‘Leaders aren’t snowflakes that melt away under pressure…’

A new Group CEO arrived with a mandate to grow the enterprise and take it to a new level of performance and market success. They drove change from day one, quickly gaining a fearsome reputation for being tough, highly focused on business detail,  and being harsh on people. Unpopular change fuelled gossip across the workforce that the CEO was a self-centred, uncompromising bully who fired anyone who underperformed. Against this backdrop, the Badger, a young project manager, quaked in his boots when he heard that the CEO wanted to meet him and review his project.

The Badger quickly realised during this review that the CEO was professional, numbers and action-oriented, and relentlessly focused on achieving success. They could be charming but also very direct, and they demanded a high standard of performance from those they dealt with. They expected everyone to know the performance of their function, business unit, or project in detail. Many people found this intimidating because it was different to the approach of the CEO’s predecessor. The Badger survived the review. He learned that the CEO was not to be feared if a strong individual performance, an action mentality, and a robust grasp of the detail were conveyed. Was the CEO a bully? No, just a strong, direct personality with a difficult job who demanded the best from their staff.

Two weeks ago, the Badger met a forlorn young lady leading a team of software engineers for coffee.  It was her first team leading role on a long running project, and she confided that she felt she was being bullied and treated harshly by her project manager over the performance of her team. The Badger recounted the anecdote above, and recommended  that she consider possible parallels between the CEO and her PM. Last week she emailed to say that she’d upped her game, her dealings with the PM had improved, and that they weren’t a bully!

Yesterday the Badger and the young team leader met again for coffee. She was despondent. One of her team, a new University graduate, has complained to the HR function that she is bullying them. Shocked by the accusation, and concerned about HR’s involvement, she asked for some advice. The Badger told her not to become distracted, to let due process take its course, and to continue to demand high standards of performance from her team. She thanked the Badger for listening, and simply said ‘In the last two weeks I’ve learned that leaders aren’t snowflakes that melt away under pressure, that claiming something is true doesn’t make it true, and that you have to be tough, unemotional, and resilient to make things happen’. This young lady is learning fast from personal experience. She is developing the no-nonsense, resilient leadership attributes that our modern and rapidly changing world will always need.


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