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Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg
President, Ethics Line, LLC™
Leadership can be an elusive concept. Some leaders sit atop a power pyramid of sorts and rule by decree. Once, on a trip to Paris with my middle daughter, who was 10 years old at the time, we found ourselves in the Tuileries Garden, not far from the Louvre Museum. It was originally built for Catherine de Medici in the year 1564. Later, it was home to King Louis XVI of France and his wife, Marie Antoinette, she of “let them eat cake” fame. And yes, the French Revolution.
In the garden today is a headless statue of a woman, identified as Marie Antoinette. I tried explaining to my daughter that Marie Antoinette had been married to the King of France when the royal family ended up headless, for real, and the revolution ended all that monarchy business. She asked in her innocent way, “How do you become a king?” My immediate response was “Well, you kill more people than anyone else and that you claim that you did it in the name of God.”
In business, we hope that our leaders don’t emerge from that kind of “selection” process but some do leave a path of destruction to get to the top!
Other leaders rise through the ranks of an organization, starting at the bottom in entry level jobs and proving their ability at every step along the way…or rung on the ladder. They know the organization better than anyone else.
And then there are the recruiters or executive search firms. They are often hired by the Board of Directors to bring new blood and fresh ideas to organizations that need it. The old ways and personnel no longer serve the needs of an organization in a changing business environment. Sometimes (most of the time?) these new leaders lop off the heads (figuratively of course) of the old guard and bring in a new team (often of their trusted friends). I know of one executive who was promoted to the CEO job in a company where she had worked for years. She proceeded to get rid of everyone senior who had known her in a lesser role! Hail to the queen!
The best leaders are different. They inspire and encourage. The invite others to give their best. I once worked with such a leader. He famously held an all hands meeting where he asked in all sincerity, “What can I do better?” Stunned silence in the room until people realized he actually was asking for their opinion and advice. He said once when presented with the choice between good news and bad news, “Give me the bad news. Let’s solve our problems first. There will be plenty of time to celebrate later.” I took that approach to heart in my career and have tried to follow his guidance.
In the military, it is said that people salute the uniform. Until, that is, genuine respect is earned. Then they salute the person!
How does that happen? I will surely get the attribution wrong so I won’t try, just know that what I am about to write is not original and others deserve the credit. I am just passing it along!
There is a concept called MBWA. It stands for Management By Walking Around. The idea is that leaders can really only know what’s happening in their organization by getting up from their desks, getting out of their offices, and engaging with people where those people are getting the job done. I like it.
I also have defined MBWA as Management By Walking Away. The concept is that you hire capable, good, qualified people and let them do their jobs. I like this even better. It improves even further when leaders take the time to say “Good job!” and “Thank you!”
A final thought about leadership. More business leaders need to earn the salute rather than demand it.
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