Jack came enthusiastically into the waiting room reaching out for a handshake and pulling me in for a hug. “Dr. Merlot, thank you reviewing my Thesis on leadership for my MBA program. I extremely grateful you would take the time. I’m even more honored by the personal visit me. You could have just called and given me your thoughts, I know you are a busy man.”
Jack then led me toward his executive suite continuing to ask about the family and my trip. Jack knew I liked iced coffee and already had a big glass of black smack-in-the-mouth sitting on a table. As we proceeded towards his office, Jack’s father, Bill, stepped out of their offices to greet me.
“So, as if you didn’t have enough to do Doc, you are now critiquing term papers!” he offered in jest with a big smile and handshake.
“Hi Bill,” I responded pleasantly surprised to see a 25+ year client. “Great to see you. Didn’t think you were going to be here or I would have scheduled time to review a few issues. My honorary degree does not make me a professor. I was so flattered that Jack wanted my input that I thought I would carve out a little time.”
“I was planning to be out,” responded Bill, “but the Mercedes rep canceled the morning meeting. Got to leave for a lunch but will be back later if you have some time.” After taking a big sip of my caffeine juice, I caught Bill’s eyes and answered, “Would love to chat if you get back in time.”
I then follow Jack into his very spacious, over done office and took a seat. “So, Jack, you don’t look like you are under too much stress. Appears you are handling the conclusion of your MBA well. How is your wife, Suzie and the kiddos?”
“Don’t let my looks fool you Doc,” Jack said with a crooked smile while rubbing the back of his neck. “Overseeing the three dealerships, helping Susie with the kids and completing this MBA has been difficult. As you are aware, I have also had to travel to Detroit and Chicago for the interviews cited in the paper. And as I guess you have observed business has been in the toilet. On top of that last weekend I hosted my YPO Forum, that was scheduled two years ago, before I even started the MBA program. The last six weeks have been a real stress bucket.”
“You could have fooled me”, I responded hoping he wouldn’t pick up my feeling that he had no idea what real stress felt like because I knew who was really running the dealerships and I also knew that his life and business priorities revolved around his lucky sperm fraternity, his beloved YPO Forum. “You look calm, collected and put together to me” I responded hopefully concluding this gibberish over him being busy.
Being ever-conscious of projecting the in-charge, leader image, he scooted up in his chair and with excitement asked, “Say, what did you think of my Thesis on leadership? Are you really flattered that I asked you for my opinion? I want to do well on this paper and I don’t know anyone who has had more experience in actual leadership coaching than you. The reviews of my YPO Forum have been good but I am really interested in what you have to say.”
“Yes, I am flattered because this appears to be the first time you appear to have expressed an interest in listening to what I have to say.”
“That’s outrageous Doc,” responded Jack flabbergasted. “I don’t know of anyone in the automobile business I respect more than you.”
“Yea, maybe for your Dad’s attitude changes, but every time I have invited you to a discussion of your attitude and management style, frankly you have had more pressing things to do. No doubt it was more appealing for your YPO Forum to blow smoke up your butt than it would have been for me to call out your pompous attitude.”
Jack was not pleased to hear my thoughts by the rose’ flush growing on his face. Reverting to his predictable attack mode he scooted up to the edge of his chair and fired an index finger at me asking, “So, what makes you think that I am ready to listen now?”
This was truly a beautiful moment. I leaned back in my over-stuffed chair, crossed my arms and flashed an impish smile and responded resolutely, “Because for the first time, you asked a question, what do you think of my term paper on leadership?”
Jack was now without words. He just looked at me in a quasi-panic that transitioned into ‘he’s got me’. We stared at each other a few moments and then having reconciled another counter attack was pointless he yielded; “so my paper sucks?”
“No Jack your paper does not suck,” I responded quickly. “in fact, I forecast it will be impressive to your professor. You excel at blowing back the smoke people including your professor want to hear so I think your paper will get a very good score.”
