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:
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.”
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.”
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.