Hidden Lessons in Leadership #9

In a New York Times interview, Michael Mathieu of YuMe describes the means and meaning of success and the associated role of management/leadership.   Michael said, “the key to success is to wake up every day and do the best you can do.”   If this is the key to success then leadership, at base, should enable people to do exactly this. Michael says he approaches his role as the top-level manager at YuMe by “treating myself not as a manager.”  That is to say Michael doesn’t manage from the title/position but rather from his ‘I-We-ness’.  He asks people in his organization to think of him “as a colleague” and further he asks them “how we can help each other be successful.”   In essence what Michael is establishing is not a boss-subordinate relationship but rather a partnership.

Accordingly, what he communicates is the fact that he is just like they are, a person, a human being.  As such to each person he is saying, I am as you are, I have unique abilities just as you do, I desire to do good work as do you.  In setting this context he is seeking a productive relationship, not establishing his position as the manager/leader—seeking collaboration not compliance.

This doesn’t mean he hasn’t set a purpose for his business enterprise, to which he is committed.  To the contrary, he is very passionate in this regard.  However, he is equally caring of others when working with them to this end.

Michael has learned important lessons from his worst bosses, who were hyper-controlling.  He says, “I’ve learned that leaders actually do the opposite…the worst managers come in and believe, “O.K., I’m going to control this…and that actually stifles high performers.”  These toxic types actually manage/lead from fear not from care and concern.  Michael’s mantra is “Be passionate about what you do and interested in making the people around you better.”

When hiring people Michael is consciously aware of the negative impact career climbers can have on his organization.  He stated, “Those are the people that will always be angling for something…trying to position themselves and managing up. We try to stray away form those kinds of folks.”  What he seeks are people who are “naturally curious”, those who are unceasing learners with a “thirst for knowledge.”

Michael’s overarching mission is “happiness and the quality of the relationships you have in life, and the impact you can have on people is why you’re here.”  If only more would uphold their responsibility to their I-We nature, we’d have more invigorating and vivifying organizations within which to fully express our potential.

One thought on “Hidden Lessons in Leadership #9

  1. It’s amazing how quickly one “climber” can soil a good organization, precisely on analogy with “One bad apple spoils the whole barrel.” I commend Michael and you (for taking the time to write this entry), and just want to add one thing to what you have already said. The best climbers are the hardest to identify, at least from above. Like Machiavelli’s prince, they are so good at emulating virtue that it’s hard to tell them apart from the virtuous. It can take time, and while the truth slowly bubbles to the top, they are doing their thing, soiling your organization.

    The best way to deal with them, when they are uncovered, is to make sure that everyone knows why they disappeared, and in as much detail as is legally possible. We learn to produce good art as much by knowing “bad art” as by emulating the received exemplars of excellence. A culture is stable to the extent that individuals have shared examples of virtue and its opposite. In this way, identifying and dealing with a toxic “climber” can be converted into a blessing for the organization.

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