John Mann // What Flavor of Leader Are You?

March 28, 2019

John Mann is an Executive Faculty in Residence in the Economic and Business Department at Colorado College and is faculty advisor to our Alita Augmented Reality Team.

Like ice cream, leadership comes in many flavors.  There is no one best leadership flavor, just like there is no one best flavor of ice cream.  There is variety due personalities, interests, backgrounds and preferences.  No need for Pistachio Gelato to try to be Cherry Garcia.  But there are some fundamental qualities of great leaders.

The best leaders I’ve known stay connected across their organizations.  They see their role more as serving those who report to them, rather than the reverse.  You can find them out in the trenches more often than holed up in their corner offices.  They know the night janitor’s name.

Great leaders take joy in elevating everyone around them, recognizing that life is not a zero-sum game.

Great leaders lead by example, and know character counts.  They don’t just talk about transparency, integrity, drive, and valuing people.  They live these traits, and consequently don’t have to talk about them because people see those traits in their everyday actions.

Great leaders recognize they don’t need to be the smartest person in the room.  They value surrounding themselves with people who challenge them, and create a culture of candid, productive deliberation.  They listen a lot more than they direct.

And great leaders provide clear, challenging visions.  They create a sense of purpose that excites people to contribute their creativity and energy towards something challenging of great value.

One of the best leaders I’ve known was a general manager at Procter & Gamble.  I was newly assigned to the restaurant and office side of the Folgers coffee business.  The general manager called the entire management team to a conference room at headquarters.  It was highly unusual for that culture to have every manager from the brand, sales, finance, product development (my role), and even key managers from the coffee roasting plants, in the same room.  The meeting took 15 minutes. The general manager thanked us all for attending, and then went directly into a business review.

After the quick (and bleak) review, the general manager told us three things:

  1. The coffee business would be shut down in 18 months unless the team around the table can come up with a plan and return the business to growth before then.
  2. If the coffee business shuts down, we’ll all be looking for jobs, including me.
  3. We will only achieve success if we work together in a new way.  I trust you to develop a successful plan.  My door is open for whatever advice and support you need.  Keep me updated.

As he walked out of the room, he turned to say, “I suggest you keep meeting often like this as a whole team.”

After a long pause, those of us around the table quickly began to collaborate for collective success, breaking down the traditional barriers between our siloed functions.  We started to become a team.

And 18 months later, we were in business and growing nicely.

What flavor of leader are you?