Archives: September 2008

M-F Leadership Styles, Effectiveness of

In my last post, Success Tip #140, I caught myself in an un-rare but un-intentional sexist moment. While discussing crisis leadership, I used typically male language and imagery—including the all-male football analogy!

Leadership and the SexesBy coincidence, the day after the post, my mail included Leadership and the Sexes: Using Gender Science to Create Success in Business, a book by Michael Gurian and Barbara Annis. The book is a marvel. The authors begin, "This book is about the practical application of information on male/female brain differences in every aspect of your corporate life, from workplace comfort to competitive edge to the corporate bottom line."

The most important phrase being, per me, "brain differences"—that is, the book is derivative of the new brain sciences, not anecdotal evidence. (The book is strongly endorsed by the author of another book I found of inestimable value, The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine, M.D.)

The evidence is brain-science based, but a social-psychological experiment provides a nice snapshot of the findings. What follows is from a sidebar titled, "Gender Experiments Surprise Even the Experts":

"In the 1990s, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/CBC created a short film that recorded an experiment in leadership styles between women and men. CBC didn't tell the participants the objective of the work they would do that day; the director simply divided the male and female leaders into two teams, and gave those team leaders the same instructions: build an adventure camp. The teams were set up in a somewhat militaristic style at first, including team members wearing uniforms, but also with the caveat in place that the teams could alter their style and method as they wished as long as they met the outcome in time.

"Leader one immediately created a rank-and-file hierarchy and gave orders, even going so far as to assert authority by challenging members on whether they had polished their shoes.

"Leader two did not have the 'troops' line up and be inspected, but instead met with the other team members in a circle, asking 'How are we doing? Are we ready?' 'Anything else we should do?' 'Do you think they'll test us on whether we've polished our shoes?' Instead of giving orders, leader two was touching team members on the arm to reassure them.

"As part of the program, CBC arranged for corporate commentators to watch the teams prepare. Initially the commentators (mostly men) were not impressed by the leadership style of leader two; the second team wasn't 'under control,' members weren't lined up, and they 'lacked order' (or so it seemed). The commentators predicted that team two would not successfully complete the task. Yet when the project was completed, team two had built an impressive adventure camp as good as team one's, with some aspects that were judged as better.

"When debriefing their observations, the commentators noticed that when team one was building the structures for the camp, there had been discord regarding who was in charge and who had completed which job and who hadn't. Team one exhibited a lack of communication during the process of completion that created problems (for example, 'Wasn't someone else supposed to do this?').

"Team two, on the other hand, took longer to do certain things, but because of its emphasis on communication and collaboration during the enactment of the task (such as 'Let's try this' and 'What do you think about that?'), the team met the goal of building the adventure camp in its own positive way, and on time."

There is for me a profoundly important "bottom line" here. Not that one style is better than another, but that virtually every proclamation we make ought to be informed by gender differences. In my speeches, for example, I often find myself rambling on ad nauseam about the importance of relentless relationship building—a stunning insight for a male to make or take on board (I overstate ever so slightly), and boringly obvious beyond words to most of the female participants. I am not suggesting that every phrase be presented in two languages, but I am suggesting that the topic ought not be far beneath the surface. Based on my own experience, I will say that we (i.e., me) will not necessarily improve (as in, exhibit increased sensitivity) over time; hey, with the chips down last week, Joe Montana and the SF 49ers were my immediate benchmarks.

I urge you to read the book—there is a lot at stake, and an opportunity to achieve lasting competitive advantage. From an increasingly robust body of research, we know for sure (as sure as sure can ever be) that diverse teams—diversity on any and all dimensions—outperform homogenous teams. We equally have to know how to maximize the diversity advantage—the reward can be performance leaps, not just modest improvements.

100 Ways to Succeed #141:

Pursue The Enormous Potential "Diversity Advantage"
Through Awareness And Study And Practice

There is an enormous diversity advantage—but it doesn't grow on trees. Working to achieve diversity comes first—but putting that diversity to work is just as important.


Apply one transaction-exchange at a time.

This advice applies to men.
This advice applies to women.

This is a strategic opportunity!

Thriving on Chaos

In 1987, I wrote a book titled Thriving on Chaos. Miraculously (for sales, at any rate), it was officially published on the day of the stock market crash of '87, at the time the most severe in decades.

Once again, we are apparently confronted with a hefty dose of "chaos"—or, at least, the prospect of a substantial period of sub-standard growth. (NB: Managers under the ripe old age of 50, more or less, have never experienced, in the role of managers, significant and sustained economic disarray; the brutal recession of the early '80s—marked by unemployment in excess of 10 percent, interest rates in excess of 20 percent, and inflation stuck in the mid-teens—was the last of this sort.)

My speakers bureau sent me an urgent request for a description of remarks I might make on the issue of thriving on, or at least surviving amidst, the current chaos—seems as though that's what their clients are suddenly, and understandably, asking prospective speakers to tackle.

I was limited to a couple of hundred words, which I enjoyed writing (in the best sense of the word "enjoy") and thought I'd share them with you. There is hardly profundity here, but I'll pass it on anyway. In fact, there are two short pieces, as follows:

[The next two blog posts are the 'two short pieces' Tom is referring to. -Ed.]

1) Surviving and Even Thriving Amidst the "Perfect Storm"

While many businesses will fail amidst the current economic crisis through no fault of their own, some will survive in spite of the odds—and a few will surprise by turning a messy situation into economic-competitive advantage. The requisite winner's attitude is expressed by former Ritz-Carlton chief Horst Schulze, commenting on his decision to launch his new high-end hotel business, Capella, despite the market madness: "I do not accept the explanation of a recession negatively affecting the [new] business. There are still people traveling. We just have to get them to stay in our hotel." And, indeed, getting an "unfair share" of "what's left" is near the heart of the matter. Schulze's remarks also remind us that instant, mindless cutting of R&D or training or salesforce travel in the face of a downturn is often counterproductive—or, rather, downright stupid. Tough times are in fact golden opportunities to get the drop, and the longterm drop at that, on those who respond to bad news by panicky across-the-board slash and burn tactics and moves that de-motivate and alienate the workforce at exactly the wrong moment.

Tough times indeed require tough and unpleasant decisions—but thriving, not just surviving, is an option for those who mix wisdom and boldness of leadership with transparency and maximized employee involvement and engagement. Without suggesting that there is anything humorous about the pain that bad times cause, one can say that "this is when it gets fun" for truly talented and imaginative leaders at all levels and in businesses of every sort and size!

2) The Basics Are the Basics Are the Basics Are the Basics:
The Worse the Times the Better They Work;
Or, Listen to Grandfather Snow

The "engine" of the current economic mess is losing total touch with the basics. That is: lending money to people, by the millions in the end, who "obviously" couldn't pay it back. In many ways, that is the whole story—at the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the pile of derivatives of derivatives of derivatives are truly stupid real-estate loans that "any fool" would say should never have been made.

We get in trouble when we forget the basics.
We get out of trouble when we remember the basics.
We stay out of trouble when we become perpetually "insane" about the basics.
(It ain't quite that simple, but it'll do for starters.)

When "times are tough," the payoff, survival that is, comes from what?

Survival—even growth!—in bad times comes from having wildly "over"-invested in relationships and training and service and employee-customer-vendor loyalty, while behaving in a fiscally prudent manner, in good times.

Well, "Duh."

I'm allowed out in public in 2008, in effect, because I wrote a book with Bob Waterman in 1982 (called In Search of Excellence) that said that Americans were in deeeeeeep trouble—vis-à-vis Japan at the time—because we failed to put people & service & listening to customers & making products that worked & doing-instead-of-talking & staying intimately in touch with "real stuff" at the top of our business agendas. We had placed too much emphasis on "sophisticated," abstract, "MBA thinking" and not enough emphasis on the things that led over a thousand people to show up for my Grandfather Owen Snow's funeral in little Wicomico Church VA over a quarter-century ago.

Grandfather Owen had run a country store—he'd been counselor, banker, and friend of customers and community, as well as shopkeeper, to thousands over the years. He was a math whiz (he passed a bit of it on to me, and thanks), but those thousands showed up at his funeral because he never forgot the basics of taking the time to listen and care and invariably put people first!

