A Tale of Two Polar Opposite Managerial Styles

UMBC President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski (photo: Bb World)

In 2010, I was remote director of marketing for iStrategy (now Blackboard Analytics) based in Maryland. The company hosted its first-ever iStrategy User Conference that year, hosted at Loyola University. It was a pleasure to meet so many smart, enthusiastic data warehousing customers I had been collaborating with on case studies and webinars, highlighted by a fantastic keynote presentation by UMBC President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski.

Flying into BWI that September and back home in October on AirTran (a nice airline that I miss, btw). I had happened to read the September and October issues of Go, AirTran’s surprisingly good in-flight magazine. I found it interesting that the business author profiled in each issue so thoroughly and diametrically opposed the other.

George Cloutier, the founder of American Management Services, with a long record of successful business turnarounds to his credit, is the author Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing, profiled in the Go September issue. Meanwhile, the October issue of Go profiles the book ESPN the Company: The Story and Lessons Behind the Most Fanatical Brand in Sports by longtime consultant to ESPN Anthony F. Smith (scroll about halfway down each of these links to read each book and author profile).

How is this for disagreement, not to mention two very different personal brands, as summarized by Go magazine:

On Leadership:

George Cloutier: I am Your Work God! You want your employees to do what you say, not what they think.

Anthony F. Smith: Avoid the myth of single-person leadership. “Leadership is really a shared phenomenon…(Each ESPN executive) needed to surround themselves with other effective people who could fill in areas where they were not as skilled.”

On Employees:

GC: “[Management experts say] ‘Work with everyone and be everyone’s best buddy.’  This is the opposite [of what you should do].”

AFS: Hire passionate employees. “Even if you manufacture cardboard boxes, [employees] should be fanatical about something, whether it be the job, the opportunities,…or that they have a great boss.”

On Mistakes:

GC: “Small businesses don’t have the time and resources to be particularly tolerant of mistakes and problems.”

AFS: Take risks and reward the effort. “If you say, ‘I want people to take risks,’ and then fire the guy if the outcome fails, it becomes clear how your organization really feels about risk.”

I will go out on a limb and predict most people (myself included) will side with Anthony F. Smith on this “point/counterpoint” with George Cloutier, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind: Describing himself as “the ultimate contrarian,” Cloutier no doubt is used to people disagreeing with him.

To be sure, there are turnaround situations in which new management has to aggressively and unceremoniously clean up the mess of past managerial incompetence or wrongdoing; perhaps even deliberate fraud. What is much harder, though, is to think of a company that has achieved long term, enduring success as a going concern following Cloutier’s advice.

And, considering this from a different angle: Would I really want to lead like this? I think I would rather strive to lead as a mensch.


4 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Polar Opposite Managerial Styles

  1. Would you want to work for George Cloutier ?
    Is this style of management needed when you have educated adult professionals working for you ?

  2. Stay away from the GC types if you want to grow your own talents and improve your problem solving skills.

    The best outcomes, in my 30+ years of experience since graduating from Bentley, are where manager and staff share risk and reward.

  3. Stephen Hinchey says:

    It all depends. Different styles at different times will work in different environments. I think the Steve Jobs of Apple is a fine example of Cloutier’s style of management. And lots of people, knowing Steve’s style, still want to work for Apple.

    I have asked a sub-head of a business unit to become a “benevolent dictator”. We were just having too many meetings revisiting items which had been resolved in previous meetings.

    That said, if a Cloutier type doesn’t have some other reason for people to work for him, he’s developing the latest greatest gadget, or his bonuses are top of the line, then people are going to leave and he will have difficulty recruiting replacements.

    Would I rather work for an Anthony Smith style organization, yes. But my only reason to stay with a company is because I believe that my input will be accepted.

  4. Excellent points all. Turnaround situations are a unique situation; arguably a turnaround expert is a bit like an ER doctor. The company is at risk of going under completely due to the past mismanagement or even outright fraud by previous executive leaders; Mr. Cloutier’s tactics may well be exactly what such a company needs to stabilize and recover.

    The issue, as suggested by how the AirTran magazine article’s portayal of Cloutier’s book, is the notion of trying to apply turnaround strategies for general management use of a company, which is a classic example of applying a square peg to a round hole.

    “Take no prisoners” tactics are also not the only way to succeed at a turnaround. I just read of a turnaround situation in which Leadership as a Mensch (see my earlier blog entry) proved very successful; specifically, Anne Mulcahy’s successful rescue of Xerox, as described by Michael Roberto in his thought-provoking book: Know What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen.
    More on that book soon.

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