Blog Home /

COO : The Leadership Difference

The Chief Operating Officer of a large, global, highly engineered manufacturing company, who had 25 years of experience in the business, made the following observation last September when talking to the upper level management team:

“We have over 100 years of engineering knowledge in our processes and products. We have had SOPs, high quality measurements, every possible metric that could be applied has been tested and examined. We applied all this knowledge, expertise, and highly touted expertise and produced mediocre products and services, had low morale among employees, and were in constant crisis mode, and sought to fix all this with more engineering. It is only when leaders have come on the scene that all of this know-how, using the same SOPs, same metrics, and same expertise that we produced world-class products that the world can’t get enough of. The difference has been the arrival of leaders who know how to inspire, engage, and align this engineering knowledge. The engineering hasn’t changed but the effectiveness of what we do has due to inspiring, patient, mindful leadership. And each of you are capable of learning to be that kind of leader, which we need more of.”

It was a truth so simple that no one in the room could challenge his supposition. All of these managers had decades of service in the business and they knew that their engineering was superb and their metrics for quality unmatched in their industry. And they had seen times when all of this expertise yielded near bankruptcy and how building a leadership bench had changed the fortunes of everyone in the room.

Being Present

So just what did the COO mean when he said, “when leaders have come on the scene” and when he said, “each of you are capable…”? He shared examples of what he meant by leaders who were present and what they did to create alignment, and facilitate commitment among those whom the leader served. And he made a mantra of saying throughout his talk that the behaviors he described were learnable by everyone in the room.

The behaviors he mentioned the most were:

  • persistently being a generous listener
  • actively asking how to be of service to each member of the team
  • being open to discussing issues and facilitating a problem solving orientation
  • honoring commitments on everything from starting meetings on time to closing the loop on messages
  • demonstrating optimism and confidence in the team and what they can achieve

How many studies do we need to prove his point? HBR is consistently outlining evidence that interpersonal skillfulness, along with business acumen, are the magic sauce of effectiveness in a management role. Consider recent studies which identified how leader and manager interpersonal warm had a significant affect on employee discretionary effort at work.

Motive Makes Mindset

It if was easy to develop and demonstrate these behaviors, everyone would be doing it. Managers have to have a mindset that these behaviors matter or else there is no motive to learn. There has to be a desire to learn how to behave that may be different from current style that is employed. For example, the manager who is constantly critical and critiquing in the belief that he or she is being paid to “get it right” then such a perspective is unlikely to be open to change. A manager has to be willing to understand that behaviors impact the world around him or her and only through feedback can he or she get a sense of how behavior is perceived by others. And once there are targeted behaviors to adjust or modify, the hard work of learning just how to effectively demonstrate the behavior takes time and effort to integrate.

Turn Knowing into Doing

The Matrix Insights discovery, application, and development platform provides the learning pathway personalized for each person. A manager can quickly learn how his or her interaction style tends to impact efforts to influence others and what steps may be necessary to adjust to reach more people. Through specific action learning tips a manager can quickly go from operating in the dark about how his or her style affects others to being more agile in interpersonal style.

Our passion at Matrix Insights is to help leaders grow and learn so they can use the expertise around them to achieve personal and organizational goals. A learning journey begins with a desire to understand and to maximize the resources that are available. With the Matrix Insights development platform, a manager has access to knowledge with the click of the mouse.

Note: I much prefer to use the exact names of individuals and companies when sharing stories. However, when these are omitted it is because I have been tied to contractual obligations to not mention who said what, when, and where, and in which company. Companies want to control how their brand is used and what to approve of any reference that is used by suppliers of services.