Mastering Leadership Relationships
People look to leaders when things aren’t working.
In less than three years, nearly 300 of Campbell Soup Company’s 350 global leaders had either left on their own or were asked to leave. What kind of CEO leads a blood-bath like that?
You might picture a Genghis Khan character with blood dripping from his sword. But Doug Conant – quiet introvert – is the CEO who turned Campbell Soup Company around.
During one of our conversations, Doug told me, “Successful leaders are tough on issues and tender with people.” Every leader defaults to one.
“If you are out of balance, the solution is not to lower the volume where you are strong but to dial up in the area where you are less comfortable or feel less capable.” Doug Conant in “TouchPoints.”
Leaders who master the tension between tough and tender, master leadership relationships.
Doug explains that tough leaders:
- Keep things simple.
- Tackle issues head on.
- Speak directly.
- Move quickly.
- Act decisively.
“… You may cross the line between not tolerating poor performance … and not tolerating mistakes…”
- Place people first.
- Set direction.
- Provide few guidelines.
- Leverage talent.
- Get out of the way.
“… You may forget that it is more important to be trusted (which sometimes involves making tough calls) than to be liked.
Doug’s TouchPoint leadership model is both tough and tender. Every interaction provides opportunity to move agendas forward through relational contact. Interruptions aren’t frustrations. Doug believes, “The action is the interaction.”
A favorite Conant quote:
“You don’t have to go all the way to bright – just make it better today.”
How can leaders navigate tensions between tough and tender?
“Tough on issues and tender on people” is key component of effective leadership. I appreciate and agree with it. And making alignment between them is an art. Leaders need to focus on “tender” first and “toughness” second. Since people come first and issues later, so it is important for leaders to understand the effect of tender on issues. However, organizations that focus more on performance generally, are tough and perhaps not tender. Since they believe only in performance, they practices being tough because they get performance out of this behaviour. They realize the declining performance later and other issues when credibility, attrition, absenteeism become dominant. Then they realize the power of tender, but by the time, the damage has been done.
Effective leaders are people leaders. They are aware about the psychological and emotional needs of people. They know that by connecting with emotions and needs, they can achieve remarkable milestones. I think, to master relationship, leaders have to master emotional intelligence. They should understand and control their emotion first and then realize others as well.
Thank you Ajay.
Adding the priority of relationship building is a powerful point of clarity. As Jeremie Kubicek says, “Relationship before Opportunity.”
Great Post again Dan or should I say Danny???? hehe
Very tough, very, very tough.
It is so easy to talk about how things are going great but how to decipher when things are not, how to address it. YUCK! Unpleasent!
I am a work in progress in this area and humble enough to admit it.
Does that still make me humble???? Ooppssss!
I hate addressing tough issues with others but do not mind if they address them with me,
I WANT the tough stuff thrown my way.
My Momma taught me that, whatever it is lets get it out in the open and deal with it. If we hold any of it back we cannot really deal with the issue effectively.
I find most times the fear surrounding issues is much greater than the real issue itself. Most of what I have almost gotten panic attacks from NEVER HAPPENED, or not like I imagined.
Anyway, great post, will help me and THANK YOU!
Thank you Scottie.
When I went off to college I thought I had to be a man so I introduced myself as Dan. Now, all these years later, Danny sounds just fine! 🙂
Your momma was a smart cookie!
That made me laugh out loud!!!
Laughter is so great!!!!!
Thanks Dan!!! Ps momma phd and Mensa member so you are correct
What a challenge! Leaders who master this balance have teams that are engaged and effective. Great insight, Dan. I appreciate you sharing these thoughts and adding your own.
Thank you Justin.
Doug is one of my favorite leaders. He definitely practices what he preaches.
Thanks Dan! Again another great post and a very valid point that it’s more important to be trusted than liked. Keep them coming!!
All the best
Thank you Killian.
We’re stuck without trust. 🙂
We, as leaders, navigate between tough and tender with tact. At first, I found this post extraordinary. I still do. But when I asked myself why? Because it’s poignant. The organization I currently lead required a major overhaul when I came on board six years ago. The first several years required a lot of toughness. The last several have been able to expose my tenderness.
In leadership, there is no “one size fits all” approach. We have to evolve to meet the circumstances. I love the journey.
Thank you for keeping me sharp, focused, and accountable with your posts.
Thank you Keegan.
I appreciate your affirmations and the addition of situational component of tough and tender. Decisions to be tough or tender include:
The nature of the relationship
Depth of the relationship
Current state of those involved. Never be tough when you’re emotionally distraught. Toughness requires control as well as condor.
I find it is a great test of balance is that as a leader you will sometimes feel you spend plenty of time trying to get your employees to listen. Then, when they face a crisis they turn to you and say “now what are we going to do?” That’s when you will really find out if you have the tough / tender balance right and can focus on the tasks while caring for and about your people..
