Case Study: A Leader’s Journey

After our last post you should have a solid understanding of the Four Intelligences. As we jump into a real-life case study (where names and workplaces have been changed in order to protect the players involved), I challenge you to analyze how the story’s leader, Mark, uses his innate characteristics and learned competencies in order to solve a series of organizational problems.

Try to identify where our hero taps into each of the four intelligences, and perhaps where he is missing opportunities to engage. We’ll discuss these points further at the end of the post.

You may find as you read that you have encountered similar problems in your journey as a leader. Ask yourself how you would approach the problems in the scenario using your personal Intelligence Toolbox.

Mark’s Story

Meet Mark. He is the Executive Director of Production and Distribution for Midwest Manufacturing Solutions. Known within the industry as MMS, they are viewed as a well-established company with a history of financial success. Sales continue to climb and are only rivaled by their soaring year-over-year profits.

Self-aware and with a strong desire to do his best, Mark is a highly intuitive and thoughtful leader. He believes that supporting all stakeholders is important to the continued success of MMS. Leading purposefully to support the mission of the company is matched with his desire to create a working environment where creativity and collaboration can flourish.

As a leader who himself grew up through the ranks at MMS, he makes sure to genuinely connect with all members of his team as often as possible, no matter their level in the organization. Mark is well known for his commitment to providing meaningful feedback while making himself accessible for his team members to share their thoughts and ideas with him.

Let’s explore Mark’s leadership experience and evaluate his stylistic approach.

The Challenges:

Mark began his tenure as Executive Director after the previous leader and his entire support team had been discharged for a history of poor performance. Although they had been dismissed with good reason, the previous leadership team had been trusted and well liked by the production employees. Their abrupt departure left the team feeling insecure and disconnected.

To make matters more complicated, the tenured production team operated under the mistaken assumption that they had achieved maximum results. In reality, they were missing key opportunities to improve efficiency, maximize profits, and better engage their remote logistics support team.

On the compensation side, the team subtly expressed frustration that executives received bonuses while the employees often went without.

As an added personnel challenge, a single board member was causing a stir at the facility at each monthly board meeting. This board member seemed to think that no team could manage effectively, and as a result, constantly criticized perceived inefficiencies at the facility.

Although well intentioned, this board member’s communication style lacked finesse and his brash words often created conflict amongst the board members and management team.

 

Here are the steps that Mark took in order to re-engage his employees, improve relationships, and regain the appropriate level of productivity at MMS.

 

Building Relationships

Monday Meetings

Every Monday morning before Mark arrived, the production team had been called to join a facility-wide meeting. Led by an administrative team member, the meeting consisted of an uninspired reading of the previous week’s key performance indicators. Most of the team spent their time looking at their cell phones or chatting during this 15-minute gathering.

Mark immediately adjusted and chose to lead all future Monday meetings.

In his first meeting, Mark opened the discussion by welcoming the group, introducing himself, and honestly acknowledging the sadness and loss the team was experiencing regarding the departure of the previous leadership team.

Although he knew it would take time to earn the trust of the team, Mark began by publicly committing to his foundational leadership principles of honesty, transparency and care. He let the team know that his door was always open.

Mark ended the short meeting by personally recognizing the employees as skilled professionals. He thanked them in advance for their skills and help in their shared pursuit of bringing MMS to the next level.

He then briefly explained a new component of the Monday meetings, and all meetings at the facility moving forward. He asked the team to voice individual appreciations during the last few minutes of the meeting..

Listening and Understanding

 The remainder of Mark’s first Monday was spent getting to know a little bit about each department from the team’s perspective. As he introduced himself throughout the facility, Mark asked one simple question:

“How can I help?”

He then thanked every individual for their contribution as he wrote down their thoughts.

A few weeks later, at another Monday meeting, Mark presented a new vision for the facility, based on some of his observations and from the comments of his employees. He allowed for questions and comments from the team in order to make sure they understood the new, shared goals.

Establishing Transparency

The issue of compensation

When Mark reviewed the performance metrics of the production team, he found that the team had been given wildly unreasonable productivity goals. These goals were linked directly to their individual bonuses.

Unfortunately, the unrealistic production quotas set for the facility had disqualified the team’s ability to receive bonuses for over a year.

Mark was intrigued to note that his own bonus was guaranteed instead of performance-based. It was also quite generous.

Effective immediately, Mark declined additional personal compensation and instead redistributed his bonus funds equally to his teams until a more equitable bonus solution could be found.

He then immediately announced the temporary compensation change in the following Monday meeting and followed up with the Executive team about a more permanent solution.

Creating Executive and Employee Engagement

Addressing the board member and production facility disconnect

Mark proposed a venue change for the upcoming board meeting and invited the board to meet at his facility. They gathered in a small office area with a large window looking out on the production floor.

As the meeting progressed, several board members noted a bottleneck in the middle of the production floor. Though Mark was already working with the team to create a more fluid and ergonomic production environment in this area, he asked for additional suggestions from the board.

The most tangible suggestion came from none other than the critical board member who had been a thorn in the side of the management team for years. He stood up, walked to the window, and within thirty seconds articulated a logical and pragmatic production floor redesign that required no extra financial investment. The board and Mark agreed: they would implement the board member’s suggestion immediately.

Mark had done his research. He knew that the opinionated board member had not earned a specialized college degree, but instead had started on the production floor 30 years prior and worked himself through the ranks. Mark knew that this board member in particular would have a keen eye for streamlining the facility’s processes from a different point of view than the others, and took the opportunity to engage his expertise (and bolster his ego)!

The Leadership Effect

Let’s think back to our first introduction to Mark. He was presented as a self-aware, strong, and intuitive leader with the ability to navigate difficulties in a skillful and deliberate manner.

As we read about Mark’s challenges you may have also noticed additional characteristics surface.

Common themes in Mark’s approach include self- and social-awareness, empathy, care, and authenticity. He pairs those characteristics with the competencies of problem solving, critical thinking, and adaptability.

I again challenge you to think of the ways in which you use your characteristics and competencies as a leader. Are you thoroughly engaged in using all the resources at your disposal to lead your teams?

Let’s also evaluate Mark’s use of multiple intelligences:

While using logical thinking and the analysis of previous experience to facilitate growth and change, Mark applied IQ.

We also saw him exhibit deliberate use of EQ through the care and empathy he showed for those he served. Mark’s self and social awareness kept him fully connected with his team, and allowed him to gather information effectively in order to provide a shared vision for his facility.

Spiritual intelligence (SQ), as referenced earlier in our story, is the ability of a leader to behave with wisdom while maintaining inner and outer peace. Mark’s resolute approach of thoughtfully enhancing the working environment of his team and leading with a servant’s heart are transcendent examples that we can all follow. Mark shows us he is a decisive and experienced leader yet wise enough to amend his approach in order to best support his team.

I felt compelled to share this true story with you because I find Mark’s leadership style inspiring. By strategically employing his unique characteristics and competencies, he was able to truly access the most enriching of all goals for his facility: a sense of purpose spurred by trust building, transparency, and collaboration. When we step outside of ourselves, let go of our own self-interest, and truly show up to serve as Mark did — those transformational results can be within our reach.

Though this anecdote and case study give us insight into what has worked for one particular leader, what is most important is what shows up on your list of characteristics and competencies. If that list is undefined or in development, I encourage you to simply stay curious and commit to growth. As with most things of value, learning to be a skilled leader takes hard work and resilience. Stay the course.

I will leave you with a quote from a young leader of whom I hold in great esteem. “Be willing to lead with your heart, not with just your head.”

With gratitude I say THANKS for seeing us through this three part series and…….LEAD ON!

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