You Call That Leadership? (Part II)

In last week's blog post, I took Strategy+Business to task for suggesting that a leader ought to make three major decisions within the first ten days. I think that's a lousy way to lead and is fundamentally disrespectful to the people who work in the organization. So I was gratified to read this week's NYTimes Corner Office column with Bill McDermott of  SAP. Apparently, Bill also believes that asking questions and showing respect for employees is much more important than acting quickly to impress people:

I moved up to become the sales operations manager for the New York region [of Xerox], then became the district manager for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Our region was ranked 86th in the company out of 86....

So now the challenge was, how are you going to make these guys winners? I spent two weeks interviewing everybody and listening. I’d sit there and just say, “What do you think we need to do?”

This attitude is exactly what's meant by the lean precept of "go and see." And the result?

After doing that for two weeks, I found out the three things that were unanimous in terms of what people thought we should do. No. 1, they wanted to be motivated. A previous boss, they told me, had been very financial in his orientation, and focused on cutting expenses. The second thing was that they wanted to have a holiday party, because they had lost the holiday party. The third thing is that they needed clear direction on what they were supposed to do. “Just tell us what to do,” they said.

So we basically gave them three things that we were going to focus on in the business. Then we gave them inspiration and pageantry at every turn to celebrate the victories as we made progress against those three goals. And then we had the holiday party, which was the most important of all. By the end of the year, we ranked No. 1 in terms of beating our plan.

Now, some of these things might seem trivial. I have a Stanford MBA, and I'm pretty sure that we never had a class that taught the significance of a holiday party. I can almost guarantee that if Bill hadn't talked with everyone face-to-face right up front, he wouldn't have understood its importance, and he would have missed the opportunity to make a real improvement in morale and employee engagement.

Go and see. Ask questions. Show respect. You might be surprised at what you learn.