The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

May 25, 2011

Thinking Like a Leader

By Steve Motenko

A Tale of Two Bosses

Guess which one thinks like a leader:

Tad has just been named to an executive position at Acme Widgets.  It’s the opportunity he’s been waiting for!  In his first day, he sits down with his new team and delivers what he sees as an inspiring speech.  “It’s time to kick ass,” he says. “We’re going to move this division forward like we’ve never done before.  I’m committed to Acme becoming the #1 widget-maker in Springfield.  With your help, your commitment, and your drive, I know we can do it.  And I know you think so, too.

“I’ll be meeting with each of you in the coming week, for two reasons:

  1. to have you describe to me the nuts and bolts of your part of the operation, including roles and responsibilities, processes and procedures, cycles and deadlines.  I want to know everything about what you do and how you do it.  I want to know what you know, so that I can offer some suggestions to make it better – and because I want to be able to have your back whenever you need me to.
  2. Secondly, I want to see a thorough list of your goals and objectives for the rest of this fiscal year, including metrics, accountability strategies, and potential challenges.  I want these to be stretch goals for you.  I want you to challenge yourself to play in a higher league.  I want every one of us to strive to be the absolute best at what we do.  That’s what makes it worth coming to work every day, and that’s what makes for success.

“Okay, enough chatting.  Let’s go do it!”

That was Tad.


Patricia has just been named to an executive position at Acme’s cross-town rival, XYZ Widgets.  It’s the opportunity she’s been waiting for.  In her first day, she sits down with her team.  She starts by asking them to check in, one at a time.  First she asks for a little background –job responsibilities, history with the company, as well as whatever they want to say (in a minute or two) about their personal life – partner?  kids?  hobbies?  She listens intently, occasionally asking questions.

Then Patricia says something most have not heard before.  “I’m gonna encourage you to be as absolutely honest with me as you can, whenever you can.  I promise there will never be recriminations for honesty if offered in a spirit of service.  For now, here are some things I’d like to know:

  1. What concerns do you have about the transition from my predecessor to me?
  2. How would you describe your management style?
  3. In its best days, what makes your division a great place to work?
  4. What, about the way your division operates, makes people most likely to throw their hands up in frustration – or worse yet, quit?

Patricia pauses.  “These are the kinds of questions we should be addressing consistently — and not just by you to me in a reporting relationship.  But in conversations involving every employee who cares at all about this company – which should be every employee.  Now, we’re not going to paralyze operations by have coffee klatches all day long around these questions.  And yes, the buck will stop here, and stop here whenever necessary. But we will set up appropriate ways to get honest feedback and to encourage creativity at all levels.”

“The bottom line for me,” Patricia says, “ is that our work is only worth doing if it meets 3 criteria:

  1. XYZ Widgets is considered a great place to work
  2. we’re producing a product that creates value in people’s lives
  3. the process of producing and distributing that product is ethical from beginning to end – focused on all our stakeholders.

“And, of course,” she finishes, “I know we’ve got to make a profit in order to do all this.  Don’t think I’ve forgotten that.  But at the same time, contrary to popular opinion, profit is not our reason for existence.  Profit only makes our reason for existence sustainable.”

Okay, so you probably guessed which one – Tad or Patricia – thinks like a leader, IMHO.  Tad thinks more like a manager.  Now I hope, when you first heard Tad’s scenario, you thought, “Okay, he’s doing some things right.”  Because he is.  It’s not a matter of right or wrong.  It’s about the long-term, strategic, collaborative, relational perspective of the evolved leader.


About the Author

Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *