I got a question in response to the first blog post that outlined a hypothetical business situation. In the hypo, the business owner established a policy for her staff that anyone who did not get at least one favorable mention in a review would be punished. Would this be a management or a leadership action?
I’d consider the business owner’s actions to be bad management instead of bad leadership. It’s an attempt to create a process or policy, albeit a bad one, to set a performance standard for the staff. In my opinion, it would also be a management action, and not a productive one, to create a monthly contest policy to reward the employees who are mentioned most frequently in customer reviews.
There are elements of creativity and the unexpected in leadership. A leadership event, that I think is relevant to this discussion, occurred during my command of a helicopter squadron in 1990. All US Navy commands participate in a yearly charitable fund raising event called the Combined Federal Campaign. For those in the US, this is the United Way Campaign for the military. Every command I’d been in for my 17 years of service to that point had made 100% participation a goal and a de facto requirement. Give at least $5 and you were off the hook. Lots of people gave $5.
I had always resented this command pressure to give so when I was running the show, I kicked off our squadron campaign in a different way. I called the 250+ members of the command together in the base auditorium and told them I’d been looking through the CFC guidebook listing the participating charities, and I described the work that some of the charities were doing for children and the disabled. Then I told squadron men and women that there wouldn’t be any pressure to participate that year; however, I asked them to at least look through the CFC guide before making the decision to participate or not.
I made sure that there was no pressure on anyone to give, and our participation rate dipped to below 90%. However, those that contributed did so much more generously than ever before. My squadron gave an amount that was two or three times the total of any other squadron in the Wing, and that astounding total was a point of pride for members of the command. That leadership decision turned out to be an organizational motivator as much as the 100% participation policy had been a command management demotivator. Later that year, the squadron was one of a few awarded the Atlantic Fleet Golden Anchor Award for retention and morale.
I had no way of knowing that my decision would have the effect that it did. We might have had the lowest donated amount in the Wing along with the lowest participation. I took a risk in trusting the charitable instincts of the men and women in the command and they responded. As I’ve said before, I think leadership involves hard-to-define elements like risk and trust and motivation and morale. If it become a policy, then it’s a management action.