A Leadership Style Story
In one of my large company leadership roles, I was leading a team of well over 500 members and was responsible for growing the operation from $83M to $100M in two years. A primary focus was the culture. It was obvious and imperative that the culture of my management team had to change. Given that we had recently acquired this organization, the culture varied widely from our norms. They used what I characterize as an old school, command-and-control approach that drove results through intensity and fear-based tactics.
One meeting stands out for me that highlights the culture I inherited. I was meeting with one of my marketing managers and our human resources director. There had been a number of complaints about this manager and instances of abusive and bullying behaviors directed at his team. Not surprisingly, this manager was somewhat new to leading people and lacked proper training. This meeting was to explore the validity of the complaints and to assess the opportunity to develop this manager into a leader of people.
During the meeting he took full responsibility for the situations, admitting they had occurred and validating the tone of the conversations with team members and the language he had used. Check! Unfortunately, what happened next was an unfortunate reality about his attitude toward leading people and revealed that he was not coachable and could not be developed as a leader.
When I probed around why he felt it was necessary to approach his team in such an aggressive manner, he responded with, “Hey, to make an omelet, sometimes you gotta break a few eggs! My response: “Well, let me offer you a different perspective. I don’t see our roles as leaders to break eggs or make omelets. I see our roles as growing chickens.” In this context, I was referring to the ability to coach and develop his team, rather than cracking skulls like cracking eggs. His response, “I couldn’t disagree more.”
Naturally, I had expected more of a sense of curiosity from the manager about my comment. I had hoped that he would have asked me what I meant and explored the differences in our beliefs about leading people and would have demonstrated coachability. Rather, before I could respond, he followed with, “I just don’t think I can work here given our differences.” My response: “So, are you saying you are resigning?” He said, “Yes, I think I am.” I immediately extended my right hand and said, “I accept your resignation,” before he had a chance to rescind it.
At first blush, that may sound a bit hasty and harsh on my part, but I can attest that the impact of instant action created the right outcomes across the business. Even though I was completely confident in the moment, the attention it received and the trend of change it helped accelerate across the organization furthered my conviction and enabled me to make room to promote and develop a successful leader to take his place. Subsequently, the new leader was able to raise the performance of that team to the top performing team in the organization.
Following this event and over time, other managers self-selected and left the company and others demonstrated tremendous potential and an aptitude for growth. As a result, I was able to develop a stronger leadership team that enabled the financial results noted above.
Choosing a Leadership Style
Unfortunately, the command-and-control leadership style still exists. In the military, it is necessary since lives are at risk. In the civilian world, seldom are lives at risk, but lives and organizations are most often negatively impacted by this type of leadership. Further, even when the command-and-control style is absent, often willing leaders simply lack the skills necessary. Moreover, they often lack the right attitude toward leadership and mistake managing with leading. My definition of the difference is, “Managing is about processes and things, where leading is about relationships and outcomes.” Beyond the definitions, being a leader is a choice.
In the book The Leadership Pipeline, the authors describe the foundation of every leadership role as governed by three principles:
The fundamental Work Value theme and starting point for success is the leader must see herself as a leader. That means the leader recognizes that her success is predicated on the success of her team and treats the development of the team as a priority. That leads to her spending time setting expectations and coaching for performance. The work happens through the team and is grounded in effective relationships. The result is clarity, accountability, and performance. This approach is a far cry from breaking eggs.
While making omelets may be desirable for Sunday brunch, growing chickens who can produce the right results is a far more desirable approach.