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As leaders and HR professionals, we frequently have the amazing opportunity to work with our clients on their improving their leadership skills. Maintaining a strategic focus, treating the people well, and meeting or exceeding business results are leadership indicators that most leaders would agree are vital to their success.
I’ve had the opportunity to hear Pat Donahoe, Postmaster General for the United States Postal Service, speak on several different occasions. Whenever he opens the floor for questions, people inevitably ask him the same question. “Pat, what’s the number one thing you would suggest it takes to become a top leader?” Every time, Mr. Donahoe answers, “Listening.”
Hmmm. Listening. Do you mean that thing we’ve been doing for our entire lives? The thing that has allowed us to relate to someone else, share successes as well as challenges, and then set out upon a course of action based on what we understand? Yes. That very thing. Then why is it so hard to do? Why is it so hard to be fully present when we’re communicating with someone else? Why do we let our internal dialogue so strongly influence our interpretation of our external interchange?
I recently saw this depicted in an amazing way. I was working with an audience, and in the audience, many of the participants were either visually impaired or blind. We were going to use a video, and the point of contact mentioned that she had an “audio enhanced” version of that video. Not really understanding what that meant, I quickly agreed to use her version. She had used it successfully with similar audiences, so I thought it was the best option.
If you’ve never experienced an audio enhanced video, it takes a little getting used to. A rather robotic sounding voice interjects and describes what’s going on in the background, specifically to allow those with visual impairments to get a fuller picture of the interchange. It works very well, in most cases, to allow those with visual difficulty to understand what’s going on. For those of us who are sighted, it’s a great experience. I’m sure you’re familiar with movies with subtitles where you can see what’s being said.
Here, you hear what’s being done.
The most memorable moment in that video, for me at least, was a vignette where someone was prattling on and on about something that seemed insignificant. The robotic voice said, “Thought bubble: blah, blah blah” precisely at the same time when the actors on screen were clearly not listening to each other. I chuckled, along with many of the others.
How different would your conversations be if the people you were talking to could actually read your thoughts? Surely we’ve all thought “blah blah blah” when we’re on hold trying to speak to a customer service rep or doing something that may seem mundane, but what if, and I mean if, the person you’re speaking to has something that’s very important to say. Not something that you’ve heard before, yet something that you really need to hear? How do you suspend distractions to give them your full presence? It takes practice; it takes work, and it takes intention.
For the next week, strive to be fully present when someone comes to talk to you. Give them the gift of your attention in a way that you perhaps never had before. Don’t check your approved electronic device; turn away from your computer. Give them your full, unadulterated presence.
You’ll be surprised at what you might find out.
As an HR Development professional, I get the opportunity to meet a variety of people in a variety of settings. My work has taken me to almost every state in the US, as well as a handful of countries in Western Europe. These opportunities always present me with experiences that I learn from on many levels, not the least of which is how people view themselves, how they introduce themselves to others, and how much they share.
One of my recent favorite ice breakers (yes, I hear the collective groan out in the blogosphere), is to have participants introduce themselves by using a word or phrase that begins with each letter of their name.
For example, for “Scott,” I would say something like, “My name is Scott. ‘S’ represents that I’m from the South, Alabama specifically; ‘C’ stands for the fact that I’m a huge fan of college football, especially the Auburn Tigers; ‘O’ means that I enjoy outdoor activities; ‘T’ means that I’m love live theatre, and have performed in numerous productions over my life; and the other ‘T’ means that I value the time that we’re going to spend together for the next few days.” That pretty much sums up a lot of information about me and my interests.
While this ice breaker seems quite simple on the surface, what I find really interesting is what people choose to reveal about themselves. For many, the organization’s culture dictates the amount of personal information that people share. In a low trust environment, participants are typically very guarded. They’re answers are brief, to the point, and concise. They’re choosing to protect themselves by not revealing a lot about themselves. Again, low trust, or organizational change, leads people to be self-protective.
In high trust environments, however, people are much more open. They share stories rather a descriptive word or phrase. They share experiences, and somehow find a way to integrate the letter into part of the experience. Sometimes, they just say what they want to say, and beg for forgiveness for “breaking the rules.” I totally welcome that.
I also find that the first two or three people who volunteer to introduce themselves really set the tone for the rest of the group. If the pioneers are very open, most others will follow. If the pioneers are guarded, that behavior follows as well.
The purpose of the ice breaker is to help people begin to see how connected we all really are. We may look different, have different experiences, have grown up differently, and have had different life experiences. However, we all do have something that connects us. We’re all people who are on a path…and for a few short hours, we share that path together.
