Dealing with a Dinosaur

Photo by Umanoide on Unsplash

It is said that dinosaurs went extinct about sixty-six million years ago. Truth of the matter is no one really knows why. Some scientists say climate change did them in. While others say a giant asteroid took them out. I am not here to argue the various scientific theories of the extinction of the dinosaurs. I am here to discuss a different kind of dinosaur—a corporate one. The dinosaur known as command and control leadership. Bear with me, while I take you on my journey to deal with the dinosaur in myself.

When I was a young Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the United States Marine Corps, I was taught that, first and foremost, a leader must possess the ability to influence people in order to accomplish the mission. Whining was not tolerated. Our job as NCO’s was to get the mission accomplished, no matter what. My Senior NCO’s used and taught me the concept of “shut up and just do what the f@#k I told you.” This worked most of the time, at least until the first shot was fired and all hell broke out. We never really questioned our leaders. Why would we? This type of command and control management style was pervasive not just in the military but also in corporations throughout the US and other countries. No question about it, command and control leadership reigned supreme.

That was in the seventies. Now, fast forward to 2019. Today’s employees will not usually tolerate command and control leadership, micro-management, and rigid hierarchies. They are more than willing to leave companies that do not honor their individuality and allow them to grow and evolve in a culturally diverse environment. While I am not trying to homogenize today’s workforce, it must be noted that Millennials and Gen Z-er’s, want leaders that value them and their unique skillsets. They want honest leaders that they can look up to. Leaders who are not just in it to win it, but who are in it to help them to grow and to evolve into their best possible selves. While career development is important to them, they also want their personal lives and work lives to be balanced.

Work-life integration ranks high on the list of things this new work force wants from their employers, as does the desire to be coached. Forward thinking organizations have come to realize how valuable coaching can be in handling even the most diverse management challenges and have added “the ability to coach and develop others” to the skill sets they require of their managers. Dinosaurs take heed. Your extinction really is around the next corner.

Back in the nineties, I never considered myself to be a dinosaur. I didn’t have to. The dinosaurs roamed the corporate landscape freely. I was at home with them. We were mano-a-mano. After spending over twenty years in the military, serving in many different leadership positions, and retiring as a First Sergeant (E-8), I thought I knew how to be a great leader. After all, I was trained by some of the best. Soon after I took my uniform off, I started working as a Programmer Trainee and quickly worked my way up to Development Team Leader. I led my development team the same way I had led my company in the military. I set tough goals and objectives. I did not tolerate failure, and I expected everything to be done correct the first time with no excuses. Needless to say, while my team excelled in the eyes of our customer, they were extremely unhappy; and, go figure, my attrition rates were 50%.  Of course, when questioned about the extremely high attrition rates I explained that those who could not meet my standards were, to put it simply, “dirt bags” that didn’t like hard honest work.

My leaders accepted my explanation—as any good command and control leaders would—and did nothing. To be honest, they were thrilled. Our clients loved the quality of the product and kept renewing their contracts. As a reward, I kept getting promotions and big pay raises.  Eventually, all of this backfired on me. My best developers were so overworked that even the big raises and bonuses they received could not make them stay. Not able to understand why this was happening, I decided to quit. Rather than recognize the problem was me, I moved on and decided that civilians just could not handle my type of leadership.

Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for me to pull my head out of the sand and figure out the truth. I was the problem. This awakening led me to devote myself to learning what makes a leader great. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. This knowledge somehow seeped down from my brain and lodged in my heart. I began to embrace a new role of leadership—that of the servant leader. I slowly, but surely, let go of my command and control mindset and began to work my way back into technical leadership roles.

I am not going to lie to you. The journey has not been an easy one. I have been, to put it mildly, tried by fire—that said, it has been a fire of my own making. And I cannot even count the number of times that I have had to raise myself up from the ashes, likewise, on a pyre of my own making—each time, thankfully, shedding my old outdated perspectives. I did not change overnight—in fact, I am still in the process of changing. Transformation is very rarely a linear process, and it is seldom an easy process. But it is always a worthwhile process. Hence, my company’s name, @Phoenix Rising Trans4mation.

