Monday, November 30, 2015

Leadership presence

A colleague of mine once interviewed for a senior position at Apple when Steve Jobs was CEO. I'll leave my friend's name out of this for obvious reasons.

When my friend showed up for the interview, Jobs was not prepared for the interview and didn't even seem to know my friend was there for an interview. After a twenty minute wait, my friend finally met Jobs for the interview. But Jobs wasn't exactly welcoming. Jobs immediately asked "Why are you here?" and was unable to find a copy of my friend's resume.

Over the next twenty minutes, my friend experienced an awkward interview laced with a few rude words and frankly obnoxious behavior. It wasn't a great reflection of a man who was hailed as a great CEO and savior of Apple Corp. Upon leaving the interview, my friend met other senior leaders at Apple who, when told of Jobs's behavior, said that it meant "Steve liked you."

I was reminded of my friend as I read an article from the BBC asking "Will Steve Jobs's management style get you to the top?" From the article:
By most accounts the new biopic of Steve Jobs is an accurate portrayal of a man who shouted down colleagues at meetings, was visibly impatient and dismissive of others' contributions... and yet he is lauded as perhaps the most successful entrepreneur of his generation.

So does being rude, ruthless and self-absorbed give you an advantage when it comes to getting ahead in business?

Quite the reverse, according to Professor Christine Porath, at the McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University.
Those who choose to imitate the brusque and obnoxious behavior of Apple's Steve Jobs do so at their peril. This kind of behavior is not only inappropriate for a work environment, it destroys any positive work culture in the office. Porath cites her research in saying staff "worked less hard if managers were rude to them." In an academic environment, with an equally toxic professor, "students given the brush-off by a professor were subsequently less successful at word puzzles."

But you can't always be everyone's friend. Leaders occasionally need to make unpopular decisions, or otherwise let their tempers show. I like to think I recognize my hot-button issues, so when I realize that I'm becoming frustrated I try to step back and approach an issue or disagreement from a different angle. I try to maintain a quiet calm when things go wrong, but I'm always clear that I'm disappointed, even angry.

From the article, David Rawlinson, founder of Restaurant Property, agrees "Losing your temper is a very powerful motivator sometimes" and "it's something I think you should use as a final straw." In my experience, I think I've rarely "exploded" over an issue. It can get results when a calm demeanor failed to, but I find these are short term gains. As leaders, we need to work through our disagreements and our issues calmly, and address the underlying problems, in order to address long-term change.

What leadership presence do you use? Leadership is sometimes a performance. Do you maintain a calm exterior, or are you quick to emotional outbursts?

I recommend you exercise emotional intelligence, and work with mentors to identify your own hot buttons. When you can recognize your own emotional reactions, you can find ways to redirect those emotions to more positive outcomes. Be leaderful, even in frustration.

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