takes four years, on average, before managers get any leadership training, leaving them to sink or swim on their own in those first years of the transition. And that’s if they get any training at all. Other research shows that 60 percent of managers never receive any training. No wonder two thirds of frontline leaders say they felt unprepared for their role.  

Bottom line: While managers might be making mistakes, they’re likely doing the best they can to figure it out without much support. 

#2: “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie 

Queen’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury, was feeling it. Bowie was feeling it. And your manager is feeling it. But while Mercury and Bowie were feeling the pressure pushing down on them, managers are in a “pressure sandwich” with stress coming from both above and below. 

As we got down to the last four challenges in the tournament, we saw a showdown between “Having a Clueless Boss” and “Motivating Employees” as two of the toughest challenges. What that tells us is that managers are in a tough spot. They feel pressure to get their teams to perform but are struggling to figure out how to motivate people. At the same time, many frontline managers are dealing with their own difficult bosses, making it even harder for them to be effective. 

Bottom line: Cut managers a little slack. They are under intense pressure from both above and below. 

#3: “Time to Change” by the Brady Bunch 

Okay, Beth takes full credit (i.e., gets the blame) for remembering the super-corny episode of The Brady Bunch in which pubescent Peter Brady’s changing voice nearly ruins the Brady kids’ attempt at recording a hit song (as we all did with our siblings growing up…). While Peter’s cracking voice is a catastrophic development at the beginning of the episode, the family adjusts by creating a new song that features Peter’s seeming flaw as a positive. 

It’s a pretty far out storyline and a truly terrible song, but it makes an important point: Change happens unexpectedly, and it’s not easy to adapt. In the tournament, we saw a strong theme emerge around the difficulties of change, with “Driving Change” on your team ending up going head-to-head in the finals with “Changing Old Habits” in your partners across the organization. 

In the past, change in the workplace was often discussed as a discrete event with a beginning and an end, such as rolling out a new customer management system. But today change is constant, and it comes from all directions. That’s why adaptability and influence have become such important qualities for managers who need to be able to quickly pivot themselves and their teams and partners to adapt to new changes. 

Bottom line: As the pace of change gets ever faster, managers are constantly trying to turn tough challenges into new advantages. The problem is getting everyone else on board. 

#4: “It’s a Long Way to the Top” by AC/DC 

It’s impossible for Mark not to include at least one Australian band on this list (and how often do you get to hear a great call-and-response sequence between an electric guitar and bagpipes?!?). This classic hit from AC/DC talks about the immense struggles they experienced as they worked their way to rock ‘n roll stardom. 

This song likely resonates with managers who are working hard to make a real impact with their work, whether it’s in their current position or as they aspire to higher levels of leadership. But there are a lot of challenges along the way. While this tournament examined just 16 of them, our original list included well over 40 challenges that we agreed were intense struggles for leaders. Even once we whittled our list down to these top 16, the tight races in each section told us that every one of these challenges is truly a pressing issue. 

Bottom line: The road to making an impact is incredibly challenging and is unavoidably going to be riddled with mistakes and failures, as well as triumphs. We need to be aware of these challenges and find better ways to support leaders through each of them.   

#5: “Message in a Bottle” by The Police 

The chorus to the 1979 song, “Message in a Bottle,” includes these lines:  

I’ll send an SOS to the world; I’ll send an SOS to the world… 
I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle.   

Perhaps these words capture the principal lesson we should take from this tournament.  Frontline leaders are confronted with numerous and varied challenges, and while some will navigate their way through the choppy waters of transition, too many feel lost, alone, and unprepared. And, ironically, in their isolation, these leaders have plenty of company. A sentiment captured in the last verse of this classic song by The Police:   

Walked out this morning, don't believe what I saw 
A hundred billion bottles, washed up on the shore 
Seems I'm not alone at being alone 
A hundred billion castaways, looking for a home 

While the challenges of frontline leadership will always be there, there is more we can do to ensure leaders find a home. This not only helps to address the needs of today’s frontline leaders; it ensures the next generation of senior leaders are not burdened by the unfortunate label of “clueless.”  

Bottom line: Every leader deserves an opportunity to be successful in their role. Thoughtful and deliberate investment in leadership development not only helps leaders today, it fuels the pipeline of better leaders for tomorrow. 

Thank you all for your energy and engagement in this tournament, and we will see you again in 2020.

To learn more about the challenges frontline leaders face, check out DDI’s Frontline Leader Project. You can also lend your voice to the project by taking our survey – one in 40 wins a $100 Amazon gift card! 

Mark Busine is Vice President, Product Management, for DDI. Passionate and curious about the field of leadership, Mark is always looking for creative ways to solve client problems. This creative orientation extends outside work where he dabbles in the fine art of songwriting, convinced that a worldwide number-one hit is just around the corner. 

Beth Almes is the Public Relations Manager at DDI. When not hard at work telling stories about leadership, she is happiest traveling or with a spatula in hand. 


Posted: 19 Apr, 2019,
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