We think: This doesn’t apply to me. So, (first) let me talk about who it does apply to; namely, Lee Iacocca, at least according to Steve Miller, a former Chrysler exec who went on to become CEO of Delphi. Miller writes in his autobiography that Iacocca did great things to rescue Chrylser, but says that later in Lee’s career, as he grew bigger than life, he also shrank into pettiness. Miller and Bob Lutz were being talked about as potential successors to Iacocca and with a photo-story of the two in Forbes magazine, they fueled that talk. According to Miller, Lee “was furious.”
In, The Turnaround Kid: What I Learned Rescuing America’s Most Troubled Companies, Miller goes on to describe what he thought was going on: “I was added to his unofficial enemies list…It happens all the time. Rulers can’t seem to resist the urge to destroy potential successors. It’s almost an unconscious thing, based on some primal instinct for dominance and survival.” Some other words for this “primal instinct” are: ridiculous, outrageous, and more important, counter-productive. Why would a guy as big as Iacocca be threatened by other leaders whose efforts – and yes, even their ambition – could bring good things to a company that needed all the help it could get?
With Iacocca still in my head, I did my show Saturday on an idea-movement called ROWE – for Results Only Work Environment. Jodi Thompson, the co-founder argues in her book that work really sucks when you’re treated like a kid, essentially told when to eat, how to do your homework, and when to go to bed. A caller named Margaret articulately described her twenty-five experience with her employer, and complained about managers who were not leaders, people who stifled creativity and imagination and fixated on controlling people’s time, scope, and access to information. I thought Margaret was so good that I treated her like I would an expert and asked her: “If you could tell these managers one thing that might help them to see, what would you tell them?”
She said she’d tell them that leaders aren’t threatened by talent, but instead they love to have their people shine. Iacocaa didn’t like his guys “shining” in a photo in a Viper. And Margaret ran into managers who’d harass her about being five minutes late; meanwhile they didn’t see her as the adult she was – happy to work until seven, or work at home, to make the project shine. I titled this “this probably doesn’t apply to you,” because Iacocca would say “B.S., I hired great talent and set them free,” and so we, too, would deny we hold people down. But then why are there so many times when people feel belittled, controlled, and micromanaged?
Maybe we need to take a second look at the degree to which we really treat our people like adults, and hope they will shine, even to one day take our jobs. We’ve got to get big and get small – in the right ways,
To lead with your best self,