People Imitate Their Leaders

Ah leadership, so much a balance. While reading Execution, the Discipline of Getting Things Done by Bossidy and Charan, I came across this excerpt about Dick Brown and EDS that explains a conversation I sometimes have with managers on our team.

Starting at the highest levels, Brown [Dick Brown, EDS CEO] created new ways to drive accountability and collaboration. In the monthly “performance call,” ….

The talk isn’t always about numbers. At one of the first meetings, Brown recalls, “one of the executives made the statement that he was worried about growing anxiety and unrest in his organization, worried about rapid and dramatic change. His people were asking, ‘Are we moving too fast, are we on the threshold of being reckless? Maybe we should slow down, take it easy, reflect a bit.’”

Brown turned the issue around – not incidentally, creating a forceful coaching lesson. “I jumped all over that. ‘This is a test of leadership,’ I said. ‘I would like anybody on this call who is really worried about where we are going and worried about the fact that we will probably fail, tell me so right now. Don’t be afraid to say you are. If you think we’re making a big mistake and heading for the reef, speak up now.’

“No one did. So I said, “If you’re not worried, where’s the worry coming from? I’m not worried, and you’re not worried. Here’s where it is: some of you say one thing, and your body language says another. You show me an organization that’s wringing its hands, listening to rumors, anxious about the future, and I will show you leadership that behaves the same way. People imitate their leaders.”

– Execution, pg 49

Of course the counter point is that Mr. Brown was ousted in 2003. But his words still ring true for me as a leader. And I added the emphasis.

PS – No, this is NOT aimed at anyone in particular, just an observation that
YOU are the leader and are frequently the source of limitations.

PPS – In fact, with my concerns about the recession of 2008, you could even argue this behavior comes from me. So there is that to consider. But I don’t think so much that is the case. Not so much.