Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today
Broadway Books (2009)
With regard to the meaning of “fierce,” it is the same when used in the title of Susan Scott’s previously published book, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time. The word usually connotes being aggressive, confrontational, perhaps even hostile when in fact Pierce notes that it can also be used when expressing affection, loyalty, appreciation, and perhaps even love. However it is used, whatever is expressed should be honest, real, genuine, frank, candid, and in all other respects authentic. The subtitle of this book refers to a “bold alternative to the worst ‘best’ practices of business today.” This is a subject of great interest to me because much nonsense has been written about how the best practices of a GE, for example, can help other organizations succeed. The fact is, that best practices are not core values. They must be modified, sometimes replaced entirely as changing circumstances demand. It is worth adding that GE’s best practices during Jack Welch’s last year (2001) as chairman and CEO have changed significantly since then.
Ernest Hemingway once observed that all great writers have a “built-in, shock-proof crap detector.” Scott suggests that fierce leaders also have one as well as what she characterizes as a “squid eye.” That is, as Paul Lindbergh explains, “Seeing squid means you are seeing many things that others cannot and do not see. It means having sight in the presence of the blind. It means that you are a selective and efficient information gatherer. This is what ‘squid eye’ really means, and when you apply it to other aspects of your life, you will have, metaphorically, more tuna in your net and fewer guppies and old rubber boots. And if you can see one ‘tell’ [i.e. an indicator that what you seek is nearby], you automatically get others. It’s almost like beginning to understand the nature of a tell or the nature of signs left behind for our eyes and senses to use.”
“The best way to keep your prized people engaged is to keep in touch. Get out from behind the barricade of your desk and walk around, visiting workstations and offices. This practice counters the bunker mentality that people fall into under stress. Even good managers need to be reminded to communicate more than usual during times of crisis. …You can also further reassure employees by expanding the number of people you reach out to directly. Not only does this reinforce a sense of camaraderie, but it also reduces the risk of information being garbled as it’s passed along.” (Pages 37-38)
“The first step for companies wanting to hold on to – and make the most of – their high-performing women is to understand why they might want to leave. It’s not that smart women aren’t deeply committed to their careers or that they don’t need to work. Our data shows that in December 2008, despite industry smackdowns, fewer than a quarter (22 percent) of high-performing women who had ‘one foot out the door’ planned to take time out of the workforce. Most were seeking less onerous – and more meaningful – work.” (Page 80)
“A massive layoff is like a death in the family. It leaves survivors shaken and unbalanced – and needing to talk. Most organizations now realize that to expect remaining star employees to pick up the pieces and soldier on as though nothing has happened is not only unrealistic but unfeeling. A badly handled layoff can sow bitterness and rancor that will fester for years. Although there’s no changing the underlying situation, showing genuine sympathy makes all the difference.” (Pages 96-97)
“There are few guarantees in these uncertain times. But one thing is certain: only by reengaging your talented employees and instituting management practices that turbocharge their brainpower will you have both the ideas and the commitment to overcome adversity, flourish in prosperity, and continue to attract smart people for years to come. In the words of James S. Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young, ‘In a down market, leveraging your talent to create competitive advantage is more important than ever.’” (Page 132)
The rule is simple. Do what is best for the customer, not what is most convenient for you.
The New York Times has a terrific “most e-mailed” article by Bruce Buschel, “Herewith is a modest list of dos and don’ts for servers at the seafood restaurant I am building…” –
100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 1), with the first 50 things. (the next 50 arrive next week).
Here are the first 5:
1. Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting.
2. Do not make a singleton feel bad. Do not say, “Are you waiting for someone?” Ask for a reservation. Ask if he or she would like to sit at the bar.
3. Never refuse to seat three guests because a fourth has not yet arrived.
4. If a table is not ready within a reasonable length of time, offer a free drink and/or amuse-bouche. The guests may be tired and hungry and thirsty, and they did everything right.
5. Tables should be level without anyone asking. Fix it before guests are seated. – (Personal – amen and amen to number 5).
Read the list in the article. It will make you want to eat in his restaurant…
As I said at the beginning, the rule is simple. Do what is best for the customer, not what is most convenient for you.
In a book I have just read and will soon review, Women Lead the Way, Linda Tarr-Whelan asserts, “If we can get to at least 30% women as partners at the power tables, we have a chance to change the world. I call this the 30% Solution. Why 30%? This has proved to be the critical mass in any group of decision makers, the tipping point at which women’s voices resonate fully to add the affirmative difference of our experiences and values.”
I have no quarrel with the percentage, except to see 30% as a minimum. However, I think Tarr-Whelan’s solution is seriously flawed. Are some women better qualified than are others to be “partners at the power tables”? Moreover, are the “experience and values” of some women of greater relevance than those of others?
If there are ten seated at a “power table,” and three of them are women, why not those women who offer talents, experience, skills, wisdom, judgment, etc. that will be of greatest value to the organization? And why limit the number to three? And why not hold the male members accountable to the same high standards? Women should not be denied access to the “power tables” because they are women nor should they be seated because they are women.
The last time I checked, a majority of the students now enrolled community/junior and four-year colleges are women as are those enrolled in graduate schools of medicine, law, and business. They don’t need a “30% Solution.” My guess is that many (if not most) of them would be insulted if offered one. They will earn what they want, thank you very much, and need no one’s permission to do so.
Jason Kidd summarizes success: “Read, React, Execute” — one of the jewels from What Americans Really Want…Really
What do Americans Really Want? – One thing that they want is success, without paying for it…
I’m working my way through the new Frank Luntz book, What Americans Really Want…Really. It is my selection for this Friday at the First Friday Book Synopsis. I heard him interviewed on the Krys Boyd Think program on KERA (NPR in Dallas—listen to the interview here), and she described it this way to Mr. Luntz: ”Your book concludes that we are a nation of well-meaning hypocrites.” Luntz agreed, admitting that we want small government, lower taxes – but better government services. (See my earlier post, To be Rich without Being Greedy — What Americans Really Want…Really by Frank Luntz about this book to see another example of this of this “hypocrisy” – or, at the least, inconsistency).
The book has much to offer as we think about success in business and in life. Here’s an excerpt:
You can learn a lot from listening to accomplished individuals talk about their craft… Among the most memorable conversations of my career was one with Jason Kidd, one of the great basketball point guards – not just of our time, but of all time. He had three simple words to explain the success on the court: “read, react, execute.” Read the basketball court not just as it looks at that instant but as it will look a split second later; react to the opportunities in front of you as they develop; and execute so that those opportunities are realized.
Read — react — execute. There’s Ram Charan’s Execution in three words…
If you are in our area, come join us. We meet this Friday, 7:00 am. Register here.