“So, what’s the point Doc?” responded Jack.” What are we arguing about?”
“We are not arguing Jack,” I answered. “Submit your paper and get your grade, but that crap about having a plan, communicating your plan and recruiting the people who can execute your plan is not about leadership.”
Jack was visibly confused and like the typical perfectionist, struggling with his pride. After squirming for a moment with a comeback, he sat back in his chair and opening his arms wide in surrender asked, “So what did I miss?”
“Jack what you described is management, not leadership; overseeing and directing people. The perspective of a manager is looking over his/her people’s shoulder to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to do with the right speed and the right quality. Control freaks breath down the necks of their people while more confident and competent managers step back and supervise from a distance. But to be sure the perspective of a manager is watching their people and making sure they do it right and they do it on time. There are multiple levels of management from bully to teacher to advocate. However, the critical factor is perspective; the manager is always watching his or her people.”
I could tell, for the first time since we entered the executive suite, Jack was listening. “In contrast, the perspective of a leader, such as yourself, is not about monitoring your people, it is about inspiring your people to want to go where you are going; and to achieve what you want to achieve. A leader is not looking over the shoulder of his/her people because a leader trusts that their people respects them and understands the organizations values and priorities. Reciprocally, a leader assumes that his/her people trust’s that the leader’s number one priority is the welfare and the success of the organization.”
Taking a momentary break to assess if I was making any headway, asked, “So Jack, to assure that I don’t make the professorial assumption, let me ask, what do you believe is the key component of leadership?”
Continuing to lean back in his chair, Jack rubbed his face with two hands to bring himself back to life and sat up in his chair. “Sounds to me Doc that it is trust.” And without hesitancy he flashed a smile and continued with his fabricated confidence, “Didn’t know where you were going with your description, but I feel confident my people trust me.”
“Congratulations Jack!” I responded immediately, “You get an A from the Doc! The key component to leadership is trust!”, I emphasized with a fist pump. “And allow me to make another point more specific to you. I agree with your implication that you trust your managers. Why wouldn’t you?” I asked opening my arms in acceptance. “They were all hired by your dad and most of them have been in the business longer than you’ve been alive. However, the real question is why do you feel your people trust you?”
I then relaxed back in my seat and watched him ponder this difficult question? “What have you done in the 18 months you’ve been working in the management suite to confirm that their welfare and the success of the organization; not how many make meetings, YPO Forums or 20 Groups you can attend; is your highest priority?”
Jack’s fabricated smile had left the room. “Since I am on a role, let me ask you another question. What did you do in the prior five years, to demonstrate to these professionals that they can trust you? Remember me suggesting that you stop bitching about compensation, working weekends and time off for fraternity brother weddings? Do you think you earned their trust during your successor development program?”
The air had left the balloon. Jack had asked a question and started to listen and understand the frailties of faking it until you make it. “Then out of nowhere Jack quipped, “So, what is the professorial assumption Doc?” followed by a grin.
“That we are listening!” I replied with relief that I had hit my target. “If nobody’s listening you are just making noise. If you think you are leading and no one is following, you are just a manager taking a walk. Since I have your attention let me close this boring discussion by confirming for you and your professor that leadership is the highest level of organizational influence. Some managers never lead but all leaders practice management through which they are constantly earning trust. The critical issue to leadership is trust, earned and extended.”
“I got it Doc. I assume you would not have given me more than a C+”
To which I responded, “I wouldn’t have given you anything Hot-Shot. What you get from me and everyone else around here you would have earned.”
Author: Loyd Rawls
Loyd H. Rawls, President/Chairman of The Rawls Group, has specialized in succession planning for closely-held, family owned businesses since 1973. Well respected in his field, Mr. Rawls is a highly requested speaker and has published numerous articles and publications on this subject such as “Seeking Succession: How to Continue the Family Business Legacy” and “The Succession Bridge: Key Manager Succession Alternatives for Family Owned Businesses.”