Hidden Lessons in Leadership #20

In a recent interview Bob Brennan, president and CEO of Iron Mountain, said “businesses are going through this transformation where command-and-control leadership is dead.”


For something that is dead or dying, at least outside of Iron Mountain, it seems to show up quite often.  Even Bob admitted, “a lot of managers haven’t been told this…as they are very much in a command-and-control reflex.” It is unfortunate for the rest of us that Bob is among a very few who see the need for something else.  Bob Brennan is clearly one who sees that management in the future can’t be a replay of the past and he seemingly is doing something about it at Iron Mountain.


In place of command-and-control it seems Bob employs two-way constructive feedback between the manager and the managed. Quoting Bob “we want managers to display confidence and optimism, and to give constructive feedback, never destructive.  And managers need to seek constructive feedback themselves.”  The purpose of which is to improve what one does, manager and non-manager alike.  Because this happens through a constant one-on-one dialogue—happening almost daily—an environment is created wherein people feel that it is not only okay to share ideas for improvement it’s encouraged. As Bob noted “the best way to take care of people is to have a very open environment where they can collaborate.”


Creating an environment conducive to learning is tantamount to creating a culture of trust.  Such an environment can’t emerge if managers are not open to the influence of those they manage.  In short, managers must model what they expect in others—they can’t be defensive they can’t be a negative force.  Hence Bob strives to avoid hiring the kind of people that breed defensiveness and mistrust.  He avoids hiring people who are “most interested in being the boss”—climbers.  These type people—those who are self-centered and concerned about ‘me’—are not trustworthy or collaborative and manage using fear.  Such people tend to be toxic bosses.


What is really going on is the development of mutually helping relationships that serves both the individual and the organization.  Manager and the managed are in partnership.  This distinction is important since partnership implies equal status, not subservient status.  When equal status is felt then constructive feedback is far more likely. To paraphrase Riane Eisler, partnership recognizes the interdependence of all roles and seeks effective and respectful ways to support each other’s role—command-and-control can’t even come close to doing this.  When we approach leadership as a partnership then we approach each other as fellow human beings and increase the likelihood of actualizing potential.


Woven throughout the interview with Bob Brennan is the notion that to be a leader requires one to be a teacher.  A teacher is not one who imparts knowledge or controls information but one who is an unceasing learner and strives to facilitate learning in others.  It is only through learning that we can improve.


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