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.


Kourtney Govro said...

Excellent post - I really enjoyed your insights.


Frank Fortner / Iatric Systems said...

Wow, excellent post John! I couldn't agree more with your long-term style of leadership. Your blog site is a valuable resource to our industry, so thank you for the time you invest in it.

Tony Parham said...

Excellent summary of effective leadership principles. It is truly unfortunate that so many don't "get" these basic leadership tenets. (Or try to serve up an insincere "counterfeit.")

It is also sometimes useful to think about MANAGEMENT and LEADERSHIP as being different constructs. (Although we need to be proficient at *both.*)

"MANAGEMENT: Control mechanisms to compare system behavior with the plan and take action when a deviation is detected.
LEADERSHIP: Achieving grand visions. Motivation and inspiration to energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do, but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one's life, and the ability to live up to one's ideals. Such feelings touch us deeply and elicit a powerful response."
- John P. Kotter, Professor of organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School

“LEADERSHIP is the art of accomplishing more than the science of MANAGEMENT says is possible."
- Colin Powell

(And as an aside, thanks again for the excellent presentation you gave recently at the South Shore Hospital describing Healthcare IT Directions, "Connecting Patients, Providers, and Payers")

Anonymous said...

I regularly follow your blog. My heartfelt wishes for the current trying times. I am sure you will come with flying colors.

After reading this post, I felt the philosophy outlined works for a North American (established economy)culture. However for India service( offshoring) based industry, where the industry is still young and future unpredictable, the post appears to be disconnected from reality.
My team members find all excuse how to avoid work. They do not care even 2 hoots if the client gets the software delivered..forget on time.
It is so painful to manage such set of people. I do not think I as a manager can respect them or care for them. The idea is to get maximum work out of them by offering competitive salaries. I do not think they care about the rest much.
in my 15 years i have been with 3 organizations that have been acquired by larger companies. I have seen the senior people ( 20+ years of work exp) thrown out like egg shells. I do not think such unpredictable environment can afford the philosophy you outline in your blog posting.

Anonymous said...

have you ever given up on team members? they couldn't make the changes required of them, despite your best efforts? how do you handle late adopters, especially those who cannot stop from voicing their discontent? any general and specific tips would be appreciated. firing would be very difficult, even after multiple meetings to try and improve attitude.

Stujonesmd said...

I feel that expression of strong emotion on rare occasions can be a helpful leadership tool, so long as the emotion is not directed personally or is destructive. Strong expression of positive emotion (love, joy, enthusiasm) and less positive emotion (anger, sadness) directed towards a bad circumstance, reprehensible behavior, or tragedy is an expression of the leader's inherent humanity and can help motivate colleagues towards appropriate action. Spontaneity CAN be a virtue!

Having said this, I agree that a calm and unflappable approach to all circumstances is most useful! I also find that kindness costs little or nothing, and is often quite valuable, both to donor and recipient.

-- Stu Jones, HMS '72 and past Senior Wizard, IT, for various institutions

Adrian O'Connor said...

@Tony Parham.

Thanks Tony, I love both of those quotes especially the Kotter one on Leadership. It’s certainly something which I aspire to replicate, although I could never capture it in as many words.

Definitely agree. If you unite your team against a common goal and protect them when they need you too, they will protect you when you're at your most vulnerable.