You know, someone who tells you what to do, how to do it, and when to do it? Someone who seems to have all the answers – even when they’re not asked!
Don’t be surprised; you’re not alone. And, worse yet, not only do leaders often assume the know-it-all position, many of us work with people who think they know everything. It is epidemic.
This style of leadership is based on the old model of “authoritative leader” in which the leader plays the role of “boss” and tells employees what to do and how to do it. This type of leader is the historic norm. Leaders can even go so far as to think that if they don’t do this, they aren’t leading well.
Let’s take a closer look at this starting with one of my favorite Peter Drucker quotes. Peter provided an excellent perspective on the authoritative leader when he said, “While the leader of the past knew how to tell, the leader of the future will know how to ask.”
I’ve never seen anyone live these words to the degree that my friend Alan Mulally did. And, it was of great benefit of those around him. So great was that he was recently ranked as the third Greatest Leader in the World by Fortunemagazine. Prior to that he was recognized as the Best CEO in America by CEO magazine.
Here is a little more history about Alan. After an incredibly successful career at Boeing, where he rose to the role of CEO of Boeing Commercial Aircraft, Alan became the CEO of Ford and helped the company achieve one of the most positive turnarounds in the history of corporate America. The amazing story of Ford is well documented in the book, American Icon. When he left Ford, Alan had a 97% approval rating from all employees.
How Did He Do It?
Let’s start with a little history about me: For over forty years I have been a student of leadership. I have a Ph.D. from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. I am the author of editor of 35 books. My written material or videos have been read or viewed over 25 million times. I served on the Advisory Board of the Peter Drucker Foundation for ten years. In 2011, I was ranked by Thinkers 50, in London, as the Most-Influential Leadership Thinker in the World. I have had the honor of coaching over 150 of the most important organizational leaders in the world. Needless to say, I know a little about leadership.
In my long career, I have never observed an approach to leadership that matches Alan’s. His style is as unlike authoritative leadership as any style I have ever seen. Alan’s leadership style is “leader as facilitator” rather than “leader as authority” or “leader as boss”.
It’s similar to my behavioral coaching process. The philosophy behind Stakeholder Centered Coaching is simple: You see, I believe that leaders can learn a lot more from their key stakeholders (who interact with them every day) than they can learn from any coach. My average client has 18 key stakeholders, who am I to assume that I know more than these 18 other executives? In my coaching I am a facilitator. I create a process where my clients reach out to their stakeholders, listen, and learn. I don’t get paid for spending time with my clients or for proving how smart I am. I do get paid when they achieve positive, lasting change in leadership behavior – as judged by their key stakeholders.
Alan’s process of leader as facilitator is like putting my coaching process on steroids!
The philosophy behind his leadership process is simple: Why should I – even though I may be the CEO – assume know that I know more than the thousands of leaders and professionals at the company?
Alan has each of his direct reports publicly discuss each of their five key priorities in the weekly Business Plan Review meeting. Rather than immediately leaping in to help the direct report who has a problem, he facilitates learning from everyone on the team. Rather than saying, “Here is how I can help you.” Alan asks, “Who are the best people at the company who can help?”
As a leader-facilitator, Alan Mulally is perfectly comfortable facilitating a meeting where great guidance is provided – even if none of the great guidance comes from him. He is not delusional enough to believe that he has all of the answers. He is facilitating a process of finding the answers.
To say the leader as facilitator process is different from the corporate norm would be an understatement, and I have never seen any CEO implement this process to the degree that Alan did at Ford.
The leader as facilitator style of leadership is something for you to think about. When it’s your turn to lead give it a try. You will be amazed at the results! And if you’re already leading, maybe it’s time to try it for yourself and see how it works! You will be glad you did.