Slo Ru

Chapter 8. Being Yourself or Myths of Leadership Styles

The contents of the book.

It took me many years and the experience gained at the cost of mistakes to understand that in everything – from business strategy to improving the quality of one’s own life – the principle is fair: it is better not to fight your own shortcomings, but to develop your own merits.

It’s harder than it looks to accept that. All our childhood we were taught to act in the opposite way. Got a bad evaluation? Fix it, give it back. You’re not doing so well, are you? We have to try and try again and again until we can. We have seldom been taught to ask ourselves whether this is a task worth trying at all. After all, if we make significant efforts to solve a problem that we like, that we are interested in, that inspires us, the effect of such efforts will be many times greater than the persistent overcoming of ourselves and the solution of the problem that we are disgusted with deep in our hearts. Of course, life is not a club of interest, where we can enjoy exclusively favorite tasks. Life requires a variety of skills, and sometimes poses questions that we have to solve by clenching our teeth. But if we make attempts to manage our lives and their quality, then one of the tools of such management is to reduce as much as possible the number of “other people’s” tasks in it, passing them on to those for whom they are “their” and replacing them with “their” tasks. I am sure that the most successful people in life are not hardworking ants, who persistently pull the stubborn strap based on a sense of duty, but self-centered people who focus only on interesting things.

If you are a company manager, especially if you are the CEO (i.e. you define the culture of the organization, its strategy and goals), this rule is extremely important for you. By developing your strengths, you can significantly increase the speed of your company’s development. If you have talents in marketing, sales and manufacturing, allocate the major part of your working time for it. And to perform other functions that are less interesting to you, find people who are talented in them. Don’t you like to read contracts? Hire a good lawyer. You don’t like to mess with the budget? You’ll need a good financier. But never forget the following: 

  1. The principal must have a good understanding of its product. You may not be a recognized industry expert in technology, but you need to have a clear understanding of your product features, key capabilities and limitations of production, sales and marketing.
  2. Even if you’re not a marketer, keep in touch with your key customers. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to trust marketing analytics, but talking to customers will help you feel the market better, may give you interesting insights and give you the opportunity to look at your organization from the outside.
  3. People to whom you entrust unloved tasks to must be true professionals in their areas of expertise.
  4. You can be fervently fond of one function and hate the rest, but a company director or entrepreneur must have at least an average knowledge of marketing, sales, production (if you have one) and finance. At least, in order to find high-quality experts for these functions and assign them with correct tasks and supervise their performance.
  5. In any case, the tasks of human resources management cannot be fully delegated to the HR department. An entrepreneur or manager is much more efficient if he or she has an experienced HR director working next to him or her, but it is impossible to blame him or her for managing people, especially direct subordinates. You must be a leader for the whole team and a leader for direct subordinates, and you can do it only personally.
  6. If you’ve hired a specialist for functions you don’t want to do yourself, and if he or she’s really good, trust his or her judgment and listen to his or her suggestions.
  7. Trust does not mean lack of control. If your organization follows a strategic plan with key performance indicators for each department, and if these are clearly defined, transparent, and verifiable by an independent auditor (such as an internal audit or controlling service), trust and control can coexist peacefully with each other. Especially if all relations are negotiated in advance and all contentious issues are resolved using numbers and facts.

To be yourself

Sometimes children seem to have a supernatural instinct. They so skillfully manipulate us, so cleverly know how to ask for a new gift in time, so artistically manage to make us feel sorry that we begin to suspect them of superpowers. There’s nothing unusual about that, actually. It’s just that we broadcast a lot of information through nonverbal, i.e. non-linguistic channels of communication – mimics, intonation and gestures – and children read them better than adults. The language of mimics and gestures appeared much earlier than spoken language, and is a direct continuation of our human nature, our gestures are natural, our mimics is involuntary. On the contrary, the language is a more artificial means of communication. Gestures and facial expressions are inherent to us from birth, they are unconditional reflexes, and it takes us several years to learn to speak. A lot of gestures and facial expressions are multicultural, that is, they are understood in different countries, say, frowned eyebrows, put forward palms or a smile everywhere will be treated approximately the same, but the languages are very different. Children have a poor command of the language and more trust in information that we unwittingly transmit through the expression of our own face, through intonation or gestures. Then, as we grow up, we begin to rely more and more on language, and the ability to understand facial expressions and gestures, although never completely disappears, loses some of its meaning.

We will talk about how subordinates resemble children by their behaviour patterns in the relevant chapter. What is important to us now is that subordinates, like children, are very sensitive to any signals from their superiors, including non-verbal ones. Especially since the boss is always in the spotlight. When I was 25 years old, when I was in charge of the factory, I didn’t know that, and then, a few years later, when I was told how carefully I discussed every step, gesture, piece of clothing, what ridiculous rumors were circulating in the group, I was shocked. If you’re a leader of a large company, believe me, it’s the kind of rumor about you spreading within the team, whether you like it or not.

