Discover the Rare Leader.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Life Is Full Of Choices…Make One.

Collaboration...Teamwork...Delegation...Job Sharing...Cooperation...Empower...Partnership...Compromise...and the list goes on.  What do these words have in common?  Potentially they mean - “nothing gets decided”.  
These terms of the day, are all the rage.  However, inclusion of your Team and your Associates is more of an art than a science.  Because, all of this talk of sharing in the decision seems to also slow down the process of actually making a decision.
I was asked to help a new leader assimilate into her role.  It sounded simple enough as she had been an important part of the success of this office.  
Cynthia was the ideal choice to be promoted to Lead the regional office.  She had been with this industry leader for 15 years.  Her resume carried all the necessary signs of success.  Double major in marketing and business, an MBA, and high grades from her Team in her 360 reviews.  The Succession Planning program had highlighted the competency gaps between her current strengths and this new position.  An accelerated development program closed the gap quite nicely over the past 15 months.  Everyone loved Cynthia.  
During the assimilation we found mostly support for her and few surprises to work through in her Coaching agenda.  Although, I did feel some level of caution in my mind with one particular topic.  It seemed that everyone loved Cynthia too much.  Think about it.  Hasn't every leader you have followed had some flaw?  Hasn't every leader done something to promote some level of distaste or second guessing?  
I spent some time with the group trying to bring out this concern.  After some difficult pushing, pulling, and dragging, it finally came to me.  The culture of this office had slowly eroded to a picture perfect example of passive aggressiveness.  Everyone was afraid or unwilling to make a decision on their own, and the success of group meetings was built on a foundation of alliances, and coffee talk, making certain no one would be offended by the resulting group decisions.  Yes, everyone loved Cynthia.  She was  gifted at being passive, able to stay out of the fray of decision making.
I decided to let the group move in their chosen direction.  But, we agreed I would visit again for a followup in a month or two.  In advance of my planned re-visit, I was called by the home office to listen to their anxiety driven story.  It seems Cynthia's office was in trouble.  Production was down, customer service inquiries were diving downward, two key producers had quit, and their exit interviews told the story of an office frozen with no direction, no leadership, no answers to key questions, and day to day issues with no purposeful resolve.
As the group came into our room, the look was indeed different.  It was amazing how quickly the aggressive side to their culture had taken control.  This was one group of unhappy people.  But  everyone still seemed to love Cynthia.
Through our group discussions, and some affinity group coaching exercises, I was able to help the group reach some important conclusions.  Cynthia was not Leading;
  • Don’t get me wrong, she was a Visionary, but what good is her Vision when the walls are crumbling around you after only 60 days on the job?
  • She had Charisma.  Everyone still loved Cynthia.  Amidst the turmoil, Cynthia was still the fun one to be with.
  • Cynthia was still Driven To Succeed.   She was the first one in the office, the last one to leave at the end of the day, and made it quite clear she logged more miles and met with more customers than anyone else in the office.  As the walls were tumbling down, Cynthia needed to make certain her own numbers were still up.  
  • Cynthia was protecting the Relationships she had created over her 15 years with the company.  Relationships are important to a Leader...but at what cost?
Yes, Cynthia still had many good competencies and behaviors of a Leader.  But something was indeed lacking?
Cynthia had established a very rigid schedule of group and team meetings.  She had opened each meeting with a quick discussion of the words which would be key to their success.
  • Collaboration...
  • Teamwork...
  • Delegation...
  • Job Sharing...
  • Cooperation...
  • Empower...
  • Partnership...
  • Compromise.  
Yes, it’s those words again.  But one key phrase was missing.  She was ignoring the focus of “Decision Making”.  
Nothing was getting done.  It may have been a small symptom of a larger problem, it may have been a customer complaint, or it may have been a blowup between key employees.  But on this day, we came to realize Cynthia was not making a decision as their leader on most topics that came her way.
Yes, yes, yes...these are great words.  These are wonderful sets of Teamwork ideology.  But lets face it.  Someone must make a decision.  In the end, (or perhaps in the beginning, or even midstream) The Leader must be decisive.  The Rare Leader™ must be able to assess, analyze, and move toward a  solution using instincts, and be willing to take a risk where the absence of facts makes the better decision.  Life is full of choices…make one.
  1. Who is responsible to make the decision?
  2. What decisions never seem to be made?
  3. Where can you go if you need to resolve a question?
  4. When will you start making Decisions?
  5. How will you change your behavior of avoiding decision making?
If you want to learn more about the Rare Leader™ in you, 
or if you are interested in retaining Steve as your Executive Coach, 
Contact Steve Riege via: twitter, or his website.


  1. Decision making is one of the hardest things for new leaders to learn. They either won't do it or overdo it; I've been there myself. At least you were able to dissect it for them and put them in the right direction.

  2. Thanks Mitch. It seems everyone waits for someone else to make decisions all too often. beyond all those other important behaviors and competencies, a Rare Leader still must make certain the decisions get made.

  3. Thanks Steve, I note the need to push boundaries, get people around you who challenge the norm not be the norm. Creativity and the desire to take routes that others have not followed is rare it seems. Personal accountability is another area. I could go on. Here is the thing come she got to this stage in her career when the points we are discussing were not uncovered?

  4. Good question Peter,
    15 years...everyone loved her...the culture had eroded, accepting the avoidance behaviors....She was able to sidestep decision making because the culture excluded it.

    However, eventually, somewhere, the "buck does stop". And in her new role, she was ill prepared to finally make decisions.

    This required a change, not only for Cynthia, but for the culture of the organization. With some guidance, she found she can lead both...