NOTE: This is a book excerpt with minor edits from Mandatory Greatness: The 12 Laws Of Driving Exceptional Performance by J.T. O’Donnell and Dale Dauten.
Never trust a manager who loves everything you do.
Next, she gave me an example of what can happen when you get a boss who has nothing to offer but compliments. (Think about that last phrase: nothing to offer but compliments. Slap.)
She’d met a Steve Gavatorta, who’s now a speaker and sales trainer, but who was reminiscing about his days as a young sales guy. He went from college to one of the giant consumer products companies, selling to retailers. Although he was a solid prospect as a sales guy, his boss didn’t know what to do with him, so Gavatorta struggled, untrained and un-led. Because the boss was what Gavatorta called “an attaboy manager,” it never occurred to him how poorly he was doing. Then, one day, he accidentally got the truth.
Another manager, not his boss, went with him on his rounds one day and wrote up a summary of woeful impressions, then sent it to Gavatorta by mistake. Reading that report, his first real analysis of his performance, and unaccustomed to taking criticism as a compliment, Gavatorta was shell-shocked.
He said that after reading the report, he had to go lie down, and once he did, he began thinking, “This is my first job and I’m going to get fired. I’ll go back home a failure, and go to work in my father’s produce shop. This is the lowest day of my life.”
But rather than crawl home, he decided to take a shot at changing companies, even taking the odd step of asking an executive at his current employer to write a recommendation. That executive agreed, but then made a call and got Gavatorta transferred – to work for the man who’d written the scathing report.
Punishment? Just the opposite. The new manager was a teacher/coach, one who taught Gavatorta to sell and about whom he says, “He turned my career around in a matter of months and I worked for the company another 10 years. He taught me the fundamentals – he passed a skill set to me that I still use and teach to others.”
Yvonne summed up that story by saying, “Notice that the turnaround happened on what he thought was the worst day of his life. It was actually the best day of his career, because he’d found a boss who was wiling and able to tell him what he was doing wrong and how to fix it.”
I wondered aloud how his first boss, the lousy one, had gotten in that position and stayed there. But Yvonne didn’t share my doubt, shrugging it off. “What happens is that these bosses let people fail, blame the employee, and hire someone else. But leadership is not about getting rid of employees — any idiot can throw away assets — but about making them better, about teaching and training and even about saving them. Leadership is creating a better future for the company by creating better employees.”
Mandatory Greatness is presented as a conversation between a high-powered business coach, Yvonne Wolfe (described as having “skirts of steel”), and a young manager who won a day of her coaching in a charity raffle. She observes him in his work, then offers a stark and startling analysis of him and his approach to his job: By imitating other managers he is making himself “a commodity product” destined for “inadvertent mediocrity.” She then teaches him to remake himself into a highly-valued teammate and a true leader using The 12 Laws of Driving Exceptional Performance.
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