Dale Dauten: Speaker, Author, Innovation Consultant [an error occurred while processing this directive]

The Art of Impedership

“What you can’t do is put somebody in there until his teammates feel he has earned the spot. Even though I was convinced it was going to happen eventually, the team was not convinced that he was the right guy at the right time.” 
-Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan explaining why he held off on switching quarterbacks

I don’t know about you, but upon reading that statement, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it.  If you need the team’s “permission” to make a decision, are you really the leader or have you become a CEP, Chief Executive Pollster?  However, on the other hand, the wise executive understands this basic principle:  You got no followers; you got no leaders.  If you want to pull a group forward, and you yank too hard, you break the connection. 

So, was Shanahan a weak leader waiting for consensus, or he was leader with the humility to understand the concept of the “group brain” and sufficiently astute to wait for the right moment?  We can’t be sure if things would have been better or worse with another decision, but we do know that Shanahan’s winning percentage is among the best in the business, so let’s assume he was being wise, not weak.

What got me thinking about leaders and followers was hearing from two readers who expressed how their management had managed to destroy their motivation, thus draining the group brain.

One letter was from “Chris Carpenter” (a man who works at a place so de-motivating that he has staked out an alias).  He was told that he would not be given the maximum merit raise despite his excellent profitability numbers because of a series of petty shortcomings, including “not keeping a very neat desk.”  Within weeks, however, he was handed major new responsibilities for a project that has stymied previous managers, being given the difficult assignment because of his “superior management skills.”  He made me smile by writing to point out that this two-faced decision, “would make “Genghis” Cone and “Win-Win” Cheeseley proud.” 

“Carpenter” then recalled Tom Peters’ two-step approach to management: 
1.  Hire motivated people
2.  Don’t demotivate them.

Speaking of demotivation, I also heard from Michael Ball about an employer who “actively discourages talent.”  He sent me to Craig Maser, to hear how he came to be in his current job.  Maser’s explained that his wife is a teacher at a private school.  When she applied for a promotion, management never responded, never interviewed her, and never explained why they hired someone else.  She was so frustrated that she started searching for a new job.  That’s when she came across an opening for someone to be a “development manager” (professional fund-raiser) at another local school.  Not a job for her, but she told her husband about it.  He went in; they spotted his talent, and hired him for a higher-level development job, one that had yet to be posted. 

So now Craig Maser raises money for a competing school, provoking an administrator at his wife’s school to ask him why.  He reminded the administrator that he had approached the school about a job and been told they had no openings.  Plus, he wasn’t certain he wanted to work for a place that had treated his wife shabbily. 

Ball concludes by asking, “How much trouble would if have been to consider what either husband or wife had to offer?  How many angels come rapping at the door, only to be turned away by the busy, shortsighted or arrogant?”

Thinking back to Peters’ two-step model, it’s clear that it’s point number two that slowly trips most managers.  A large percentage of the time, the team accomplishes less that it might have in the absence of management -- that isn’t “leadership” but its opposite.  We need a new word for that, and because such management impedes progress, that word would logically be “impedership.” 

Yes, organizational angels come rapping on the door but the masters of impedership don’t hear it because they’re in a pre-planning committee for the planning charette for the retreat with the task force on better employees.

* *

Dale Dauten is the founder of The Innovators’ Lab.  His latest book is “(Great) Employees Only: How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success” (John Wiley & Sons).  Please write to him in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th ST, 15th Fl, New York, NY 10019, or at dale@dauten.com.

© 2007 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Popular Past Columns