Integrity Matters
November 28, 2007

Strong managers needn’t follow ‘fads’

Question: (E-319)
My employees say they want a different kind of leadership. Seems my style is now out of fashion. Should I change my operating style with every new fad?


Most folks don’t change a great deal, so you are likely to continue to leverage the skills that enabled you to operate effectively up to this point.

Be careful not to stray too far from the operating principles that brought you the success you have already experienced. Just remember: Sound principles last a long time. Passing fads don’t!
A Nov. 10 article in the New York Times suggested that the newest effective boss should be a team captain. Seems the previous “modern” ideal models — the Empire Builders of the early 1990s — are no longer acceptable. Chief executives like Disney’s Michael Eisner, General Electric’s Jack Welch, Time-Warner’s Gerald Levin and Citigroup’s Sandy Weil once were the talk of the town but are now fallen stars. They were replaced by the Repair Experts — the new-new brand of organizational saviors — who were lower key and came in to repair the excesses and mistakes of their predecessors. Examples of these “fixers” include Charles Prince III of Citigroup and Richard Parsons of Time-Warner. But, alas, they too outlived their celebrity status.

Management experts suggest that current economic and operational demands are attracting yet another kind of chief executive: the Team Builder. The new-newest ideal leader, will, according to Nelson Schwartz’s article, “C.E.O. Evolution Phase 3,” be or become “someone who can assemble a team that functions as smoothly as a jazz sextet.” This seems reasonable. But let’s dig a little deeper into yet another intellectually attractive model.

Playing jazz smoothly suggests that each participant is competent, pays attention to colleagues, cooperates seamlessly and takes direction from the leader — whoever that happens to be. So, “boss-with-complaining-employees,” are you confident that those who want something different from you are not simply making noise — about your imperfections — to distract attention from their own substandard performance levels? If change is required, do so. If not, hire more competent colleagues.

Sometimes, loudness is a cover for insecurity. And, in other cases, lazy workers — including the staff on the Titanic — would prefer to rearrange the deck furniture, even after the disastrous hole in the ship was discovered. After all, it just might be hard and dangerous work to fix the real problem: plugging the hole in the sinking ship.

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