Imagine you're heading up a team stationed in Antarctica. And your relationship with some of the crew members goes sour. There's nobody else to enforce your authority. In fact, there's no one for hundreds — if not thousands — of miles. And you can't fire anyone. Everyone has a critical role. How do you even punish them? How can you take things away in a situation where everyone only has the minimum amenities to begin with? And there's no one to get much advice or counsel from.
Do you take a stereotypical military perspective and crack the whip? Apply the pirate model and have someone walk the plank? Research has been done on the subject — and the tough guy stuff wasn't effective. What worked? Being democratic and listening. In the harshest conditions you need the softest touch.
Now even the extraordinary leaders didn't just play mom toward the team.
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Good leaders were still aggressive, industrious and emotionally disciplined — but they were focused on group harmony.
Crew members didn't expect a leader to be a superman who had all the answers — in fact, that was a bad sign. When there was a technical problem they wanted the expert in that area to make the decision. They wanted policy decisions to be made by the leader — but only after input from the group. And the only time they really wanted a take-charge, decisive dictator was in times of crisis.
So in the toughest place in the world, tough leadership didn't work. It was those who listened and collaborated who thrived.
You don't lead a group in the Antarctic, you say? I think we all do now.
The autocratic, military style doesn't work in the modern office either.
What's most people's biggest problem in the workplace? Hands down — their boss.
And bad employee-boss relationships have negative effects on the whole company. People who hate their boss take more sick days, do less work, and are more likely to quit.
Even extraordinary leaders must learn the best ways to fight their number one enemy: hubris. The military style dictator attitude won't fly anymore. In fact, that style probably never even worked that well in the military. Research shows the best Navy leaders have been supportive, not harsh.
So even the toughest guys know that being tough isn't always what gets results.
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