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Tale of Two Leaders - UPDATED

Leadership, when done successfully, is simple.  Don't confuse simple with quick or easy.  It is hard to be simple.  This is a true story that took place, in a previous life.  Two leaders with different approaches assigned to tackle similar business issues.  One succeeds, One doesn't. To protect the innocent, and myself (in case they read this!), I'll change all names and specific company references.  We'll call these leaders, unisex names, Pat & Sam. 

The Backstory

Sales had been stagnant in a division of the company for some time.   The board felt confident that retooling the strategy, with a newly appointed leader, was just what the division needed.  Two leaders, from the outside, were brought in to do just that.  Both candidates had all the traits commonly associated with leadership.  They were high spirited, energetic, intelligent, charming, and extremely motivating.  In addition, they had a string of accomplishments, were known as great communicators and both had an inspiring presence.  Yet, their stories are very different.


True to previously stated energetic nature, Pat came in strong and very quickly made some bold moves.  Within weeks, Pat communicated a commitment to the board -- an increase over last year's sales by 40%.  Continuing this pace, bringing in 2 previous co-workers to head up technology, and project oversight.  Pat worked day and night to turn this division around, literally turning the lights on and off each day, while packaging a stream of ongoing communication for the board.  To make promised reality, Pat:

  • Delegated complete responsibility of implementation to the head of project oversight
  • Supported project oversight in re-staffing the department , shoring up for success
  • Backed the head of technology's recommendation for a complete over hall to the system infrastructure, a key to the turnaround
  • Held town hall meetings to keep employee teams informed
  • Clearly communicated every success along the way


By comparison, Sam's moves were not bold.  They were studied.  Starting with how to reposition the division -- by looking across the other divisions and well as deep within the division.  Then looking at the industry's environment to get a sense of its fluidity.  Sam met regularly with the existing leadership team to understand their skills, how they communicated with each other, how they synchronized their touch points and overlap.   Then after a few months passed, Sam went to the board with a recommendation.  The recommendation was risky.  It was a fundamental shift in the division's strategy.  It was a game changer.  To accomplish this, Sam:

  • Chose the head of project oversight from the existing team
  • Determined the technology , although old, was sufficient - with some modifications
  • Outsourced a key manufacturing component to a sister division who had state of the art expertise
  • Held town halls to keep the employees informed
  • Clearly communicated every step along the way

I could write a novel on these two individuals, as they have as many stories as they do smarts.  However, in the interest of brevity, clearly neither strategy is crazy.  Both have merit.  The two individuals have very similar backgrounds in terms of education, and are one year apart in age.  But, as stated in the beginning, one of the leaders was very successful and one was not.  
Do you know who and why?  Comment below, what you think.

To find out what really happened, check the Tale of Two Leaders Update

Is this helpful? Please let us know in the comments your thoughts on this as well as other ways we can help you with your career and training.

The author, Diahann Boock, is the founder of Women's Ally. For information about working with Diahann, check out our Programs.

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