The best journeys are the most difficult—for that is when you truly learn the lessons you were meant to learn. One of my toughest lessons, for instance, is that sometimes it’s more about the delivery than the message. Trust me, this is still a lesson I am working on.

As an Agile Coach, I have spent years talking about and teaching people about integrity, honesty, openness, and courage. How could I live with myself if I did not demonstrate and embody the same values that I espoused? So that’s exactly what I did; the only problem was that I did it like a Marine Corps Drill Sergeant. I was in people’s faces, constantly reminding them of how their actions violated the very values they were supposed to embody. It took me some time, but I finally came to realize that while I did need to stand in my values, I also needed to learn how to do so in a manner in which people might actually want to hear what I was saying. As Brené Brown says in dare to lead, “Honesty is the best policy, but honesty that’s motivated by shame, anger, fear, or hurt is not ‘honesty’.  It’s shame, anger, fear, or hurt disguised as honesty” (163).

Again, in dare to lead, Brown states, “Who we are is how we lead” (11). I found this to be so true when I began my transformation from dinosaur to true servant leader. As I changed, all parts of my life changed. My days of barking orders and making demands were over. I started to listen—not tell. I finally realized that while I needed to stay grounded in my values, I also needed to be aware of the difference in how I respond and how I react. I became aware of the times when I reacted emotionally and did not respond with self-awareness. When I was a dinosaur, I saw this type of emotional reaction as being passionate about my beliefs and values. As I have grown as a leader, I have become more self-aware and mindful of my emotions and how they determine my responses. Mind you, I still stand firm in my values; but now I try to step back, take a deep breath, and evaluate the situation—all the while considering how I should respond. Again, this did not happen overnight. It was part of my transformation process—again, a process that is ongoing.

Old habits do die hard. I am not going to lie, there are times, far fewer than before, when I find myself drifting back into the old command and control mindset—normally this only happens when I am dealing with leaders who are not living up to their calling. Thankfully, my recovery time is quick. When I start to feel the rumblings of that old dinosaur, I remind myself how true servant leaders act. I believe that being a leader is a calling. It’s not for everyone. And, in many cases, it does not come naturally. It has to be learned. This is why I have devoted so much time and money to learn how to be a good leader. I was a dinosaur once, so I know how they act. I also know that true leaders do not use fear, intimidation, and veiled threats to get employees to do what they want them to do, nor do they use rules, policies, and statistics to control every aspect of an employee’s work life. “We desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from fear” (Brown 4).

For me, personally, courage and integrity are the most important character traits a leader can possess. This is why my company’s motto is Fortitudo (Courage) and Integritas (Integrity). A leader needs courage to do what needs to be done—no matter what the cost. At times, this means speaking truth to power. Integrity means doing the right thing, even when tempted not to do so. A true leader must have the courage to stand in his/her own truth. Silence is not an option when one knows that company policies are detrimental to employee morale, nor is it an option when one knows that certain leadership policies are hindering employee growth and development.

The reign of the dinosaurs is coming to a close. A new day is dawning. Leaders who do not want to become extinct need to ask themselves the hard questions and decide if they are willing to do the work required to become a leader worthy of their calling.

My life’s work and the mission of my company is to motivate, inspire, and empower individuals and organizations to grow and evolve into their best possible selves. “Fortitudo et Integritas!” If you are interested in a free coaching session and would like to schedule an appointment, please visit https://phoenixrisingtrans4mation.as.me/?appointmentType=6966310.

I’ll discuss more about changing your mindset to become a great leader in future articles. In the meantime, consider reading Brené Brown’s book dare to lead. It really is a great book.

Works Cited

Brown, Brené. dare to lead. New York: Random House; 2018.

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