Within a 4 hour period on Friday I witnessed excellent leadership and an abject failure of leadership. Both experiences occurred with the leaders in absentia. I’m basing my assessment of their leadership on the performance of their team members.
I needed a new tap for my beer keg because mine was busted. It was a crisis situation. I called the beer distributor at 4:47PM and spoke with Kenny.
“How late are you open?”
“We’re open until 5 but I’ll be here until 6 so no worries. Here’s my cell number. Just call me when you get here and I’ll hook you up.”
When I arrived, I called Kenny’s cell. A skinny 24 year old with an awesome Mohawk came around the corner and said “Hi, I’m Kenny. Don’t shake my hand, I’m covered in grease. Let me see what’s wrong with your keg.” At this point, things got interesting.
Kenny quickly assessed my problem – it wasn’t the keg. It was my old tap. He went back to the office and came out with another tap. “Here you go. Take this one. I’ll just take your old one and rebuild it or use it for parts.” It was a nice tap. Probably cost around $35 or so. I shook Kenny’s hand (and yes, I got greasy), thanked him, and left.
From there I stopped by the video store to clear up a $32 charge I didn’t recognize on my account. Tiffany, the 24 year old clerk, looked through my account and said “You had two movies that were late so we sold them to your account.”
“How could they be late when I drove them over right after I got your phone call saying they needed to be returned by close of business that day?”
“I don’t know. But the system says they were late.”
“Can I speak with your manager?”
“Ummm, she’s out getting a bite to eat. You can come back later.”
So far, I’ve “gone back later” two more times since then. Both times Tiffany’s manager was out getting a bite to eat (seriously). Both times, Tiffany’s response has been “well she’ll be back later if you want to come back.”
I almost slammed my head off the counter the third time I got that response.
So here’s what I do know: Kenny’s boss is awesome and Tiffany’s boss is a control freak who doesn’t trust her subordinates. I’ve never met either one (and I’m sure if I drive over to the video store now, Tiffany’s manager is still out to lunch – both literally and figuratively) but I’m going out on a limb and making an assessment of their leadership skills anyway.
Kenny’s boss understands the concept of empowering his subordinate to make decisions. He gives Kenny free reign to make a call when he’s not around. Kenny knows he has the latitude to be master of his domain when his boss isn’t around. Kenny makes decisions and takes care of business. He’s also a pretty happy guy who seems to enjoy his job. He had a smile on his face and was more than happy to help me at 5:30 on a Friday afternoon.
Tiffany’s boss is afraid to give up any control over her domain. Tiffany probably can’t make the call on whether the peanut or regular M&M’s should be on special this week. She hasn’t taught Tiffany how to think on her own or given her guidelines on how to behave in her absence other than “don’t do anything until I come back.” Her boss would do well to read about how not to be a taskmanaging micromanager.
Tiffany looks like she hates her job. No smile. No enthusiasm. She was embarrassed to say “she’s out to lunch” for the third day in a row.
The Kennys of the world will always beat the Tiffanys.
By giving Kenny freedom to operate and providing him some authority to make decisions, his boss gains leverage. He can focus on more bossly things rather than making the call on switching out a $35 tap.
Tiffany’s boss will forever be mired in the minutiae of the day to day. Thank goodness – by being stuck there she won’t have the opportunity to manage more people and make them as miserable as she makes Tiffany.
Back in my army days (about 15 years and 20 pounds ago) we HAD to act like Kenny’s boss. I had to empower 18 year old privates with the authority and decision making latitude to possibly take another human life. That private had to make decisions in my absence. He couldn’t exactly wait for me to get back from lunch to ask if he could shoot someone who was attacking him.
That delegation of authority made my soldiers feel competent and trusted. They liked their jobs and were enthusiastic about growing personally and professionally. Dime to a dollar says Kenny’s boss subscribes to a similar leadership approach.
My prediction: Kenny will someday take over his boss’ job and go on to train a bunch of mini-Kennys. Tiffany will quit her job soon because clearly she’s not needed around there since her boss is a micromanaging control freak who gives Tiffany responsibility without authority.
So are you more like Kenny’s boss or Tiffany’s? How much latitude do your team members have to make decisions without having to check in with you? Do you truly empower them or just say you do?
As a leader, you have to give up control at some point. Give it a try – your team members will surprise you with how talented they are and how ready they are to make decisions on their own.