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.
Understand who’s ready for a not-ready assignment.
David Sears was head of shipping and logistics for a magazine and software publishing company. He wasn’t sure how he was doing in his work because he had recently gone from reporting to the CEO to reporting to a VP, which he hoped wasn’t a kind of demotion. In fact, when the VP, Diane Carhart, invited him to breakfast, he was worried and even suspicious.
It turned out that she wanted to talk about the upcoming corporate move (consolidating four offices while moving the headquarters to a nearby city). Then, in Sears’s words, “She shocked me. I dropped the pancake I was about to bite into. She said, ‘I want you to be in charge of the move.’”
When he expressed his doubts, arguing that he wasn’t the right person for the job, she replied, “You’re smart; you have the skills; you’re the only one in the company to do it.”
Nice. Still, lurking in his mind was a doubt that you might share: Is this just because she didn’t want to do it herself? Could he end up just being her lackey on the project?
However, she told him, and later made good on it, “You’ll make the decisions. Just tell me what you decided.”
Yvonne made this comment on the conversation: “Notice the past tense — it wasn’t ‘tell me what you decide,’ meaning, ‘check with me and I’ll tell you if I’m going to let you decide that’; no, it was the genuine trust of ‘decided.’”
How did it work out? First, because he’d come to admire Carhart’s leadership, her faith in him caused him to think, “Maybe there’s something more in me than I thought.” He ended up describing it as a pivotal moment in his career.
Yvonne’s commentary: “You might be tempted to think that this is not a big deal, because the company wasn’t that large and, after all, it was just an office consolidation. However, it changed how David Sears saw himself, and changed forever how he saw the role of a manager. He has since taken pride in offering big opportunities to his employees in the companies he has run, including hiring a friend stuck in a job loading asphalt trucks who ended up as his VP of Finance, a process Sears calls ‘having greatness thrust upon him.’”
How did things turn out over the years? Sears is now CEO of YouFloral.com, a company that rated a feature on “The Today Show” for its personalized vases. Meanwhile, his old boss, Diane Carhart, went on to become COO of the food company Stonyfield Farm.
“This is a case,” Yvonne observed, “where you can see a manager truly being a leader. Carhart saw the future before anyone else. She took a chance on Sears, even though he wasn’t sure he was ready. And this was a highly visible assignment, having the top people at the company affected by what he was doing and looking to him to come through.
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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