"I Have Always Been a Leader"
For a number of years I consulted to the CEO of a publicly-traded global company who proudly stated, at every opportunity, "I have never held any position other than 'executive' since graduating from university."
That was partly true. He was so good at his particular financial discipline that his first employer gave him an executive title (even though he was an expert individual contributor). It was a good recruiting tactic.
As things go in the wonderful world of corporate life, that title immediately landed him in the company's succession plan. He was promoted regularly and ultimately did end up managing people (obviously).
In fact, he liked to refer to himself in company meetings and events as "Your Fearless Leader".
For your evaluative pleasure, here are some behavioral facts:
1. His apparent listening skills were almost non-existent.
2. After asking a question he would allow a brief response. Then, without fail, he would interrupt the respondent--regardless of who it was--and go on a seemingly endless dissertation regarding his own question and why he was right.
3. His "people skills" as defined by current standards of "minimum competency" wouldn't get him a certificate of completion in a 101-level workshop.
4. He spent almost no time on issues of management or leadership development. During his tenure there was no intentional initiative of any scope to grow a new generation of skilled managers.
5. Once, before walking onto the stage to make a speech, he turned to me and said: "Mr. Roesler, if I get a standing ovation it is because I am, indeed, the 'fearless leader'. If I do not, it is because you screwed up when you wrote the speech."
5. His relationships and reputation with Wall Street and the financial community were second to none.
6. The company experienced consistent, incremental growth during his tenure.
7. There was little to no employee turnover during his tenure.
8. He knew or cared little about organizational theory yet was a keen student of profitability.
9. Although he talked about himself constantly, I never once heard him speak ill of anyone else.
10. He was consistently clear about a narrow range of objectives. Everyone knew what they were.
11. If he said "We should do this", people did it.
Was He a Leader?
When he looked over his shoulder there were always people following. So according to yesterday's definition posed by no less than Peter Drucker, he was indeed.
Most importantly, he was the right person at the right time for what the company needed: big picture financial direction.
People responded to his direction because they knew it was the right thing to do. His ability to influence came from the acceptance of his expertise.
Yet by all of the fancy and sophisticated measures and techniques promoted today, he would be seen as--well--"sucky." The shareholders, directors, and employees didn't think so. They settled for "eccentric" and got on with things. One of those things was not a group hug.
Was he as effective as he might have been?
Heck, no. With just a little attention to tuning up his EQ I believe his name would be a household word.
But that wasn't his goal. His goal was to lead a profitable company and then retire.
He did both.
Yet he made choices along the way that impacted the longer term health of the organization:
- Neglecting management development created a weakness in the ability to deal with a changing marketplace and related financial challenges.
- Likewise, that lack of management sophistication and skill have left the managers unarmed in the fight to help their people understand and address the changes as they unfold.
- Relying on his own strength worked well as long as he was healthy and his expertise was what was needed.
- Ignoring his ongoing personal development has consequences for those who followed him and who he chose to interrupt at all of those meetings.
Our CEO friend was not a failure in "in the moment". In fact, he was a successful leader during his tenure.
What comes to light is the importance of the long-term legacy and implications of one's leadership choices.
Leaders, Followers, and Long-term Growth
Here are three questions that seem to naturally emerge from this example and that we'll continue to pursue in the series.:
- Does the long-term growth of any entity mean that its leaders need to be constantly attentive to their own long-term growth?
- And in the case of our CEO friend above, did his lack of "followership" experience diminish his leadership experience?
- Is there such a thing (in this day and age) as a legitimate leader-follower dichotomy, or does that mindset weaken an organization?
What do you think?
If you enjoyed this post, I think you'll also want to read about Wisdom, Discernment, and Integrity in Your Organization
photo attribution: movies.yahoo.com/