So… At the end of the day, how would you answer this question? What should I know about you?
Spring has sprung early this year. From the rescheduling of the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC, to the record setting pollen counts in Atlanta, no one can argue that Mother Nature decided to exit her Winter hibernation a bit sooner than usual this time around.
And with Spring comes a few rituals that we’ve come to embrace over the years: the Easter Egg hunt on the White House grounds, the Spring practices of college and pro football teams, longer days and shorter nights, and all the other outdoor activities that we associate with warmer temperatures.
My question for you, however, relates to the indoor activities of your workplace. We can certainly engage in physical Spring cleaning activities: throwing away outdated files, rearranging some of our furniture, and scouring our office surfaces with pine-scented cleaners. But what about the internal opportunity we have to start something new and fresh? What can we commit to doing differently to become even more effective in our work? How do we break from those habits, behaviors, and activities that are not serving us well?
Here are five simple steps you can use to begin the Spring Cleaning of your psyche.
- Take an honest look at what you’re doing. This one is simple enough. For one week, track all of your activities. If you’re the person who says, “There aren’t enough hours in a day,” or you frequently tout your multi-tasking skills, ask yourself why. Why do some people get a lot more done, while not seeming to work as hard as you? The key here, as with all of these steps, is to be honest.
- Take an honest look at what you’re not doing. Every time you choose to do something, you’re intentionally choosing not to do something else. This one can be difficult for people to understand. If you’re a leader with an “open door” policy, you’re also choosing not to give yourself some needed down time. If you’re constantly responding to email and other distractions, you’re also choosing not to give your brain time and space to focus on the other, perhaps more important, tasks at hand. Only you know what the true cost is of what you choose to do.
- Engage in scenario planning with yourself. After you’ve taken some time to examine where you’re spending your time and energy, play a few what ifs. What if you closed your door from 8-9, and then 4-5 every day? You’ve taken time to focus, plan your day, or plan your tomorrow. What if you responded to emails less frequently? Again, only you know if a strategy like this will work for you and in your environment.
- Choose one thing to do differently. The great thing about scenario planning is during the planning phase, all of the results are hypothetical. You don’t know how things are going to play out. Only once you begin doing something different (or differently) can you see the actual results on your workload.
- Practice. You may have heard that it takes 21 days of doing something differently to become habit. While that’s a convenient rule of thumb, the actual time it takes for a new behavior to become internalized may take more or less time, depending on how long you’ve been doing it in the first place.
Spring is a great time to take stock, recalibrate, and try something new. If we’re not afraid to examine what we’re doing, we may be surprised at what we can do.
Many of you probably recognize the German word for “attention.” Did I just capture yours? How long did I keep it? What’s important to you about “attention?” Why do I keep asking you rhetorical questions? How many more questions will I ask? Hmmm…
I recently attended a webinar. The topic of the webinar had intrigued me, and I had never heard one from the organization presenting it before. So I dutifully registered and looked forward to seeing (and hearing) a new perspective on the topic at hand.
About five minutes into the webinar, the presenter posed a “yes/no” question to the audience; however, the answer(s) offered were in a multiple choice format. I sat and scratched my head, thinking that I must have missed something. I opted not to answer the question, thinking that the other 175 or so people on the webinar who had answered quickly had clearly heard (or saw) something that I had not.
Since they had (what I perceived) to be more or different information than me, I would defer to their thinking. I mean, after all, I was sitting in a virtual room with 175 of my newest colleagues, so I decided to go with the majority.
I then decided to pay a little more attention than I had been. As I listened and watched the webinar unfold, it became apparent (at least to me), that the information was a bit spotty. I perceived the presenter was navigating between key points in a way that was totally logical to her, but clearly was not logical to me. I wondered about the others on the webinar. Was I the only one witnessing this? Did it matter? Was I still missing something?
I had a choice to make. Do I continue on the webinar? Or do I bail?
At that precise moment, I recognized that I was doing something that I frequently coach my clients (who are leaders) not to do.
I was judging the webinar.
Because of my inability to connect the dots, I had begun to judge the entire experience. Surely I couldn’t be part of the problem. I had, in a nanosecond, begun to formulate beliefs about the presenter, the company she worked for, and the organization she was representing. My beliefs may or may not be accurate, but that wasn’t the point. The point, for me, was how I had begun to pay attention. And that was troubling.
