Good leaders listen and get out of the way

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 21, 2022, 11:29 PM | comments: 0

There are so many stories in the news lately about epic failures in leadership. A friend shared another one about their company, and I've certainly been around for them at various times. What it mostly amounts to is that the best leaders tend to set tone, vision and expected outcomes. Their job then is to help the experts that they hire to figure out the tactics to reach the outcomes. The leader can and should coach, and absolutely help where necessary, but what they should never do is get in the weeds and make deep tactical decisions without any regard to people down the line or the context that they bring.

Today's epic example of that is apparently with Bob Chapek, the now ex-CEO of Disney. The board was so desperate that they brought back hero CEO Bob Iger. Chapek had made a bunch of allegedly unpopular changes at Disney over the last year that were very unpopular, without any regard to the how the changes would affect the people involved. (Bad quarterly results that he insisted were OK did not help.) The stories are all over the press, but understand none of the changes were in service to any particular goal or outcome that was understood by anyone. Tactical moves without consultation of the people who make them are bad news.

Of course, that's nothing compared to the total shit show of a meltdown that is Twitter after being bought by Elon Musk. What I find most puzzling about this one is that he is not stupid. Seriously, listen to him talk about rocket engine physics. But first he made an unsolicited and overpriced bid to buy Twitter, then he got stuck having to follow through with it, then he blew away half the staff without any understanding at all about what they did. Days later he said get ready to work insane hours just because or take a buy-out. And that was after throwing a bunch of silly things at the wall to see if any of them would stick. Advertisers are bailing, people in the know say uptime is going to suffer, and morale couldn't get worse. These impulsive decisions (and $40 billion purchases) sure look like autism at work, I get that, but this is hardly his first company solving problems. He may understand SpaceX rocket engines, but he learned that from experts who did the in-the-weeds engineering. Physicists and chemists figured out how to make better batteries for Tesla. Don't even get me started on his insane remote work anti-policy.

But it doesn't just happen at that scale, it happens at small companies with a few hundred employees. A friend told me recently how senior leaders at their company made changes to processes in one department that had made it difficult for that department to do their job. There was no advanced socialization around the changes or a request for more context. Worse yet, there were ripple effects that even made things difficult for the leader's peers leading other departments, potentially affecting revenue.

I've seen this movie before, a bunch of times, in my own work. It's frustrating, but it's also a lesson in how to lead that I take very seriously. I haven't always gotten it right, but I find myself falling back on fundamentals of servant leadership and knowing when to listen and when to make hard decisions. You're nothing without your people.


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