Warm and fuzzy are not words most employees at Oracle would use to describe founder Larry Ellison. But despite our current preference for humane, approachable bosses, Ellison’s aggressive, sharp-minded leadership style helped him build a Silicon Valley giant.
Liz Wiseman worked for Oracle for 17 years, and describes her experience with Ellison as “extremely positive.” The president of The Wiseman Group and author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter says the Oracle founder helped inform her theory of leadership. Wiseman’s book posits that there are two kinds of leaders: multipliers, who inspire their teams to become greater than the sum of their parts; and diminishers, who fail to capitalize on their teams’ talents.
Ellison was a great multiplier for Wiseman not in spite of his toughness, but because of it. Wiseman recently spoke with Canadian Business‘ James Cowan about why great bosses don’t need to be loved (but often are anyway). Here are five key takeaways from their conversation that can help you lead your employees better.
Nice means nothing
Business need not be absolutely cut-throat, but there’s no particular advantage to being sugary sweet at the office either. Wiseman says that when she makes presentation, at least half of her audience can usually recall a manager who’s niceness made them a diminisher. “A lot of really nice people don’t make good leaders because they don’t ask people to do hard things, and they don’t hold them accountable,” she says. “I don’t think being nice correlates with good leadership.”
Don’t be too supportive
The multipliers Wiseman studied got out of the way and let their employees get on with it. “They weren’t the kind of leaders who would come up and put their arm around me and say, Oh well, Liz, we just appreciate you,'” she says. “They were leaders who asked me to do really hard things and then stepped back and let me struggle a little bit. They were demanding and intolerant of mediocrity.”
Remove obstacles, stat
You can’t afford to be sentimental if your goal is to get the best out of your team. That means making tough decisions about who gets to stay and who has to go. But Wiseman says the people whom multipliers remove first are not below-average performers. Dead-weight team members should be put in an environment where they can thrive, not thrown overboard.
Multipliers, however, do act swiftly against blockers. “So let’s say we have a team of 10 people, and there’s someone on the team who’s a bit of a prima donna—multipliers are really fast to take them out because they’re suppressing everyone else,” says Wiseman. “Those people are far more damaging than someone who’s not carrying their weight.”
Have the final word
Every leader must delegate from time to time, but on important matters you should be the one making the final call. “We found that multiplier leaders tend to play the role of debate maker, but that doesn’t mean they’ve surrendered decision-making rights,” says Wiseman.
Multipliers will encourage everyone on the team to share their opinions, make their best case, and fight it out among themselves. Then they’ll take all that’s been said into consideration, and determine what’s to be done. It’s a form of consensus-based decision-making—but one in which the leader has a bigger vote than everyone else put together.
Be loved, not feared
It is of course possible to overdo the decisiveness and results-oriented management. The key is to lead in a way that inspires your team to be better, not crushes their spirit and makes them want to quit immediately.
Pull of that balance, says Wiseman, and you won’t have to worry about making your employees like you. “When I looked at how people talked about their multiplier leaders, not all of them were nice people, but all of them were loved,” she says.
Remember, your employees are probably just as motivated to succeed as you are. Give them the tools and the chance to do that, and they’ll respond with hard work and gratitude. “[Multipliers are loved] because they give you an opportunity,” explains Wiseman. “They invite you into this growth space and bring out your best, and we love the people who bring out our best.”
MORE PRODUCTIVE LEADERSHIP STRATEGIES:
- Why Difficult Bosses Make Their Employees Better »
- The 4 Things Great Bosses Do »
- Your Leadership Archetype—And How It Could Hurt You »
- The First Thing Every New Boss Needs to Do »
- How to Speak Like a Leader »
Do you agree? Can tough leaders be loved? Share your thoughts and experiences using the comments section below.