Are you serving ‘leadership a la carte’? Well, stop it.

Do you wish your boss would let you pick and choose which leadership behaviors you want?  What if your boss then chose to “charge” you for those services through overtime, extra projects, or even future raises?

What the what?

Allow me to explain.

While browsing on LinkedIn, I read this article by Christopher Elliott which talks about the new a la carte approach to air travel – tickets are all that are guaranteed.  Luggage, carry-ons, even water are now added revenue, and gosh isn’t it wonderful? Because this lets customers pick and choose which services they want to pay for.  Which is what EVERYONE wants (anyway, that’s what the airlines would like you to think).

When people pay for a ticket, there are certain things they take for granted as part of the flying experience – such as an opportunity to bring your luggage.  Or drink some water.  Most people would be okay with paying a slightly higher airfare for the illusion that they are getting the experience they expected (see Southwest).air-fees-color-web

So let’s take this back to leadership…employees don’t always know what leadership behaviors they need from their supervisors.  As a result, they are seldom able to tell a manager how they are best led.  Ask any employee what kind of managing style they do best under, and at least 92.3% of them will say, “I hate micromanaging.”  First of all, many employees think being held accountable is micromanaging, and second of all, some employees NEED micromanaging until they learn the job.  So do we still think employees know what they need all the time?

As a leader, you’re responsible for adjusting your style to the needs of your employee – which means you better be able to apply a lot of different kinds of leadership.  And employees expect that of you – it’s part of the social contract of the manager/employee relationship, not a “nice to have”.  Employees will put up with a tougher workplace, longer hours, and provide discretionary effort (the “higher ticket price”) when they know they have a leader who has their back and will step in with the right approach when necessary.

If you suspect you’re an A la Carte Leader and want to change, try some of the following:

  • Schedule regular 1:1s with your employee (even if they don’t want it!)
  • Establish a level of trust by LISTENING (novel concept, I know)
  • Study different leadership models and styles to increase your toolbox (e.g., Situational Leadership, The Leadership Challenge, Strengths Based Leadership, etc.)
  • Accept that you are there to make your employees successful and provide the support they need

Employees don’t always know what they want exactly when they need it, but they DO know when their leader isn’t providing what they need.  Rather than thinking of yourself as an add-on, remember that you are part of the entire employment experience – employees expect and need your support.  And if you fail to give it to them, they WILL move on.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” 
–Max De Pree

You are how you act (a cautionary tale)

See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

– Polonius to Laertes, Hamlet

I hate to be yet another post about Richard Sherman and all that, but try as I might, I just can’t shake some feelings of disappointment over the whole affair.  For those of you who have been without internet, here’s what everyone has been talking about.

Sherman’s reaction touched off a firestorm of reaction.  The debate seems to have settled into two camps – those who think Sherman is a thug, and those who think the media is being unfair.

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

When I saw it, I was pretty annoyed – he was asked a question about his team, and chose to use this moment to trumpet himself (not his team) and make a personal attack on Michael Crabtree, his opponent.   I don’t think he’s a thug or any of the other words used to describe him – I think he’s a guy with low impulse control who needs to have a little more professionalism.  The outburst (and subsequent follow up comments) lacked humility, a quality other greats in the game show in victory and defeat.whois

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

But apparently I’m mistaken.  This story was written – telling us that we are lazy and awful because we didn’t bother to get to know the real Richard Sherman, and aren’t we all just shallow.

Guess what? We are how we act. Each of us is responsible for our behavior. Richard Sherman has a pattern of disrespecting his opponents. I’m glad he’s a person who found a better life through his talent, but that doesn’t excuse him for acting like a jerk.  And now kids are making videos re-enacting the rant.  We are supposed to be okay with it because if kids can re-enact it, there obviously wasn’t anything inappropriate done or said.  Other than the lack of sportsmanship.

There are CEOs who are assholes in their day-to-day lives who are loved because they manage their public persona so well (or the serial killer about whom everyone says, “he seemed like such a nice guy”), just as there are people like Sherman who may do wonderful things away from the spotlight, but chooses to act like a jackass when the cameras are on.  And the one we see on TV is the one from whom we make our judgements.  Is it fair?  Maybe not.

And that in way of caution, I must tell you,
You do not understand yourself so clearly

But it happens to each of us every day – our value to a company might be based on a hallway interaction with an EVP, or one meeting with stakeholders, or a chance encounter on IM.  And we don’t always get a chance to hold follow up press conferences or send out tweets to argue our case.  And most of us don’t get to play the “that’s your problem” card.

We all have choices on how we act.  No, we cannot control how people will react to us.  Nor can we control the judgements made about us based on the baggage people carry around with them.  But we can acknowledge that sometimes our actions might be misinterpreted because of the timing or tone, and we can apologize when we act inappropriately.  We can be accountable for how we act, for that is how others see who we are.

Sherman has had a good past couple of years (as well a dodged suspension due to irregularities in the collection process), and he has always had a big mouth.  If he wants to be remembered for his talent and not for his attitude, he would do well to rethink his public persona.  If he wants to be remembered for his intelligence and escape from a difficult childhood, he should act as the person he is.

This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Unless he is the person he acts like.  And that’s all on him.

I get by with a little help from my friends

Do you have a safety net?   Do you have a network of friends who can help you through tough times?  Do you have a group of folks who can talk straight to you and tell you when you’re being an idiot?

If you don’t, you need one.

Leaders have a tendency to try and do everything on their own.  As a result, they often suck at delegating, struggle to communicate their vision compellingly…and aren’t too good about reaching out for help when they need it. And of all people, leaders (especially CEOs) need to avoid isolation – it can negatively impact the business.


Regardless of your level of leadership, you can benefit from having your own personal support team.  I know this from personal experience:

  • Venting: Life is not always cupcakes and unicorns, which means you’re going to need to be able to complain and rage from time to time.  Your support group will listen and not judge…well, not much.
  • Accountability: A good support group calls you on your crap. They can also help you clarify and achieve your goals.  It’s good to have people around who can keep you on track.  They can also suggest actions to take to help get you to the finish line.
  • Sanity Check: This is similar to “accountability” but it’s a little more focused than that.  Your support team is there to throw out the red flag when they see you about to do something incredibly stupid.  It’s great to have that voice of reason when things go crazy.
  • Wisdom: As much as you think you know everything, you don’t.  Your support team can use their collective knowledge to help you break through your issues and move forward. So find some smart people for your posse!
  • Laughter: When you pick your support team, make sure you pick ones who have the same sense of humor as you.  And aren’t afraid to say inappropriate things.  And who know REALLY good jokes.

Just remember: you don’t have to go through this alone. Find your team and conquer the world!

PS – Shout out to #TeamFaulkner!  You know who you are.  And you are awesome.

Do you have a support network? What do you use it for?  Share in the comments!