Autocratic Leadership Style Squashes Team Motivation


Susan’s leadership team wasn’t taking initiative to solve important business problems. We helped her turn her team performance around 180 degrees by showing her that it was her aggressive and critical style that was shutting the team down.

The Challenge

Susan is an MD, and an MBA who was promoted to take over a growing division of about 80 people. After about 9 months, she asked us “My team is not stepping up to the plate. They are not generating any new ideas or taking proactive action to solve problems.” She was under pressure as the new leader to drive performance to the next level, but couldn’t. “Can you help figure out how to change this?”

Uncovering the true / Real Issues

Using our 5 step fail safe process (Light and Ignite) to interview her and her team, the source of the problem was very clear: her behavior. Without realizing it, Susan’s aggressive, winning focused approach had left her team reluctant to contribute. They felt insulted and micromanaged and had no interest in playing her game. They weren’t stepping up and getting involved because they didn’t want to be attacked.

Then, in a roundtable, we shared the results to her team. As we delivered the results, Susan gave a heartfelt apology. She explained to her team how much she cared about them and their success and asked for their help in changing. They explained their point of view. At last, a dialogue.

The Turning Point

That was the turning point. The team and their leader were transformed. That dialogue during the roundtable set the tone for Susan to pull back and her team to step up. Yes there was more work ahead about improving the decision making process, communicating better, and making meetings more productive. But the new culture was set. Susan put it this way: “Lawrence helped me understand what my executive team needed from me, and how I could adapt my interactions to be more in-line with how each individual wanted to be treated. My style tends to be blunt, logic-based, immediately assertive/amenable/critical, and I don’t account for people’s feelings as much as I should. Lawrence facilitated discussions and exercises that helped me understand that people really needed me to be more patient and give their ideas more space and helped my team understand that I needed them to take more accountability for the success of overall organization as opposed to their individual silos.”

The Result

She continued, “Lawrence got us quickly to the ‘real issues’ and helped us work out a plan that would ensure a much more successful and enjoyable path forward. It helped improve morale, strengthened our ability to execute on our mission, and improved our internal communications and problem-solving processes.”

The Lesson Learned

Innovation isn’t about creativity. New ideas and problem solving come when there is a trusting atmosphere in a team. Innovation is, in fact, a culture driven by the leader – their behavior towards their team’s input drives the trust level which drives contributions and new ideas. And the best way to create this trust is to give it. In Susan’s case it meant opening up and sharing her true feelings about the situation which then enabled the rest of the team to do the same. This provided the foundation of trust for the team to innovate and take action.

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