I had begun to look and listen for reasons not to pay attention. I looked and listened only for the things to reinforce my ever-increasing intense belief that the presenter wasn’t prepared (she was), or that her information wasn’t relevant (it was).
I chuckled. Out loud. At myself.
No matter how much I learn, read, investigate, analyze, or “know,” the more I realize that the type of attention we pay to others is critical in informing our world view. When we observe the world from a place of curiosity, not judgment, the world becomes a different place.
I intentionally changed my frame of mind. I made my brain ask questions like, “I wonder what she’s going to cover next” rather than “I’m sure the next point isn’t going to follow.” I curiously anticipated what was coming next, rather than sitting and waiting to judge the next statement. The rest of the webinar was very informative, and the information was presented in a way that was not how I would do it, but was equally (if not more) effective.
As leaders, we get to make a choice. Moment by moment. What captures our attention may not be what keeps our attention. But in a world of competing demands for our attention, shouldn’t we be curious rather than judgmental? I’m curious to hear what you think…
Anaïs Nin: ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.’
I’ve figured out how to have never-ending growth in the stock market—get rid of the analysts! Have you noticed how every description of downward-spiraling stock values concludes with the simple comment, “… but it was lower than analysts’ predictions”?
“XYZ Corp’s stock dropped two percent today. Although they made $27M more last quarter than the same quarter a year ago, it was lower than analyst predictions.” Clearly, the analysts don’t know anything. Why else would they be so far off in their estimates for the past three years?
Okay, it should be obvious that my suggestion to dump the analysts is said tongue in cheek … sort of. So another option is to have all the analysts grossly underestimate the companies’ quarterly performance. This way every company will always outperform the analysts’ predictions and stock values will go up. Again, tongue in cheek.
What does this have to do with leadership? Two words: managing expectations.
I’m not suggesting that leaders should low-ball estimates or standards when communicating with their employees. Rather, I do suggest this prescription for managing expectations:
1. Be realistic with your employees—not overly optimistic, but also not pessimistic. Say what you expect; explain your desired outcomes. The number one job of a leader is to establish and explain the vision. Describe what you expect in the way of employee performance toward those outcomes.
2. Be prepared to fight for resources—the number two job of the leader. Nothing dampens employees’ expectations for success more than knowing the needed resources aren’t forthcoming. Demanding high performance with no resources leads to frustration, anger, burnout, apathy, and, ultimately, high turnover.
3. Help remove obstacles. Have an honest conversation and be realistic about what you see as the challenges, but be careful not to unwittingly limit your employees’ opportunity to succeed. Truthfulness goes a long way toward limiting workplace drama. In the absence of information, employees will make things up. So eliminate confusion by discussing up front what’s known and what’s unknown.
Employees are smart. Believe it or not, they care about the success of the projects they are working on. Set your organization on an upward spiral: manage employee expectations by having honest conversations about what’s expected of them and what they can expect from you.
Then watch your organization’s capital grow!
Being a leader is tough business. You have to set direction for your team; ensure every team member is on board; decide how to allocate resources; reward positive behavior when you see it; reshape negative behavior when it becomes apparent, and create and maintain a healthy workplace. A leader also must help the team support each other; ensure that the business at hand is getting completed, and intentionally include everyone so that they all feel a part of the team, and that they want to contribute.
I’ve been very privileged in my career to have lead many different teams, with a wide variety in scope, scale, and, even, success. I’ve read the books; I’ve attended (and actually led) webinars about how to become a better leader, and I constantly strive to maintain a high degree of self-awareness of how my behavior, as well as the choices I make, affect those around me-in classes I facilitate, other groups I work with, and within the circle of my family and friends.
Overall, I would say I was doing relatively well until last Saturday, August 6, 2011 when my effectiveness, the very essence of my leadership, would begin a long journey of being constantly tested. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I adopted a 4 month old puppy, Bacchus.
Bacchus is a Golden Retriever/German Shepherd mix. He has already survived being abandoned in a shelter, a bout with parvo, and is honestly very lucky to be here. I’m lucky to have him. And our relationship is off to a great start.
As I began to reflect on the week, I realized how many parallels there were between being the “leader” of something-be it a team, organization, function, or even pack-and being the grownup for a puppy. You can’t fix everything at once, so our focus this week largely on housebreaking and crate training.
Like any good leader, I had read the literature about “how” to do it. Positive reinforcement, praise and reward for a job well done; negative words immediately when the undesired behavior happens so as not to lose context-all those things look great in a tri-fold glossy brochure from the adoption agency. But the consistency of actions, both his and mine, are what’s key for our long term success. Bacchus quickly reminded me that life was more complex than a tri-fold.
