“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.” – Dwight Eisenhower
So you’ve been extremely successful for a while now. Do you ever think luck had something to do with it, since your leadership style wasn’t. Let me explain. I worked with and executive who we’ll call Tom who at the age of 36, (20 years ago) was pursuing his career with a vengeance. It was all about him – about making a name for himself, being recognized, and making an impact. He had the highest standards of performance for himself and his team.
They were in fact very successful. More successful than any of them had imagined would be possible, given where they started and the barriers they faced. Everyone on the team was smart, dedicated, hardworking, and committed to the common goals. Tom was proud of himself and his team.
He decided to go into an intense leadership development program where he took a battery of personality tests and a leadership 360 where he solicited feedback from peers, direct reports, his boss and his clients. Upon receiving the feedback, he was pleased – that is until he saw the results from his boss. On a scale from minus 10 to plus ten, he rated Tom in the minus range on a large number of people-related behaviors. Tom was convinced he had just made a mistake – these results couldn’t be right.
He asked for a meeting with his boss and during the meeting Tom pulled out his feedback report, proudly showing him the ratings from his peers, clients and direct reports. And then Tom showed him his ratings, asking him why he had given him such low scores. He was shocked by what he heard:
His boss said “Tom, you have amazing skill, drive and talent and you have been extremely successful. We are all grateful for what you have been able to accomplish. But to get that success, you are beating up your team. You make them feel like they are never good enough. You constantly look for someone to blame when things don’t go right and never put blame on yourself. You intimidate them into working long, grueling hours – and they are afraid to tell you any of this for fear of your reaction.”
Tom was stunned, but he still held out hope that his boss had it all wrong. However, he bravely decided to speak with him team members one-on-one. He asked them to be truthful and assured them there would be no reprisal. After talking to his team, they confirmed what his boss had told him was true. Tom was crushed as he thought he was a great compassionate leader.
The feedback came as an affront to his own identity and his conception of himself as generous, caring, and nurturing leader. He was, quite simply, embarrassed. Tom told his team members he was ashamed by his behavior. He then pledged to change his approach. So with the help of his boss and his team’s coaching and support, he began to work on creating positive, rather than negative relationships with each person on his team. Part of it was purely personal, so he could feel good about myself again. The second reason was performance-related: leaders who form positive relationships enable higher levels of collective performance.
Talking with his boss and his team members about the situation was the first step in a long journey to turn his negative, overly critical style into a leadership approach that would continue to pursue the highest standards of performance – without beating his team up.
How did it turn out……I’ll let you know next time.