Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Leadership: Preach or Teach?

Les M. Goldberg gave me his book, Don’t Take No for an Answer: Anything is Possible, and I opened it up randomly and this is what popped up:

“You can’t intimidate people into excelling.” I am quoting him here because I have been thinking about leadership, management, and the relationship of employer to employee, and Les’ words capture so much about what I am thinking.

In reading on, Les says: “ It’s not unusual for employees to be intimidated by the company’s founder or senior management. I don’t feel I’m an intimidating person, but when it was brought to my attention that sometimes I appear that way, I began making a conscious effort to change that perception. People who are intimidated will not perform at their highest level. Intimidation is not a good motivational tool. Certainly managers must maintain their authority but it doesn’t need to be done through fear. Respect is woven through our core values because it creates an atmosphere where people can and will excel.”

And all of that wisdom  wrapped around me from just one page! I cannot even imagine what I’m going to learn as I read more pages.  For now, though, (and thank you, Les) let’s just stick to this one topic. In it, Les talks about not only management but leadership. To me, leadership is defined as leading by example. And that means never asking someone to do what you are not willing to do yourself. (Unless of course you are talking about computer skills, and I will confess I’m usually always asking for help in that realm).

The other night we had to get a major proposal out, and my team could have run with the information they had and finished it… by themselves. I didn’t leave them until it was finished. Why? Because to me it wouldn’t be fair to expect them to stay late, give up their time, and work late into the night if I was not also willing to do so and be a support to them.

As an event management agency, we work long and late hours when producing events. I am there for set up, and I am there for load out. I don’t leave when the fun part is over. I hope that illustrates that I am not only a boss but am always there in case I am needed. I will sweep floors, bus dining tables, and do anything necessary on site. I want to lead by example.Does that sound a bit too “oh, admire me, I’m wonderful?” I hope not, because I’m just trying to make a point. I’m supportive. But does that mean that I am also a good manager and good leader? What do I expect of myself in those areas? I think if I am good at anything it is listening. This is key to being a successful manager/leader. It’s not just about what I want, and what I have to say. It’s not about preaching. It’s about guiding and teaching. So let me use an example in the world of event planning.

My team is young, and they will make some mistakes. A long time ago I walked into a room that had been set up by a young producer, and I knew that it was “wrong.” Instead of being critical and saying, “This is wrong and here’s how to fix it,” I asked her to walk the space with me from the guest’s point of view from entry to departure and see how the experience felt. What were the sightlines? What were the access points to bars and buffets?  Would guests be able to flow well throughout the room? You know the drill. 

I knew how to fix all the problems and could have changed everything quickly. But it would not have taught her anything. I would have missed a “teachable moment.” I let her discover how to improve the room layout by herself and merely guided her into the solutions.

If I’m understanding Les’ point, I believe that “lecturing” is intimidating. “Discussing” is not. It’s much like a parental role where parents guide their children through life; they don’t intimidate them by telling them what to do and how to do it and never let them make their own mistakes. They help them grow up.

As employers, aka “bosses,” I think that a parental and non-judgmental role is key to successful management. What do you think?

Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning international event agency based in Los Angeles. Andrea is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life and an in-demand speaker and leading voice in the special events industry. She may be reached via

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