I’ve had to adjust some of my expectations (as I’m sure he has as well), but what I’m finding is success comes from “being” in the moment. It comes from understanding that we’re both just learning how each other operates, just as we do on our teams. It comes from understanding that when Bacchus (or one of our employees) has an “accident,” that it’s just that-an accident. There’s no harm intended, no malice implied. And although we as leaders can get angry, we often also realize that we have a part in their “accidents,” as well as in their successes.
Why do you lead others? Chances are, you find some type of gratification in it. For Bacchus and me, it’s because we both want to forge a friendship that will last a lifetime. When you’re leading others, remember to keep your eyes on the mutual goal, but enjoy the “moments” that exist in the interim. That’s what Bacchus is currently teaching me. The soft bellies and puppy breath are just some of the perks.
Like probably almost everyone else reading this blog, I have spent much of my adult life horsing around with software.
By this, I mean trying to navigate user interfaces, trying to understand the architecture of forms, trying to understand responses in the FAQ or Help forums that ironically assume proficiency in the programs or at least a master’s degree in software engineering, encountering bugs, eliminating viruses, losing saved work, spending half an hour trying to figure out how to do something that seems like it should take half a minute, and a variety of other tasks that added zero to productivity.
And like probably almost everyone else, I have just gotten used to it. It seems like just part of the terrain that software should be counter-intuitive, frustrating, buggy, quirky, glitchy and time-sinking.
No one intentionally sets out to design bad software. But people do design it in a context – that context being what’s in their head that they understand about the program and code, and how they see the entire software system.
Notice one word missing here: “customer.”
The shift involved in moving from thinking about one’s own distinctions, knowledge, perspectives and assumptions to those of the customer is nothing short of profound. It means letting go of whatever you think is “the right way,” and all the knowledge and beliefs you bring to the work, and instead entering a state where you get into the head of the customer. It doesn’t mean that’s the only legitimate point of view, or that the customer is always right. It does mean understanding the customer, though.
It is a great example of the platinum rule: Don’t treat others as you want to be treated. Treat them as they want to be treated.
This is why relationships matter. If you are not in a place where you want to make this shift, you’re done before you start. The door is closed to solutions that delight customers, that meet them where they are, and help them perform the work they have to do.
The shining example of a company that has embodied users as the point of the software is Apple. Every Apple user I have talked to makes the point that there is a significant difference between a Windows-based computer, with its attendant software and hardware, and an Apple computer. As a user myself, I appreciate the experience every time I use my iMac or iPhone. Steve Jobs’ fanatical insistence on elegant, customer-friendly design is the key.
I often think of software as the automotive industry 100 years ago. The prevailing mental model was probably that the goal of the car was to get people from point A to B. And it was. Except that along the way, people started to think about things like rider comfort (shock absorbers, better tires, suspension, frame construction), safety (frame construction, bumpers and seat belts) and fuel economy (more efficient engines). It has culminated now in cup holders, DVD players and music systems. The user experience is very different now.
Yet most of the discussion in the software field seems to remain around features, power and technology. The machine, not the person, is the focus.
This is why the user experience today is not really a technology problem. Apple has already proven a company can create a great user experience.
No, it’s really a problem with relationships. For any successful relationship, the parties have to understand each other, and unfortunately, I think most technology companies understand technology a lot better than customers.
A breathtaking example of this came when one company I worked for rolled out new technology for a Wall Street firms, who can be accused of being many things, but stupid not being one of them. After a steady stream of complaints from bond traders and analysts regarding the complexity and difficulty of use of our product, the marketing manager who had presided over the development of the software proclaimed in a meeting, “Well, the customers are stupid.”
This is a crisis in relationships. Such thinking cannot lead to products and services that are Apple-like in their beauty.
I was reminded of this over the weekend when my wife reported that her mother had been experiencing computer problems. She had called the help desk, where a technician asked her to unplug and replug a USB cable. When she couldn’t do it fast enough and the technician became impatient, she let him know that she’s 80 years old, the USB port is just above the floor, and in the back of the computer. It meant she had to crawl around on her hands and knees. While I’m sure the technician understood the USB configuration (actually, maybe not – it didn’t solve the problem), he didn’t understand enough about the user to ask, “Is the USB port easily accessible?”
It all starts with a question: Do you care? Do you want to try to understand the world through the customer’s eyes? If not, just go back to work. But don’t ever expect to be great like Apple.
