Excellence Essentials

By Judith E. Glaser and Michael E. Pilnick | Leadership Excellence
Published March 2005

These set corporate fashion.

Models are trendsetters, and your leadership models walk the runways daily. They come in every size and shape—from the CEO to front-line supervisor. They influence the desired rules and values for your culture. Leadership modeling is a powerful force that exerts its influence daily in dozens of interactions. The example set by leader’s realtime behaviors influences the realtime behaviors of colleagues.

As people observe the actions of their leaders, they pick up cues about what is expected and how to behave; how power is being used and distributed, how open or closed the culture is, what gets rewarded and punished. Often, authority figures forget how their actions serve as behavior models. They fail to see the impact their behavior has on relationships, teams, and business results.

For example, Barbara graduated cum laude from Wharton, had many job offers, and entered business with everything going for her. In the sixth year in her first job, she was a director seeking to become a Vice President. She was lobbying for a promotion, and in doing so stepped on others. She was perceived as aggressive, ambitious, manipulative, egotistical, and selfish. She was talented, yet in need of coaching.

She didn’t listen, or know how to build a team. She was, on the other hand, an intelligent, results-oriented task master who created results.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Many leadership models are drawn from history—from studies of wars and politics. They paint the picture of a leader charging into battle and getting the troops to follow, regardless of the challenges. Authority is seen as the same as leadership. In reality, this chain-ofcommand notion of leadership contributes to dysfunction.

Abandoning these toxic beliefs can be the first step toward living the new fashion and creating a we-centric culture.

  • Old-fashioned leadership: The old-fashioned, “I-centric” leadership model is about power over others and derives from old models of leadership about power and control, directing and delegating, power at the top, constructive criticism, leaders and follower, servants and masters. Leaders get sucked into I-centric behaviors because they are hardwired into our culture: to be a success you have to be powerful, dominating, authoritative and forceful. These behaviors are rewarded. Icentric leaders hold a double-standard: I’m okay; it’s you who needs to change.
  • Fashionable Leadership: The “we-centric” leadership model is about sharing power with others. It’s about inclusion, support, development, learning, nourishing, futurefocus, co-leadership and co-creativity. People are encouraged to experiment, take risks, speak up, and push back. They are fully engaged in challenges and fully vested in success. They have psychological ownership of the business. We-centric leaders hold a single-standard: Together we will grow and transform the business.

Leaders living in the old model are creating a virus of crazyness—often without realizing it. They are reinforcing both styles of leadership at the same time, sending mixed messages.

Three Red Flags

There are three signs or red flags to help you monitor your behavior:

1. Communication. Most employees dream of being involved in creating the strategy and living the vision. They hope to be included in conversations about critical challenges so they can make a contribution. We-centric leadership engages employees in understanding the challenges, interpreting the challenges, expanding points of view, and creating solutions.

Red flag: While leaders talk about the vision, mission and direction, employees feel disconnected and excluded from the larger goals and strategies, often feeling left out of the decision process. The CEO is often the driver of everything important. There is little strategic dialogue to define the customer’s needs.

While employees want to live in hope for the new future and want to be part of the discussions about the challenges so they can participate in solution-finding, they are not included. There are mixed messages that confuse employees about organizational strategies and commitments, and people don’t know what to believe.

2. Sensitivity and awareness. Most people dream of working in open environments and sharing ideas and feelings. We-centric leadership is self-aware, advocating 360 feedback for everyone, sharing the results, and being open to rich-feedback as a way of creating mutual support. Open environments also focus on sharing best practices and critical information to build core competencies.

Red flag: While some leaders talk about breaking down walls and silos, advocate collaborative and cross-divisional initiatives and focus on best practices and becoming world-class, they model internal competition and fail to collaborate with colleagues to build the brand. So, employees are competing for resources, priorities are unclear, and the environment becomes one of we/they. There is a lack of awareness of common challenges and of direction. Territoriality drives the decision process. There are mixed messages that drive people between optimism and pessimism, and people don’t know what to believe.

3. Creating the future. Most people dream of being involved in critical projects and making contributions to innovative next-generation products and services. We-centric leadership engages people in understanding the customer and focusing on customer needs. They celebrate past success but are not be tied to it. They grow and learn with others, thinking how to enhance relationships, teams, and business success.

Red flag: If leaders talk about refocusing on the customer and growing the business but model an arrogance about past success, there is little acceptance of new thinking and little agreement about how to change. Anchored in the past, they are blind to the realities of today’s marketplace and challenges that cause the holding pattern, depleting the strength to connect with the customer. There are mixed messages that drive people between inner-focus and outer-focus, and people don’t know what to do.

The Crazy-making Virus

Unawares of these mixed messages that reflect two different leadership styles, leaders send their people into either holding patterns or crazy-making. They say they want growth, yet they hold on to the past. They say they want collaboration, yet they create competition. They say they have a strong vision, yet they only include employees in the tactics, not the strategy. They convince themselves that they can say one thing and then do something else. Their words fall flat, while their behavior communicates the direction they advocate. They give lip service to one set of practices, while modeling behavior that sends an opposite message: “Do as I say, not as I do” is the sub-text.

When leaders say one thing and do another thing, they send conflicting messages. That’s crazy-making. It confuses both customers and employees. Crazy-making trains people to be skeptical and disbelieving about management’s intentions.

Crazy-making breeds cynicism, disloyalty, and antimanagement attitudes. Crazy-making threatens the sanity of the culture and, when widespread, undermines performance.

Impact on teams. All the talk about teamwork becomes moot when top executives behave as though other departments are adversaries and enemies.

Impact on values. When leaders proclaim that innovation is a critical value, yet discount people with great ideas, they cause a fear of speaking up. Everyone gets the message: here innovation is something we talk about, but in reality risk-taking and speaking-up are not rewarded and, in fact, are punished.

As the crazy-making virus spreads, people abandon all thoughts of exciting and disruptive technologies. Front-line leaders learn to ignore “what-is-said” and to follow “what-is-done.” In the meantime, crazy-making around innovation has salespeople scrambling to cope with customer dissatisfaction.

Four Courses of Action

To eliminate crazy-making from your culture, and live in the new fashionable, collaborative leadership, you need to undertake four courses of action:

1. Positive modeling. Identify opportunities for positive modeling of we-centric leadership behaviors, practice them consistently, and be held accountable to the new standards.

2. Let go of the past. Identify examples of Icentric leader and eliminate them. Be self-aware and self-correct. Be open to coaching and to be a coach.

3. Work in concert. Accentuate and reinforce modeling the wecentric leadership beliefs and behaviors. Confront and eliminate the old virus.

4. Set the trend—create a culture fashion. Through self-awareness and positive modeling, you can wipe out crazy-making, built trust and hope, and set a trend that “we are all this together” and “what we say is what we do.”

The leaders who transform their organizations draw out power in others. They eliminate crazy-making.

Learn to expand your leadership portfolio. Challenge yourself daily to match what you think with what you do, to marry your intention and your impact so that you are modeling and living the leadership you want.

ACTION: Model the leadership you want.


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