• When to Ditch the Leadership Love-in

    by  • January 30, 2012 • Human Resources, Leadership, Life, Strategy

    Some of you may have read my Leadership Love-In blog http://www.ceoafterlife.com/leadership/leadership-love-in/ in which I reiterated the never ending need for better leadership. I also extended kudos to a handful of passionate leadership bloggers who I consider to be experts in their field (links listed below). These pundits command impressive social media audiences, and while it is gratifying that people are interested in their perspectives and insight, the ongoing leadership mania underscores the significant gap between principle and practice.

    Given my background is in business, I tend to think of leadership in a competitive context. In my CEO afterlife, I’ve pondered the inherent notion that business leadership is different than that of less competitive organizations such as academic institutes, charities, governments, or social associations. I’ve subsequently concluded that the disparity lay not within the type of organization one leads, but within the particular environment in which leaders find themselves. The notion is as simple as this: it is much easier to practice the tenets of good leadership when one is winning rather than losing, no matter the game.

    So to use a sports analogy, I ask you to consider the mindset of 2-14 coaches Jim Caldwell of the Colts and Hue Jackson of the Raiders as they neared the end of the 2011 NFL season. Now compare that mentality to that of the 49er’s Jim Harbaugh or the Packer’s Mike McCarthy. Harbaugh and McCarthy were having great seasons. They were winning, feeling confident, secure and staying the strategic course they’d developed, communicated and executed from day 1 of the season. Toward season’s end, there were several love-ins and group hugs on the sidelines. At the other end of the spectrum were Caldwell and Jackson, scrambling for a new course, a miracle maybe, but finding nothing but a guillotine to end their misery.

    When you are losing, a change in plan is usually needed. A CEO leading a company on the verge of bankruptcy has to ditch the love-in and go into a crisis management mode. Leading and working in such environments can be awfully tough. Patience is not a virtue; nor is anyone’s job security. This doesn’t mean that leaders abdicate showing a way to the Promised Land. Clarity of purpose, strategy, and vision will never be more critical than in these situations.

    In the leadership game, mental toughness and tenacity in hard times separates winners from losers. And it doesn’t matter whether you run a Fortune 500 company, a sports team or the local PTA.

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    Formerlife: Jacobs Suchard CEO (Kraft, Nabob), Strategy Consultant. Afterlife: Palgrave Macmillan Author, Historical Novelist, Business Journalist

    5 Responses to When to Ditch the Leadership Love-in

    1. January 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm


      You honor me by including me on a list of people I admire. It’s a bit unnerving.

      I’m thankful for you, your expertise, our conversations, and growing friendship.

      Thank you for sharing your insights.



      • John
        February 1, 2012 at 7:18 am

        Don’t be unnerved, Dan. There are 87,821 of us out there (your Twitter followers) who you touch with every leadership post you make. With the help of the social network you are single-handedly improving the quality of leadership and the lives of those who look to leaders for guidance and inspiration. Keep up the great work.

    2. February 1, 2012 at 9:09 am

      Conversations about leadership without clarity on, ‘When the going gets tough’, are useless.

      We know that situational leadership is often required. The perspective I share is that leaders need to know the difference between telling, mentoring and coaching. This is not a love-in theory. Each of the three is required depending on who’s in front of you and the situation.

      When it comes to telling, I always say, ‘Be exceptionally good at it, use it sparingly (audience, situation, etc.) and remember someone said, people in organizations are always keen to be told what to do – how you tell them matters.

      When it comes to tough times, I say remember the difference between authoritarian and authoritative. The tougher the situation, the more authoritarian the leader may need to be. Someone needs to be seen to be in charge, in particular, the future, not just the crisis . The key is to know when to move back to authoritative. The other skill is to be seen to be listening when you are telling, especially in a crisis.

      Make sense, John?

      • John
        February 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm

        Make sense? You bet. Wish I had put it that way.

    3. February 2, 2012 at 2:24 am

      John, excellent post – no surprise there! I inherited my father’s library, and one of its titles really seems to resonate right now: “Leadership When The Heat’s On.” It doesn’t take much to be an agreeable, popular, ethical leader when things are going well. The true test of a leader’s commitment to her principles comes during crisis.

      It truly stinks, but leaders in crisis mode do have to make cuts – to programs and, unfortunately, to personnel as well. The rare, truly gifted leader will do it in such a way that the people she lays off leave wishing the leader success, rooting for the leader and their former company, and eager to come back on board when and if the situation presents itself. Tony Hsei covers just this scenario in his book, “Delivering Happiness.”

      Leadership done right requires serious intestinal – and moral – fortitude. That’s where the magic happens. Embrace it, or – as you suggest, maybe lead a charity instead.

      NB: having run a couple of charities myself, I’ve found it easier to lead in business. Your results may vary.