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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


Sam was really proud of how tough he was as a leader. He was the VP of Manufacturing for a large company--he got things done and didn't take excuses. He was fond of saying, "I don't get headaches, I give other people headaches"

When he first took his position he was getting good results, but over time he began to have more and more difficulty achieving his output goals. As he grew more frustrated with his lack of success, he became even more demanding and harsh with his team.

"What's the matter with you guys?" he would ask. Then he'd scowl and say, "If I don't see some dramatic improvement soon, heads are going to roll around here!"

When Sam was fired for non-performance, he couldn't get over how unfair it was. "Nobody worked as hard as I did or cared about the company like I did. These guys have no idea how to run a business!"

Have you ever known leaders like Sam? Have you ever tried to help leaders like Sam be more successful? How successful were you in helping them?

We men especially tend to place a lot of value on being "tough" as leaders. This certainly can be a valuable asset in some business (and life) situations, but it can become a real disadvantage if overplayed. For this reason women tend to be better natural leaders, and for the life of me I can't understand why some women leaders strive to emulate the ineffective ways of their "tough" male counterparts.

Most often it's easier to coach leaders to be "tougher" (i.e., more assertive) than it is to teach them to be more caring about others. This is a shame, since being caring about your followers is the #1 predictor of leadership success or failure. Who wants to follow someone who doesn't care about you?

Why do "tough" leaders have so much trouble learning to be more caring? The same reason that unassertive leaders have trouble learning to be more assertive: unrealistic fear. There's just a lot more of it!

Early training and experiences leave most of us with a number of outdated assumptions about "how life is" including unrealistic fears. I call these unrealistic fears Profit Stealers because they get in the way of actualizing your leadership and profit potential.

For example, Sam was afraid of losing control by making himself vulnerable to valuable feedback (especially negative feedback) from his team. He assumed that a "tough" leader had all the answers and never showed doubt or indecision. Of course it's important for a final decision maker to make final decisions, but not using the brains of all the smart people in your team is a huge missed opportunity for performance and profit.

It's usually much easier to convince leaders that are "too nice" that they're overestimating the risk of being more assertive than it is to convince leaders that are too harsh that they're overestimating the risk of being more caring. Harsh leaders tend to see leadership (and life) as a dominance-submission struggle rather than as a chance to create win-win collaborations that propel both parties forward. To them, caring about others feels "weak" and scary.

High-performance habits 1. As a leader, be sure you've achieved the right balance between being caring and being "tough" to get all the success you deserve. 2. Err in the direction of adding leaders to your team who are too caring versus too "tough" 3. Then, as you strive to maximize the performance of your organization by maximizing the performance of its leaders, you'll have much more success coaching these caring leaders.

Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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