Mastering Leadership Relationships

balancing rocks

People look to leaders when things aren’t working.

Not 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:

  1. Keep things simple.
  2. Tackle issues head on.
  3. Speak directly.
  4. Move quickly.
  5. Act decisively.

“… You may cross the line between not tolerating poor performance … and not tolerating mistakes…”

Tender leaders:

  1. Place people first.
  2. Set direction.
  3. Provide few guidelines.
  4. Leverage talent.
  5. 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?