Your blog is “Freaky” good and thought provoking. I always look forward to it and link to it often via LinkedIn. Thank you!
Thank you for a freaky good contribution!
Consideration of the context is huge. I’ve started including discussions about our default responses when we are under pressure with coaching clients. Those who lean toward tough find it challenging to imagine other responses. Same for those who lean toward tender.
Ajay is right–the research shows clearly that a key differentiator at senior leadership levels is the capacity for building and maintaining relationships … AND balancing the dynamic tension described here is key.
Most (but not all) senior folks are promoted for their “tough” execution/operations skills then arrive at the top with the splash of cold water in their face that they suddenly need to accomplish their work through other people (relationship) not just by their own brut strength plus they must now attend to strategic issues rather than just operational. Versatility is the name of the game, at that level especially.
I would amend Conant’s quote to “When you’re out of balance, the solution MAY not be to lower the volume where you are strong…” In my practice I see a whole lot of leaders who do, in fact, overuse their strengths–you really can have too much of a good thing. Often it’s a safety blanket of sorts–“when all else fails, I go with what I know” and stems from, ironically, a lack of recognition of their own strength. “I’m not confident I’m the smartest one in the room so I’ll keep showing them over and over and over and …” Sometimes it shows up as impatience–“I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I get this already, what’s taking them so long? C’MON!!” when in fact they ARE the sharpest knife in the drawer and a little understanding of self and understanding of others goes a long way.
When good leaders get clarity about their own strengths and embrace them (that’s key), the energy they release from “proving” behaviors can be redeployed, as Conant suggests, to addressing gaps and underutilized skills.
It’s much easier to dial up a weakness when we feel sure and confident about our strengths.
Thank you Sarah.
What an insightful contribution. I particularly enjoy the “over use their strength” idea. When under pressure we default to what worked…. Thanks for jumping in.
In the 20th century we all thought that treating people as valued employees with a “one-size-fits-all” approach was enough. The mantra was “business is everything.”
In the 21st century we now know that we have to treat people as valued humans first (then valued employees) with a “one-size-fits-one” approach. The mantra is “life is everything.”
Being “tender” creates the context. Being “tough” creates the tactics. That’s how you achieve balance.
Thank you mwayland.
I’m hearing the “valued human” mantra from many places these days. Many of the most respected business thinkers are preaching it. I wonder how long before organizational leaders get it and understand how it works.
If you review CSC stock performance during Conant’s tenure I wouldn’t exactly consider that a turn-around. I was there during the 90’s when the company’s only hope for stock value was reducing bottom line expenses most of which was obtained via staff reduction. This led to a toxic corporate culture. I left of my own accord prior to Doug becoming CEO. It is my understanding that he was a much gentler leader. But to state that his ‘tough and tender’ style was the reason for the exodus is a leap best left to quantum physics. What % of those departed left because their ability to maintain past income levels was in jeopardy? What % left because of the imminent or changed culture shift was not consistent with their leadership style? What % left just because? What % left because CSC was divesting businesses and brands? There is more to this story than one person’s leadership style, which in Conant’s case is suspect in many leadership circles.
Thank you Steve.
I probably left the wrong impression re: the reason for the exodus at Campbell’s.
There were many reasons why global leaders left. Some retired, for example.
The other thing you suggest is that the “hero CEO” is an over-statement. I couldn’t agree more.
My experience with Doug is that he definitely is kind, gentle, and soft spoken. He reminds me of Jimmy Stewart, one of the most likable people you could meet.
Having said all that, Something stopped the downward plunge of Campbell’s and I’m pretty confident that Doug was an important part.
Thanks again. I always enjoy heartfelt contributions.
I find myself defaulting on the tough side – I want to tackle things before they get too far sideways, and sometimes I forget to be tender in the process.
Great post, Dan – thanks for the reminder!
Thank you Dale.
Your toughness is probably a big part of your success. Reminds me of Goldsmith’s statement… what got you here won’t get you there.
GROWING INTO LEADERSHIP…..
“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out”. Proverbs18:15
In oorder to lead people, you must first understand them.You must have insight into their human heart and relate to them.Sensitivity toward the hopes and dreams of people is essential for connecting with people and motivating them.
Furthermore,Listening can keep problems from escalating.Good leaders are attentive to small issues.They pay attention to their intuition. Not only do they listen to whats being said ,they also hear what’s not being said
Good leaders are secure enough to ask for honest feedback, and not to become defensive when they recieve it.
Communication is vital, and listening is a vital part of communicating with people .Listening establishes trust, trust in the leader and trust in what he says.
The biggest mistake anyone can make in trying to talk convincingly is to put their highest priority in expressing their own ideas and feelings.What people reall want is to be Listened to, Respected, and Undersatood.The moment they are,they become more motivated to understand your point of view..
As a leader; Listen…, Respect,…and Understand your people
Dan Great post! Thank you for sharing!
Thanks Sgjames. it’s a pleasure to be of service.