VIDEO: When a Leader Steps Down to Save the Company

John Riccardo was the CEO of Chrysler who hired Lee Iacocca.

Iacocca later wrote in his autobiography, “John was sacrificing himself to save the company. He was over his head and he knew it. He blew himself out of the water to bring Chrysler back to life.” Iacocca paid Riccardo the ultimate compliment by calling him “a real hero.”

Two things stand out in Iaccoca’s praise for Riccardo, and both are important to leadership. Let’s take them one at a time.

Self-awareness is a form of self-knowledge that emerges when you know your strengths as well as your weaknesses. A self-aware leader knows when he can succeed as well as when he’s licked. Such a leader has the strength of character to step aside in favor of a better alternative. It’s not quitting; it’s called sacrificing for a better alternative.

Sacrifice is a practice not much talked about in business. The concept of sacrifice when framed as doing the greater good is something we attribute to first-responders and service personnel.

It is not something business people get much credit for. But some like John Riccardo deserve our remembrance.

First posted on Smartbrief.com 2/17/2017

Be a Better Manager: Add 300 Meetings to Your Schedule

One of the joys of teaching in a leadership development program is that we instructors learn from our participants. This was brought home to me last week when I was teaching at Banff Centre (www.banffcentre.ca) in Alberta, Canada.

Aside from the stunning location and the pleasant fact that Alberta’s economy is going up rather than down, the participants were eager to share their leadership lessons.

One lesson that resonated with me was from Andrew Solnordal, a regional manager at Gulf & Fraser, a credit union in British Columbia. Andrew is responsible for a nine-branch operation and more than eighty employees. He has committed himself to visiting with each and every employee once per quarter. Think about it – he’s adding 320+ meetings to his schedule per year. Not because he has to, but because he feels it’s the right thing to do. Here are three reasons why Solnordal’s idea may be a good one for you.

Learn what’s happening. Meeting with employees regularly gives the manager insights into the reality in which his people live and work. He can find out about customer preferences as well as their concerns. Too often senior leaders live in a cocoon; it’s necessary to break out of that and go speak with employees regularly.

Discover how to help. The principles of servant leadership call for leaders to enable others to succeed. This is not happy talk; it’s a philosophy based upon reciprocity. If I help you, you can help me. Together we both succeed. And when a senior leader sits down with a front-line employee asking, “how can I help?” he opens up the door to conversation.

Evaluate what you learn. Andrew says that he makes notes from his conversations, right down to noting the names of employees’ dogs. That degree of familiarity makes connections personal, but also gives a savvy manager insight into the challenges an employee may be facing. He is more ready to spot heavy-handed managers and intervene to improve the situation.

Andrew exemplifies a key leadership behavior: go where the work is. In lean thinking, this principle is referred to as gemba, going where the value is. For Andrew, the value is with his people. He learns their concerns as well as their insights into customers. From a leadership perspective he opens lines of genuine communication. He gains an insight into how people are dealing with issues as well as how they are being managed.

His visits are not perceived as intercessions from on high, but rather as opportunities to learn more and offer assistance. Such a time commitment is huge and it is not practical for everyone, but what Andrew teaches us is that if you expect to lead, you must exert yourself on behalf of your people. It’s a wonderful way to create greater levels of trust, something that every leader needs more of right now.

 

 

First posed on HBR.org on 10/03/2008