Such interest in your person is due to the high degree of dependence of employees on you. They have come to work for your company to provide their family with a stable and predictable income and are therefore closely monitoring you and their supervisors as a source of potential threat to this stability. After all, if you are a madman or not a professional director enough, you can suddenly fire them, under the influence of caprice, or destroy the company with your ridiculous decisions, and, consequently, their stable life. Conversely, your skillful actions and effective solutions are sources of hope for a stable tomorrow. Like a scared gazelle in an African savannah, subordinates at the desk, in a smoking room or in the dining room at lunch do not stop subconsciously scanning the space in search of signals of danger. And as soon as those signals come up, they’re all over their attention. By the way, that’s why subordinates criticize their superiors more often than admire them. After all, just as the bad news is more important than the good news, your mistakes (signals of possible danger), real or imaginary, become a rich soil for gossip.  

This kind of attention to your person, where each of your gestures is studied, somehow interpreted, disassembled and discussed by prominent experts from the smoker, excludes any attempt on your part to look different from who you really are. If you’re not a college theater graduate, and not gifted with Hollywood’s ability to reincarnate, don’t try to pretend in front of your subordinates, you’ll still be exposed. After reading the books on leadership, we often try on the patterns of behavior that we have drawn from them, trying to seem tougher or more democratic than we really are. We draw inspiration from interviews with the leaders of large companies, trying to get ideas for their own management luggage out of them. But if you’re not Elon Mask, Richard Branson or Jack Welch, don’t even try to pretend to be them. Be yourself – this is the best leadership strategy.

There’s nothing more ridiculous than a manager trying to imitate some character traits. Once I attended a meeting held by the director and owner, who was a soft and intelligent person by nature. But his company was going through difficult times, and he decided that the moment had come, and it was time to be a “tough manager”. The meeting resembled a bad performance as the director was extremely inefficient in pretending that he was strictly reprimanding his subordinates, very uncertainly promising them the punishment of heavenly, and the subordinates skillfully pretended that they were very, very afraid of his anger. After the meeting, everyone went to their cubicles. The director was very satisfied with himself, and the subordinates, as if nothing had happened, returned to their usual duties.

While studying at the Institute of Directors, my classmates and I studied leadership styles. We have been taught that our leadership style needs to be adapted to the circumstances around us. That in times of crisis it is necessary to take your own company under the prisoners, and in prosperous times it is necessary to be democratic and wise, as Master Yoda. We have even been given a table with leadership styles and instructions on which of them is most applicable.

The table and textbook were developed by smart and experienced people. And, undoubtedly, the very idea of adapting one’s own behavior to external circumstances has some merit. I went through this school myself in 2008 when my company, which until then had only grown and hired people, cultivating a generally democratic atmosphere in the team, had to reduce almost 40% of the staff, and, however difficult it may be for me personally, I had to do it. A few years later, I took over an extremely neglected business from my previous management, and I was struck by an unprecedented combination of dense unprofessionalism and unbelievable conceit. There was no time for reflection, and although I am not usually a supporter of sudden movements, after a month and a half most of them were in the labor market.

But in the everyday routine of the most effective style of leadership is the one that is inherent in you by virtue of your personality traits. If you’re a tough person, be tough, if you’re soft, be soft. The only leadership style that is probably not acceptable to a modern leader is folly, injustice and inconsistency. I had a chance to communicate with the founder of a large company, who was a very uncomfortable person in communication – a tough, demanding, devoid of sentiment. But he attached great importance to fairness in his relationships with his subordinates, always setting clear goals and remembering what he had promised or expected from his subordinates, and the promises and expectations never changed over time. It was very difficult to attend his meetings. He did not tolerate unprofessionalism and empty words. He trusted the figures and facts, demanded clarity and specificity in the presentation. But he always kept his promises and never accused his subordinates unfairly. Once, when a company made a serious strategic mistake, he admitted that since he was also involved in project discussions and decision-making, he also felt responsible for the failure and was therefore going to focus on finding a way out of the situation rather than looking for scapegoats. As a result, over the years his team has been made up of people with deep respect for him and who find it unacceptable that they could let the boss down. They were professionals in their field, and it was a pleasure to communicate with them. Whatever leadership style you choose for yourself, fairness and consistency should be inherent in any leader.

Any company becomes a continuation of its leader. All employees who do not fit in with the culture they are subconsciously planting are sooner or later disqualified, and only those who are comfortable with it remain. Whatever your leadership style, sooner or later the appropriate team will gather around you. And if you are fair and consistent, it may well be a strong team capable of taking dizzying heights.

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