I first met Lisa, a senior executive, when I was hired as a consultant to assist in designing and implementing a culture change programme for a large financial services company. Lisa was a member of the change management committee, who were charged with implementing the culture change programme. I sat in on the change management committee meetings and I gradually noticed that almost all of the ideas the committee decided to use were Lisa’s. Yet Lisa’s behaviour was in no way pushy or dominating – in fact she appeared quite open and diplomatic.
It gradually became clear that Lisa’s ideas “won out” largely because of her mastery of the persuasive arts. For example, Lisa seemed to have remarkable insight into other members of the committee – their moods, concerns, agendas, etc – and equally good insight into the internal dynamics within the committee (alliances, power relationships, etc). This allowed Lisa to present her ideas in ways that appealed to the interests of each individual committee member and also to use the committee’s internal dynamics to facilitate putting forth her case.
The subject of this story (we will call him Mike) was a lawyer and had been a brilliant litigator for most of his law career. As a litigator he had an impressive record of wins. He was feared by other litigators because of his intellectually aggressive style – both in delivering his arguments and in picking holes in the arguments of his adversaries.
For many years Mike had dreamt of becoming his law firm’s managing partner. He had finally won the role of the firm’s managing partner because of his success in bringing in huge amounts of revenue as a litigator. The difficulty was that he attempted to lead the firm using the same intellectual style he used in litigation. For example, Mike led weekly management meetings for the firm’s management committee and monthly meetings for the firm’s fifty partners. He dominated these meetings through the shear power of his intellect.
Mike was highly intelligent and expressed this intelligence with clear, powerful and well reasoned communications. He thought through what he had to say carefully and thoroughly, because he would not just present an argument, but would also often list what he thought the counterarguments might be. He would then include his own arguments against those possible counterarguments.
Mark was a senior military officer given the responsibility for overcoming the bureaucratic lethargy, inefficiency and low productivity of a large Defence Department division. Mark exuded power, confidence and authority and he had enormous energy and drive. He had a reputation for taking initiative and for getting difficult tasks done quickly and creatively!
The difficulty was that, along with these strengths, he also had a restlessness and impatience that often made him harsh and blunt in his communications. He could even be scathing if he thought someone was not competent or not achieving what he wanted when he wanted it. As he put it: “I do not suffer fools easily”. Also – though he never directly said this – his basic attitude was: “my way or the highway”! These were his “Achilles Heels” that accompanied his strengths.