Disastrous Leadership Approach, The Dutiful Employee

The Dutiful Employee is the person who always waits to be told what to do and refuses to think for himself or herself.

At first this employee is highly valued because the boss will give him or her a variety of important projects and tasks to accomplish and this person will come through every time. The problem occurs when the boss realizes that this person always waits to be told what to do. He or she never steps forward with an idea on how to improve the business or how to do something in a better way. At this point the boss realizes that he or she has to always think for The Dutiful Employee and sees that this person can never be given leadership responsibilities in the organization.

Two Questions to Avoid the Dutiful Employee Disastrous Leadership Approach

1. When are you pausing to wait to be told what to do rather than identifying what you can do to improve results?

2. Is it a healthy pause that allows time for others to clarify the direction you should be moving in, or is it an unhealthy pause that is slowing down progress in your organization?

Disastrous Leadership Style, The Polite Dictator

The Polite Dictator is a person who smiles, asks for input, ignores others, and makes all the decisions.

Ken was the new division president of a $5 Billion division in a Fortune 200 company. He was speaking in front of 500 people at a big regional meeting. I was in the room because I was coaching some of the other executives at the meeting.

Ken said to the audience, “For us to be as good as we can be I need your best thinking on our newest initiative. I want you to really think about what would be the best way to roll this out and then email me your best ideas. I will read every idea and consider it as we move toward making our final decision. Together we can make magic happen.” When he walked off the stage he received a standing ovation.

Later that day I saw Ken in the restroom, and I said, “Ken, you don’t know me, but I wanted you to know I thought it was really tremendous when you asked the audience for their best ideas to help you with your decision.”

He said, “Oh, I’ve already made my decision on what we’re going to do.”

“Well then why did you ask them to email you their best ideas?”

“It’s a trick I learned years ago. It’s a way of getting them all excited. They’ll forget I even asked for it by the end of the day.”

A few years later Ken was fired. He had the worst employee engagement scores of any division president and his customer retention was the lowest of any division in the company. The Polite Dictator says what is needed to please people for the moment, but doesn’t realize that people quickly stop trusting him or her.

Two Questions to Avoid The Polite Dictator Disastrous Leadership Approach

1. Who is going to make the final decision and what is the process you are going to use to determine the final decision?

2. Are you in some way trying to fool other people as to their actual role in the decision-making process just to make them feel temporarily good?

Disastrous Leadership Approach, The Chameleon

(Author’s note: With today’s edition, I will begin a series of ten descriptions of what I call “disastrous leadership approaches.” A disastrous leadership style is an approach that can’t sustain its impact over the long term primarily because it’s all about what’s good for the person and not about what’s good for the organization.)

The Chameleon is the person who changes his or her opinions depending on who is in the room or who is on the conference call.

A chameleon is a lizard. It’s a lizard that changes its color in order to match its surroundings. Being a chameleon in the forest is a good thing because it allows the lizard to stay alive. Being a chameleon in an organization is a bad thing because no one knows what the person stands for.

Bob had five different bosses over a period of four years. I worked directly and indirectly with Bob for those four years. Three of his bosses were promoted, one got fired, and then he had his fifth boss.

Whenever I was alone with Bob he would say, “What do I need to do to get promoted?”

I would say, “Provide great leadership, get great results, and you will get promoted.”

Whenever he was alone with his boss, he would ask what he needed to do to get promoted and they told him the same thing I was telling him. The reason I know that is because his bosses would tell me what had happened.

Bob had a different strategy. He thought the key to getting promoted was to find out what was important to the boss of the moment and then say things that supported what the boss wanted. He would even use the same verbiage as the boss. When one boss was all about speed of delivery, Bob would say in front of his colleagues, “As you all know, I’ve always believed speed is the most important thing.” When the next boss wanted great customer service, Bob said, “As you all know, I’ve always said the most important thing we can do every day is to meet the needs of our customers no matter how long it takes.”

Bob’s fellow employees would stop me in the hallway and say, “Who is this guy? Six months ago he said something totally different than what he said today. I don’t get it.”

Over the next 10 years Bob never did get promoted. He finally took a lateral move to a different part of the company. Bob worked hard and he did deliver very good results, but the reason he never got promoted is because no one knew what he stood for. He had no leadership platform that people could trust. Inconsistency as a leader causes people to lose trust in you because they don’t know what you are going to stand for tomorrow.

Two Questions to Avoid The Chameleon Approach to Leadership

1. What are five things that you believe that you are not going to change no matter who is in the room?

2. How can you consistently demonstrate those beliefs so that other people know what you stand for?

Book Review: David versus Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Admittedly I am a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell. Clearly he’s one of the most thought-provoking writers of the past decade, and I think he’s one of the most thought-provoking writers of all time. Of all his books, I like David versus Goliath the best.

He essentially makes two points: our disadvantages are not nearly as bad as we might think they are, and perceived power in other people is not nearly as overwhelming as we first think. He explains these two points through a set of remarkably diverse examples.

Without saying it, what I really think he is talking about is accepting our current reality and then figuring out how to leverage it into a better future. Don’t call your current situation “disadvantaged” or as “being in the power seat.” Just look at what you have, where you want to go, and what you can do to get there. And then begin to assemble your plan and move into action. The Davids of the world beat the Goliaths of the world quite frequently. Their modus operandi lies in thinking and cleverness and intentional actions and understanding their own realities as well as the realities of those they are competing against.

Two Questions for The Underdog Approach to Leadership

1. In what three ways are you at a disadvantage in the marketplace right now and how can you turn each of those disadvantages into advantages for your organization?

2. What three things can you do right now to carve out a unique competitive advantage that matters deeply to your customers and potential customers?

The Personal Touch

The Personal Touch Leader is the person who leverages the power of the handwritten note.

My mom is and always has been a great leader. When I was 12 years old and I received a check for $10 from my Aunt Helen, Mom said, “Now, Danny, (for the record my mom is the only one who is allowed to call me Danny) you need to write a thank you letter to your Aunt Helen.” When I was a senior in college and I received a scholarship to go to college, Mom said, “Danny, you need to write a thank you letter to each of the members of that committee.” When I was 22 years old and I got my first job, Mom said, “Danny, you need to write a thank you letter to your new boss.” When I was 50 years old and my high school teacher’s father died, Mom said, “Danny, I saw that Mr. Becvar’s father died. You need to write a thank you letter to Mr. Becvar for all that he did for you.”

I’ve been sending handwritten letters for over 40 years, and they are more important now than ever before. In a world of texts, emails, twitters, voice mail, webinars, Skype, and blogs, a handwritten letter can have an extraordinary impact on another person. I encourage you to write at least one handwritten letter every week to an employee or a customer or a supplier. A handwritten letter says you took the time to really think about another person and to reach out in a personal way to strengthen the relationship.

Two Questions for The Personal Touch Approach to Leadership

1. Who are ten people you want to reach out to in a personal way?

2. When will you write each of them a handwritten letter of more than two paragraphs?