The great news for Fall 2008: The worst of the worst can be managed, within limits at least, if we remember and assiduously apply my grandfather's Business Basics 101.

Does that sound simplistic?
But remember: We're deep in the deep doggy doo-doo because of "nothing more than" lending money to people who obviously (!!!) couldn't pay it back.


The CEO of a very successful mid-sized bank, in the Mid-west, attended a seminar of mine in Northern California many years ago—but I remember the following as if it were yesterday. I've forgotten the specific context, but I recall him saying to me, pretty much word for word, "Tom, let me tell you the definition of a good lending officer. After church on Sunday, on the way home with his family, he takes a little detour to drive by the factory he just lent money to. Doesn't go in or any such thing, just drives by and takes a look."

(1) Amen.
(2) Damn few drive-bys at WaMu or Countrywide, I suspect.

100 Ways to Succeed #139:

Work the Damn Phones!
Treble Your MBWA!

One of my favorite quotes, from Carolyn Lamb* (*can't quite figure out who she is, even with Google's brain as helper), goes like this: "A year from now you may wish you had started today."

Yes, today many of us wish we had "wildly" "over"invested in those employee-vendor-client-community relationships when the market was heading North and there was a little slack in the system. Well, perhaps we didn't, but, and I'm not "doing a Tony Robbins" here, it really is never too late. That is:

Work the damn phones.
Keep working the damn phones.

Show up.
Keep showing up.

Call clients and suppliers, ask them how things are going, and how you can help. This is not about sales (directly), but about "showing up"—taking time from your busy affairs to offer assistance of any sort. (E.g., offer up your network: "Well, Dave [one of your key suppliers], I know Ed Simpson, over there at [one of Dave's problem clients]; his daughter and mine are co-captains of the [name of school] soccer team; I can give him a call for you if you'd like." Etc.)

This is even more important with our employees.** "Over"inform—the rumors are invariably worse than reality. "Over"do your MBWA—managing by wandering around. Keep your enthusiasm up if it kills you—not in a dopey grin, "all is well" way, but by exhibiting energy and masking any internal doom & gloom expressions that may, in fact, be just beneath the surface. [**I use the formal word "employees" here, a word I ordinarily dislike. But the point is that you do have a formal hierarchical relationship with those on your payroll, and thence a formal as well as an abiding moral obligation concerning their and their families' well-being.]

100 Ways to Succeed #140:

Stand In Front of the Damn Mirror And Practice Your Confident Look—Until You Get It Right!

As one sage (who he?) put it, "Bosses are not allowed to have bad days—especially on bad days."

I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area during the Joe Montana era—that is, when Joe led the now wobbly SF 49ers to four Super Bowl wins in four tries. A lot of Mr. Montana's excellence, it was said, emanated from his near-miraculous ability to make his teammates believe that the impossible was not only possible, but inevitable, right now, and regardless of how dire the straits were. Sure, he had a good coach, a good team, and terrific athletic skills—but that, as his coach, the late Bill Walsh, once told me, was only part of the story. Bill was a master of drafting attitude-and-character-over-raw-skills; and that's why he had drafted Montana in the first place. And that's what Montana delivered with matchless regularity.

You are not Joe Montana. And neither am I. And perhaps, like my wife, you actually hate football. No matter, I'm sure you get my point. If you don't, let me spell it out: At this professionally precarious time, you'd better practice your Joe Montana-Rudy Giuliani 9/11 act. That is, no matter what your fears and qualms are, you have to exude character and confidence—not confidence that we can bring 3,000 people in the Towers back to life, but that we can soldier on, that we can attack the day with vigor and determination, and perhaps even see some good that may well emerge from the bad.

Ms./Mr. Boss, listen up: You are finally doing what you've been paid to do for the last umpteen years—you are called upon to lead in a time of crisis, financial crisis, yes, but also-mostly human crisis.

Advice: Stand in front of the mirror, or whatever, and practice your Joe (or Jane***) Montana demeanor! Until you get it right!

