Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Honey or Vinegar?

As a leader, I'm frequently asked to evaluate direct reports, provide guidance to managers, and build consensus among staff with heterogeneous opinions.

There are many ways to approach interactions with superiors, subordinates, and peers.

In my 30 years of working in complex organizations, I've observed different leadership styles with varying degrees of long term success.

I believe it is far better to establish unity, esprit de corps in the foxhole, and boost morale than to create divisiveness, uncertainty, and fear of failure.

My grandmother used to say that "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" meaning that you can be more persuasive with camaraderie than confrontation.

In the short term,  formal authority and fear of job loss can be very persuasive.   In the long term, such behavior is likely to result in an "Occupy"-like rally of staff seeking a better organizational culture.

My own experience with "honey" includes 5 different characteristics:

Informal authority -  Building trust and exploring possibilities together in a non-judgmental way creates lasting mutual respect and grants a degree of authority that is far more powerful than rule by fiat.

Loyalty - I've arranged pay increases and bonuses for staff to recognize special achievements and career growth.   The increased payment creates short term joy but the impact on retention is short lived, since the novelty of the change diminishes over time.   Far more important is creating a sense of long term loyalty that comes with a family-like atmosphere.   All for one and one for all.

Air cover - In a crisis, you're first on the front line fighting the fight, taking the blows, and protecting those behind you.   You're not watching the action from a distant hill or criticizing the troops from an armchair.

Good guy can finish first - I'm a strong believer in integrity, honesty, and fair play.   I will not hurt my fellow humans to get ahead.    My feeling is that those who live by the sword die by the sword.

Strong emotion never works - As a parent and as a CIO, I've raised my voice once or twice in 20 years, then felt terrible for doing it.   It diminished me.

I'm sure there are those who equate intimidation with leadership, but for me, uniting people in support of a common cause against a common adversary using trust, loyalty, ethics, hard work, and support wins the day.

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