The Many Faces of Leadership – AMCF Seminar

October 29, 2009
The Association of Management Consultants Firms hosted a daylong event at the Union Club in New York this week. It reminded me of my days working in British Parliament. You know that feeling of clubish collusion. Where the walls are adorned with men-in-wigs-Rembrandt-type paintings and the furniture is old, worn leather and very comfortable to slouch in.

A note arrived that read, ‘please be dressed in suit and tie and ladies in appropriate alternative attire at the Union Club.’ As well we must observe the ban on cell phones, so they needed to be turned off while in the club. This presented a problem to me on many levels, and the most immediate one is that all my notes for my talk were on my iPhone in a speech app. When I received the note I thought perhaps my reputation from the Trump Tower, The Windows of the World, The Boston Ritz, The London Savoy or some very over-rated French Bistro in Paris had put my name on some watch list. In each of those clubs, at sometime or another, I could be heard uttering the words, “I have been kicked out of better places than this.” It was because in each circumstance I was not suitably attired. Sadly, today I cannot be that rebel. I was an invited guest, I would dress to the ‘nines.’ And I am always on better manners as a guest in someone else’s home than in my own.

leadershipWhen I arrived, the first session had begun and what a treat it was: Michael Useem who is the Director at The Center for Leadership and Change Management at Wharton Business School and one of the most popular professors on Leadership. I say treat because I have really been enjoying his book Leading Up. It is a book that I have been recommending to clients of mine who are not at the CEO position in their organizations. Michael is an amazing teacher, his ability to engage, retain, and synthesize information and then provide it back to the audience is truly remarkable. He was offering up a checklist for leaders to follow, much like what a pilot goes through at the beginning of a flight:


  • Have a Vision, Mission, Strategy and Execution plan.
  • Communicate what you have in mind that honors them.
  • Don’t forget to honor the room.
  • Communicate your character
  • Say it so it sticks (Get book Made to Stick it’s great!) Don’t underestimate what you want them to remember!
  • Understand and use decision management
  • Appreciation for the fact that we each have predictable errors (Predictably Irrational). The better we do, the worse our decision making is.
  • Remember it is about the mission, not about you.
  • More active listening to those below on an organizational hierarchy.



Kembrel Jones

After Michael’s session Joe Grano, who has written the book You Can’t Predict a Hero: From War to Wall Street, Leading in Times of Crisis and myself, author of Just Ask Leadership: Why Great Managers Always Ask The Right Questions, were put on a panel together with Dr. Kembrel Jones, Associate Dean Wharton School of Business, as the moderator. The idea was to get two leaders that had divergent styles to mix things up with each other. Wow! This was challenging for me. I wanted to be both respectful, gracious and strongly disagree with Joe’s point of view, which I did. He seems to draw the parallel that leadership is about heroics. And his stories were about his heroic efforts in War and on Wall Street. The stories he told were interesting, even spellbinding, and the life experiences he had seemed like right out of a movie. From fox holes in Vietnam, to a titan of finance on Wall Street, to being a producer of a Broadway smash. And no matter how I tried, and I did try, I could not seem to pierce his iron toughness. He was charming and had a quick wit to divert attacks or too much confrontation. He very much reminded me of my first coach and mentor John Kunz, who was the former head of Dun & Bradstreet. John grew up on the streets in New York and learned to be tough early on. Joe seemed to have an answer for most things, he was sure of himself, a bit bigger than life really. And somehow, he is what I think of as the leader of the past. He reminds me of the living, breathing version of John Wayne. I believe that different businesses take different types of leaders and I am just wondering if this is what the military and Wall Street leadership is all about? It is difficult for me to conclude this given some of the warmest leaders I know have come from Goldman Sachs. And the Generals that I interviewed did not strike me as bigger than life characters.

I am struck over and over again by how often the notion of Just Asking is not part of the leadership conversation. When Michael Useem was speaking and he asked the question, “what else should be on this checklist?” – I remained quiet to see if anyone would raise ‘asking questions’. And not to my surprise, not a person in the room raised it. And yet, when I asked this audience if they ask more than they tell when leading all but one said yes – which is significantly different than the usual 27% I see from most audiences I speak to. And yet they don’t label it as a significant part of their leadership until I present. How is it that the obvious is so hidden to so many? Are leaders really that afraid that if they ask questions that people will see them as weak?
Joe says he uses the 95/5 rule: Let it be their idea and ask them questions 95% of the time, but 5% is command and control. The interesting thing was that all the examples of leadership he gave were in the 5%, not the 95%. Wouldn’t you think it is the 95% of the time that one would spend their time on, rather than the 5% of the time when it was your call? How does making it your call make it leadership? There just seems something a bit off about that balance. The great part about leadership is so many different styles work. Although you may not care for a certain style, it simply means that you would not be lead by that person.
I continue to enjoy all these experience that are opening up for me by having written the book. And it is great in today’s technology rich world that I can share these experiences with a larger audience. The book was hard work and still is – getting it out to readers who would enjoy it. And the experiences are the frosting on that cake. I am grateful to those who have chosen to read my blog and those that are reading Just Ask Leadership.

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