(***As to "Joe" and "Jane," I am fully aware of gender differences. "Steely look of determination" sounds, in retrospect, "very guy" to me. The way in which women-Janes will exude confidence and practice MBWA and tend to relationships is likely to be far different than the typical male-Joe approach. No matter. The leadership necessity is the same—regardless of the way in which it is expressed. Incidentally, or not so incidentally, at times of stress gender differences are likely to be particularly pronounced—and hence the possibility of botched communication particularly high. There is, I repeat, no reason whatsoever to believe that either men or women are better at dealing with tough times—there is every reason to believe that styles will differ.)

Reading Assignment!

The Financial Times today, 25 September, first section, is wall-to-wall great material about the financial markets madness. I highly recommend it.

On the Attack!

At an Inc. magazine forum last week, I found myself on the attack. The target? Me. I was engaging in a moderated dialogue with Seth Godin—not only do I have the utmost respect for him, but we are in agreement a frightening percentage of the time. It seems at times that we use the same adjectives and adverbs to make the same points. Hence, the surprise at some areas of disagreement.

As you know from my last post, I'm preoccupied with the financial markets chaos—which I see as anything but tamed, though I strongly support recent decisions to boldly interfere in the untrammeled market mechanism. One of the questions, following my public encomium (also in the last post) for Msssrs Paulson, Bernanke, and Geithner, was about the need for authoritarian-significantly centralized leadership at times. I am a rabid (pretty much the right word) decentralist, but I gave a firm and immediate "Yes" to the question.

Seth attacked, reminding me of my roots and arguing that authoritarianism is a slippery slope. And there is always an excuse for it.

I agree about both the slippery slope and the ubiquity of excuses for longer policy manuals, particularly following screw-ups, and more and more centralization of decision making—ad infinitum.

My counter argument has mostly to do with speed. That is, there are times, rare occasions, such as the end of last week, when hours make-made all the difference. There was no time to waste and no time to consult. This is pretty much the case following any major disaster.

There are a bushel of caveats. The situation must be dire—and seen as dire by a majority of the organization's members. Speedy action must be widely seen as imperative, and the absence of speedy action must be deemed catastrophic. The authoritarians must be greatly respected and skilled. (In a more or less perfect world, as is the case now with Paulson, the authoritarians must be seen as pained by the need to take the controls and make the decisions they feel they are forced to take.) The centralized commanders must soon turn to a consultative mode. (Paulson et al. are now fully engaged with Congress—such engagement began in a matter of hours.) The troops engaged in implementation must indeed be engaged and ready to take autonomous action and initiative within the confines of the decisions made by the top dogs. And a formal system must be in place to implement a pre-arranged sunset for authoritarian action.

With all the checks and balances in place, there will be occasions where, indeed, the authoritarianism extends and extends—think of military coups in the likes of Pakistan and Thailand in fairly recent times, or emergency centralized controls at many a corporation.

I will, then, stand by my principles concerning decentralization, argue for rare exceptions, and worry that the centralists' mandate will be self-extended in more than a few cases, human nature being what it often sadly is. I will also argue, more oceanically, that human governance of any sort is a necessary but messy affair.

My next assault on myself will be covered in a subsequent post. Meanwhile, I would beg you to weigh in on the case of Tom v. Tom (and Tom v. Seth) concerning centralized leadership.

NB: Jim Collins was also at the Inc. event. Some of you see the two of us at each others' throats—or, at least, me at his throat. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I was genuinely delighted to see him—it made my day. My respect for him is limitless, and goes back about 30 years. And while I do have some disagreements with him, the fact of the matter is that, like Seth and I do, Jim and I agree, in my opinion, on 99% of what's important about human affairs—and I unequivocally think that his work has done the world a world of good. And I like him as much as I admire him. (No one I know has more integrity. Period.)

That Time of the Year, Again

Today is the first day of fall, 2008, though as you all know, the equinox, to quote Wikipedia, "is the moment in time (not a whole day) when the center of the Sun can be observed to be directly above the Earth's equator, occurring around March 20 and September 22 each year." That moment occurred at 10:44 a.m. Eastern time in the United States today. And we were going to post the new banner at that moment, but somehow technology thwarted us. It's there now.

I even tried the old "balance the egg on end" trick, but that didn't work either. It's been a tough morning here at We can only hope that things will improve.

We hope you enjoy the new banner and all of us here at want to take this opportunity to wish all of you a bounteous fall season (at least those of you in the northern hemisphere).