Sue is upset. She is feeling pressure from her CEO to catch up on shipments. She has just returned from another stressful meeting where she was reminded that her job is to get every unit shipped on schedule. The CEO also pointed out that she hasn’t been getting the job done for three straight months and he doesn’t intend to allow that to continue. Sue understands what he means and feels her head begin to pound.
When the phone rings, Dave considers ignoring it. He’s at the end of his rope and doesn’t care to have to answer a lot of questions. But, he picks it up anyway hoping to hear that the quality problems have been resolved and the trucks can be loaded. The sound on the other end of the phone tells him there’s no good news coming, however. Sue’s voice is shaking when she asks Dave for a status report on shipments. Dave feels his blood pressure rise as he struggles to eke out a vague explanation of why things aren’t going well.
Both Sue and Dave are typical managers in a common situation that occurs in workplaces everyday. Each has choices to make about how he or she will respond to the situation. Will Sue seek ways to give Dave extra support and encouragement using the behaviors to which she best responds in his situation? Will Dave manage his emotions and channel his energy into strategies for removing obstacles to on-time shipments? What are their default responses, and what determines them?
They may have developed differing patterns of behavior based on previous experiences in their working lives. Sue may have grown up in a business working for several tough managers who got in her face whenever they wanted her to feel pressured to prove herself. Although she attended a few seminars on leadership, her experience probably taught her that, as the leader, she was ultimately responsible and needed to push the pressure down to those on whom she depended to get the job done; if others didn’t feel the pressure she felt, they would have no motivation to deliver results.
Dave may have worked in a single company most of his career with leaders who micromanaged everything. Perhaps his managers meddled constantly and kept a tight reign on production methods. As a manager, Dave may find it difficult to ask employees for input instead feeling like it’s his job to be the problem solver for the department.
Sue and Dave have at least one thing in common. Despite their past experiences, they each have choices about how they will respond in the moment. This is illustrated by an experience I had with a master scheduler who tended to lash out when under pressure. He had learned well from his long-time boss, a supply chain manager, who tended to bully people when he didn’t get what he wanted. He, likewise, often erupted emotionally when things got tough. On up the chain the manager reported to a VP of operations who relied on bullying, verbal intimidation, false promises and manipulation to get what he wanted from people.
An interesting thing happened one day when the master scheduler verbally assaulted a co-worker causing her to cry. She became so upset that she couldn’t work for several days. Her manager complained to the CEO. The CEO contacted the VP of operations and demanded that the problem get resolved immediately with the understanding that such behavior would not be tolerated under any circumstances. The problem was quickly resolved. The master scheduler apologized to the co-worker with flowers. And, amazingly, the master scheduler, manager and VP had no more outbursts.
Businessman and author J. Donald Walters has written, “Genuine leadership is of only one type: supportive. It leads people: It doesn’t drive them. It involves them: It doesn’t coerce them. It never loses sight of the most important principle governing any project involving human beings: namely, that people are more important than things.” Not surprisingly, our clients who shift to this approach report improved business results such as doubled productivity, shortened product release cycle times, and rapidly increasing sales. Why? Because Walter’s description of leadership encourages commitment, and any level of commitment is light years ahead of 100% compliant.
If we want to become “genuine leaders,” as described by Walters, we’ll need to assess what we have become and face our choices for changing ourselves. Like Sue and Dave, how well we succeed will show up in in-the-moment situations when choices about how we will respond will be tough to make. Regardless of our past experiences, those responses will reflect the type of leader we have chosen to be.
Trying it on for fit:
Assess the gap between your current leadership and the kind of leader you want to be. Use the following steps for this process:
Mentally project yourself into the future as a “genuine leader” or leader with the attributes you desire. As you picture yourself as that leader, take note of how you, in this future state, are choosing to respond in the situations you find most difficult for maintaining your desired attributes.
1) Write down these responses and rank order them from most important to least important.
2) Select the top three to five responses and craft them into specific goals for your development. Write them in terms of desired outcomes and use past tense characterizing them as having been achieved.
3) Develop measures for each goal such that accomplishing a goal can be clearly verified or measured.
4) Determine specific actions you will take to ensure you respond according to your vision of yourself. Consider the changes you will have to make and the difficult choices that will be necessary to make your envisioned responses your default behavior.
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!