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One-to-One in the Workplace: Leading

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Leadership theories abound, but one definition of a leader to which most experts agree is this: Managers tend to maintain the status quo, while leaders effect positive change.

"The leader builds verbal bridges into the domain of his followers, convincing them of the correctness of his vision, and then persuades them to follow him back across the bridge into his own domain, a domain of ideas waiting to be realized."
—Marlene Caroselli, The Language of Leadership (HRD Press, 1990)

For centuries, leadership scholars have tried to determine what qualities leaders possess that others do not. The research is ongoing and has formed the basis of popular books such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen R. Covey, Simon & Schuster, 1994). Leadership theories abound, but one definition to which most experts agree is this: Managers tend to maintain the status quo, while leaders effect positive change.

The best and most succinct depiction of this difference comes from the CEO of General Electric. Jack Welch once addressed his direct reports with a three-word dictum. "Don't manage!" he told them. "Lead." And then he left the room, to the consternation of several who didn't understand the difference.

We've aligned the scripts in this chapter with some interesting views of leadership:

  • "In calm water, every ship has a good captain." —Swedish proverb (Dialog 1: When a crisis erupts)

  • "A good leader takes a little more than his share of blame, a little less than his share of credit." —Arnold Glasow (Dialog 2: When a mistake has been made)

  • "The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on." —Walter Lippmann (Dialog 3: When morale is low)

  • "A basic fact about negotiation ... is that you are dealing not with abstract representatives of the 'other side,' but with human beings." —Roger Fisher and William Ury (Dialog 4: When facing a tough negotiator)

  • "A leader's role is to harness the social forces in the organization, to shape and guide values." —Chester Barnard (Dialog 5: When the culture needs to change)

  • "The speed of the leader is the speed of the pack." —Yukon saying (Dialog 6: When people are not committed)

  • "The key to leadership today is influence, not authority." —Ken Blanchard (Dialog 7: When you need to persuade)

Ready to embark on a new chapter adventure? If so, get ready to effect positive change—if only in your thinking!

Dialog 1: When a crisis erupts


We need leaders every hour of the day, every day of the year. But we especially need leaders when crises erupt. So diverse and frequent are the crises that erupt in business today that whole industries have evolved to deal with them.

Be Careful

Prussian military strategist Karl von Clausewitz warned, "Beware the brilliance of transient events." Before marshalling all your resources in response to a given event, ascertain whether the event merits such investment. When transient events lose their brilliance, they should not leave you blinded by unfortunate overreaction.

No matter what the crisis, we need to turn the historical clock back 500 years to the words of Italian statesman and author of The Prince, Nicolo Machiavelli: "In the beginning," he so wisely observed, "problems are hard to diagnose but easy to cure. With the passage of time, they become easier to diagnose but harder to cure."

In this scenario, you're meeting with your team, responding to a crisis you've already anticipated.

What the Experts Say

"If I just give you hyperbole, it's going to come off as spin." Corporate consultant Michael Sitrick, "The Wizard of Spin" and CEO of Sitrick and Company encourages the use of facts in lieu of self-protecting statements.


Whether it's as globally devastating as an oil spill or a tire recall, or as localized as the hospitalization of a chief executive, a crisis can bring production and profits to a standstill—unless there's a contingency plan in place. As the leader in this situation, you've already done the hard part—you've planned the work. Now it's time to work the plan. The situation has you meeting with your crisis response team, deciding the next steps.

Be Careful

Know that a "No comment" has both an upside and a downside. The upside is that you're protected from the careless slip of the tongue. The downside is that the comment implies you have something to hide.

The strategies involve Preparing a Press Release and Conducting the Interview.

Figure 3.1 When a Crisis Erupts.

Further Considerations

If possible, tape record a live interview. Should a subsequent dispute arise, you'll have your words on record.

Consider hiring a PR firm if the crisis has reached critical proportions.

Spend time learning cause and even more time exploring possible effects.

When the dust has settled and you have a chance to evaluate the interview with your team, ask these questions:

  • Was the objective clear? Was it met?
  • What good came or could come out of this?
  • What potential harm might ensue?
  • What did we learn?
  • What else needs to be done?

Ask Yourself

  • Is this a true crisis or am I overreacting?
  • Have I benchmarked—i.e., learned what others have done in comparable circumstances?
  • What could I do better next time?
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