If you do care, the door swings open to tremendous learning. One fish-in-a-barrel phenomenon – you could retire on this bet – is around what happens when a senior leader goes out an interacts with real customers. Every time, it results in some kind of significant learning.
It’s an interesting time right now with Steve Jobs on a medical leave of absence. The speculation is around how the company will do without his vision. It’s a startling and sobering point that he may be that indispensible. Is there no one else who is capable of putting customers first and foremost as Jobs has done?
A central question, and a great place to start, whether it’s your software, customer service, or any touch point with customers, is in asking the question: Are your processes and practices customer friendly, or are they organization friendly?
Apple “gets it.” Do you?
Many people are skeptical of miracles. They think they know “how things are,” and that they have a good grip on reality. They have little truck with the possibility of an event that would defy all expectations.
All I can say in response to this nonsense is that I saw a miracle yesterday, and I’d like to describe it to you.
In order to understand this miracle, we first need a little background.
To localize it, think of someone you know who is really stuck in his or her ways. This is a person who has been doing the same thing over and over for years, maybe decades, and you see no prospect of change.
(Of course, this person isn’t you.)
When you think of this person, you probably have a whole set of beliefs and opinions around the potential for change. Think of the following stock statements that you have already heard:
* “He/she will never change.”
* “That’s just the way he/she is.”
* “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
* “Why go to training? Nothing will change.”
The list goes on. Implicit in each of the statements is an imbedded notion that it would be a miracle if this person woke up one day, came in to work, and did something really different.
As soon as we confuse our pre-conceived notions, even assumptions, with reality, then we are off the hook for trying to help in any way. Our internal resistance to providing feedback to others, our failure to provide coaching when it may be needed, our fear of broaching a difficult issue is often defended on the grounds that “nothing’s going to change, anyway. It would be a miracle.”
Sorry to tell, but this view is wrong, and miracles happen. Here’s what I saw:
The meeting was called to discuss planning for an enormous training event starting in a few months. The person in charge of the whole event, and the team, had already been through a couple these events Predictably, lessons had been learned.
One of these was that the project manager was often needed in three places at once. Running here and there, with a cell phone glued to her ear, she put out fires, answered questions, handled problems and kept the client happy.
Now, being in three places at once really is a miracle, and I’m not advocating trying it.
As the meeting opened to prepare for the next conference, I observed something happen in the project manager. I could tell there was some hesitance, even discomfort. But she plunged ahead. She said, in effect, that she had learned a lot in the last conferences, and probably the biggest realization she had come to was that she had to delegate more. Given the need for her to be available to the client, she wanted to ask each of us to take greater responsibility for our areas of focus, to really “own” those from start to finish, letting her know if we needed help.
Some insight into the project manager: I have noticed in working with her over the years that relationships and harmony are very important to her. She would prefer to not upset people, and for everyone to get along.
For her to ask others to do more, she was taking a risk. After all, in many project teams, the load-balancing of work can be a delicate or explosive issue. Particularly if relationships are not positive, conflict can result as work is moved “from one plate to another.” As works demands accelerate pretty much everywhere, this is a real issue.
I looked around the room as the project manager made her request and saw instant acceptance. My sense was that not only did the team intellectually understand the reality the project manager was presenting, they also felt connected her in a constructive working relationship. There were “yeses” all around, and we moved on with a new understanding and operating rules.
For everyone who says people can’t change, I submit exhibit A. I watched someone take a new step, take a risk, and develop a capability in the process. She really transitioned into a project executive function in that move. I suspect that having taken this step, she will be a little more comfortable next time to make a request when it needs to be made.
I talked with the project manager afterwards and shared my own perspective of what had happened. She agreed with the interpretation, and said she would not have been able to make this request a year ago. Working with a coach had made the difference for her.
My wife was recently hospitalized (she’s fine now) and during an emotionally wrenching 6-day saga I served as air-traffic controller for a lot of communication from outside the hospital with and about her.
One problem with being the in leadership and professional development business is that you cannot avoid seeing situations through certain lenses, some of which I want to share here.
What jumped out most for me was noticing how people tended to respond to the news that things were definitely not well in one of two ways.
Some people immediately wanted to know what was happening – an analytical, fact-driven narrative of the medical situation in order to understand what was happening, and what was needed that they could provide to help.
Others, however, immediately went to the emotional realm – how Linda was feeling, how I was feeling, how our daughter was handling the news. Their emotional expressions of support stood out.
