Two years ago, Mo was hired to lead a team of scientists and researchers as a Director in a fast-growing medical device company in Philadelphia. He was excited about the opportunity but also a bit anxious: while he held a Ph.D. and had worked for ten years in various research and administrative roles, he had no formal management or leadership training.
In his first month in the new job, Mo spent the majority of his time observing and listening to his eleven team members. One of the most senior members of the team, Craig, had the title of Project Manager. It didn’t take a long time for the new Director to realize that Craig had a massive attitude and behavioral problem. While very intelligent, Craig was condescending towards his team members and he didn’t do nearly half of the work that he claimed that he did. It was clear that he thought he was better than everyone else and that the rules didn’t apply to him. Mo acted swiftly and decisively: he started collecting evidence on Craig’s behavior and within three months he went to make the case against him to his boss, the VP of Research. Mo saw Craig’s negative attitude and arrogance as a virus that could spread among the team and he wanted to prevent that from happening. The VP gave the green light and before the end of the week Craig was gone.
At the same time, Mo noticed that Gina, a hard-working middle-aged woman, was going through some hard time in her personal life. He took her to lunch one day to ask her what is going on. Holding back her tears, Gina shared that both of her elderly parents had Alzheimer’s disease and needed her constant attention. She drove an hour every day after work to go take care of them in addition to her one-hour commute to the office. Mo realized that if he didn’t do anything he was going to lose Gina very soon. Given the nature of her work, Gina didn’t need to be physically in the office every day. So he gave her permission to work from home three days a week, a practice permitted by the company but rarely put in place by his predecessor because “he worried that we wouldn’t do our work”, as Gina said. Mo understood that Gina was too valuable for the team, and that he needed to give her a break. She was a grown-up and she could be trusted to finish her work in her own time. As a result, Gina felt safe: her new boss got her back. And in return, she gave him 110%. With her much-improved schedule and her ability to spend more time with her parents, Gina’s work performance shot up. Every week when she was in the office, she would pass by Mo’s office to express her gratitude and loyalty. Before he asked her any questions about work-related issues, Mo would inquire: “How is Joe? How is Mary?” When she talked about how her parents were doing, he listened intently with compassion. He told her that his own parents lived overseas and he wished he could take care of them like she was taking care of hers.
Sandy, another one of his team members, had a different issue. She was a super-star but collaborative employee with huge leadership potential, but she had a confusing role and was underutilized. Mo made the case to promote Sandy for Craig’s vacant position: he wanted to give her more responsibility and a sizable salary increase, something that she hasn’t gotten since she started working at the company five years ago. When he went to her office to announce the decision, he clearly told her: “Sandy, I am counting on you and I am invested in your success. Your success is my success and the team’s success. So tell me what resources you need in order to perform.” Sandy thrived in her new role and exceeded all expectations. She did it because she wanted to succeed, but also because she couldn’t stand disappointing Mo- He had done so much for her and for her career.
Mo proceeded with the same style with his other team members: he identified talent and potential and spent time and energy to develop and grow it. But he held his team members accountable and he didn’t tolerate any negativity or cynicism. And his team paid him back through their work and results. When the FDA came for a surprise audit a year after he had started in the company, his team passed with flying colors. They outperformed most other teams and had a 100% engagement score.
“How do you describe your leadership style?” I asked Mo as we sat down to eat dinner in his new home town last week. He paused a bit and said: “I would say my leadership style is human. I like to take care of good people, give them what they need to succeed, and reward them with meaningful work and money. But I hold them accountable and I have zero-tolerance for arrogance. Since we have done so much, my team is growing and we have four vacancies. But I am taking my time filling them up because I don’t want people to be just smart or competent. I want them to be want to be part of the team and to collaborate with each other.” I queried him again: “How did you decide on this approach?” He said: “I didn’t decide on it, I just did what I thought was right for my people. It’s just common sense.”
Mo is an intuitively humbitious leader. Although he admitted that he hasn’t had the time to read my recent book “Intangibles” yet, he was already applying all the lessons from it: He was combining humility; compassion; kindness and generosity, with ambition; strength; accountability and competence to achieve high performance for himself, his team and his organization. It is just common sense. But it is uncommonly practiced.
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Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Please check out my new book “Intangibles: The Unexpected Traits of High-Performing Healthcare Leaders,”recently published by Health Administration Press.
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