For those of you familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, you can probably recognize the preference for Thinking judgments in the former, and the preference for Feeling judgments in the latter. Thinkers generally want to know what is, while Feelers focus more on the human side of whatever it is is.
What struck me was the language. The vocabulary of Thinkers was populated with words like “cause, events, diagnosis, outlook, facts,” while the parlance of the Feelers included words and phrases such as “Tell Linda that we love her, what can I do to help? This is weighing on us all, and know you’re not alone.”
With type, there is no right or wrong, there is just different – a concept that may seem easy to cognitively “get,” but which in real life tends to produce a lot of judgments and conflict. A legitimate question is: Which preference was more useful? And the answer – and the key to understanding Type generally – is “both.”
You want people like doctors, specialists, nurses to get very fact-oriented and operate from a logical, rational, technically correct perspective. A life may be hanging in the balance.
At the same time, since we are human beings, you also want people to connect with you, feel your pain, empathize and sympathize. At one point, during the darkest hours of not knowing what had happened to my wife, a nurse simply put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I know how hard this must be.” This expression of support brought tears. I didn’t want the nurse to step away from her responsibility to administer medication properly, report vital signs or update a chart, but the Feeling element was huge.
Doctors who have a good bedside manner, and are emotionally intelligent, get sued at a fraction of the rate of those who don’t. Both Thinking and Feelings matter.
For leaders, the question is whether they can bring both to the game. The bad news is leadership is overwhelmingly populated by Thinkers, leaving a real deficit in the Feeling domain. No wonder engagement levels, a sense of meaningful connection and genuine commitment toward leaders on the part of employees are so low.
A good gut check for any leader is: Am I over-relying on my preference, or can I flex enough to incorporate behaviors, actions and communication that come from the other end of the dichotomy?
Simple examples for Thinking leaders include asking how individuals are doing – not just their work projects, but them. It could be sharing a story about something that happened to you that creates disclosure or transparency, particularly if there is a human dimension in it. (This makes it easier for others to talk about how they are doing or what they are going through.) It could be to show genuine appreciation for the person.
Simple moves. Potentially big results.
It is always fascinating to read the biographies of failed leaders. These are the folks who went to jail, lost many billions, resigned in accounting scandals or lost the confidence of employees. Bad Leadership by Barbara Kellerman and Pigs at the Trough by Arianna Huffington are packed with examples of such leaders.
We are talking Chainsaw Al, Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Ebbers, John Rigas, Ken Lay et al.
In the stories of these leaders, a familiar pattern emerges with uncanny consistency. It goes something like this: Person of humble means pulls himself up, gets a job, gets promoted, starts putting results on the board, makes a big leap or two to the next levels, more results and then the top job — after which, everything eventually unravels.
Along the way is where it gets interesting. When former colleagues are interviewed, they invariably talk about how the person had some kind of singular vision or steely – almost scary — sense of direction, and executed to that with incredible will and strength. Hence, the results on the board. Along the way, slashing and burning were commonplace, dissent was not tolerated, and hey, as long as the results were coming in, who cared? Certainly not Wall Street with its quarterly earnings per share attention deficit disorder.
All this may have worked in the climb up, but once people like this arrived at the top, things started to change.
The resistance to hearing other ideas, the suppression of alternative points of view, and very often the command-and-control mentality ultimately wore down any goodwill, sense of genuine cooperation and social capital. In the end, all they had was rule by control, power and fear. Threats to subordinates and public humiliation were common.
What is really interesting about these narratives is how often the failed leaders bragged about their leadership style. They not only admitted, but celebrated and reveled in their take-no-prisoners methods. “My way or the highway” or “You’re either with me or against me” challenges were common. Self-congratulatory autobiographies as the makers of tough decisions or conveying that they did what had to be done are not hard to find.
There may be a temporary place for such leadership in crisis situations, but for most modern organizations, it just doesn’t work – at least in the long run.
Andrew Ashore, an analyst who met Sunbeam CEO Al Dunlap, was reported to have said, “”I didn’t necessarily like him or trust him, but I thought my clients could make money on him. I knew they just had to get out at the right time.” In other words, this pattern is so well-worn that stock analysts can try to market-time CEO trajectories.
At some point, the social capital is exhausted, relationships are non-existent and goodwill has vanished. When the hammer falls, there is no one to support the leader. And the rest, as they say, is history.
And this may all be just a history excursion except for one thing. Recently I have been talking with employees in the federal government about their perceptions of their leaders. Familiar patterns emerge: unwillingness to listen, no tolerance of disagreement, rule by force and threats to those who do not toe the line.