The Dispassionate – Treat Everyone the Same

The team waited in anticipation for the day the new boss started. The previous leader had walked out and left the team in turmoil, after they had been promised and subsequently overlooked for a promotion. He left the team reeling, unsure and anxious.

What would the new person be like?

How will they lead and treat the team?

What strengths will they bring?

I hope he isn’t a dickhead?

A plethora of thoughts rattled around in the heads of the team. If asked, the team would have talked up the previous leader based on the three years he had been at the store, but all would also agree he lost the plot badly in the last few months, as he became more distant, disillusioned and aloof.

The big day was today, and the leadership team were anxious to introduce themselves and commence building the team under the new leader.

The new manager met the new team in the café just outside the store. He seemed pleasant enough, and the initial pleasantries were nice as he asked about  backgrounds, histories,  goals and the tone of the shop. He did seem to show interest and asked relevant questions. The team were settling in and the anxiety was lessening. Maybe things might be alright.

And then the switch was flipped. Sensing enough time had elapsed, the new leader (the Dumb Leader) took over. He spoke about his background, his history and his goals. He name-dropped senior leaders, he spoke about others faults, he described how he would lead. He uttered the words that teams should learn to hate:

“I treat everyone the same”

The team looked at each other, smiled bravely through the haze and internally checked themselves for the journey that lay ahead.  Their previous leader had always spoken about building rapport with individuals, building strong connections, to inspire, motivate and build a performance based empowered culture. This team had moved the store together from bottom of the leaderboard to the top during the three years together.  The loss they felt with the disillusioned leader leaving them was real, taking into account the lingering loss they felt as his distance grew.

Reading between their lines, they felt everything they had worked for was lost. But they were still open-minded and career-orientated enough to give their best. They resolved to themselves that nothing would change the way they drove standards of performance and service and were committed to staying at the top.

Styled after the very best autocratic leader, the DL was true to his word. He directed, he told, he commanded everyone the same way. Regardless of how the other person was, or reacted. In his mind he was being fair, and applied his style to everyone. He was the epitome of efficiency, there was no “wasted” energy expanded on anything, the same message the same style delivered to five very unique individuals.

It didn’t take long for the cracks to show.

The apparel manager, a creative and fashionable diva, started spending time cleaning inside the fitting rooms and taking the time to shed some tears and re-build herself after another torrent of command and control. Once she realised the command and control was the dominat and only way the DL led, she received a command that was contradictory to the way she wanted to be led, she showed courage and spoke up. She was informed that there were no favourites, that the DL treated everyone the same and that was it. He would tell and she should do. That’s how this was going to work. Simple in his mind.

The administration manager was very quiet and introverted and only a handle of team members, outside of the leadership team, knew he was gay. He found the abrupt, authorative style very confronting and withdrew. He had previously felt very comfortable within the leadership team and the respect he was shown made him feel very valued. Now he felt like nothing, he was there to produce the numbers and processes the DL commanded and when they didn’t hit the mark, he carried the blame, whether it was his or not. He became the messenger that got shot, time and time again.

The inventory manager enjoyed the new style. He was always challenged to think and lead his team in the empowered culture. He didn’t enjoy that at all. He enjoyed being told what to do and how to do it. And he would do it. He was able to stand strong on the messages, because the boss wanted it done that way, whereas previously he would waver under self-doubt on his own messages. Because he became the very epitome of the manager the manager wanted, they started building a bond. It didn’t go unnoticed.

The general merchandise manager had always been a bit of a maverick. The previous leader had cultivated this for the benefit of the store and the team had been acknowledged for innovative approaches in merchandising and processes, off the back of the maverick approach. Now that leader felt nothing but frustrated. Feeling shut-down, shut-off and pinned in a box, he rebelled publicly and denigrated privately.  Slanging matches on the shop floor and closed-door discussions took away the energy of the maverick and the team he led. The drive departed the general merchandise area and the standards slipped. The team hit minimum standards, but not much higher. It was textbook ugly.

The final team leader oversaw customer service and this was the first area to feel the brunt of the new leader. In his first move he re-jigged the wage budgets and allocated 20% of the service budget into the inventory team.

You cannot serve the customer if the stock isn’t on show.

Now feeling like nothing more than a worker, that manager slowly fell into the routine of being a doer and not being a leader. She would spend much of her day, purely being a service team member. She stopped being able to coach her team members from her observations and while still being a role model for service, was now finding that her team were unable to follow suit due to the new pressures of their role and the constancy of it. The personalised service they had been proud of slowly slipped and the robotic nature of routine and pressure took over. The service manager saw this but felt unable to fix. The feedback coming from customers reflected the declining standards of personalisation, and the servce manager took this hard.

Treating everyone the same, is the mantra of many leaders and the results in this case was disastrous.

The Scenario

The standards and performance of the store slowly unravelled under the new regime. The top ranking held for the first two months, but cracks were appearing and by month three they had slipped to third in their state. And continued downwards. The new manager explained it at state and regional meetings as a correction in the market after being on top for so long. After slipping to fifth the DL, started talking a turnaround strategy, focusing inventory and process. He also was quick to blame the leadership team and their inability to follow direction and company process and policy. The store continued it’s slide.

The leadership team unravelled quickly. The inventory manager was excelling under the strict guidance and was being rewarded for it with additional team and salary. The general merchandise manager left after three months. Feeling hemmed in, he joined a new entrant to the market in a higher role. He openly told friends that he was leaving only because of the new manager, but at the exit interview (not wanting to burn bridges) told human resources, the opportunity was one he could not resist. If not for the DL, he would not have been looking.

The service manager asked for and received a transfer to another store closer to home. She re-united with some former colleagues and was able to re-spark and become the coach and mentor she always was. The service standards in her new store improved and she started enjoying her job again. While being closer to home was the reason tendered, the real reason was to move away from the DL

The apparel manager stood down after 12 months, after taking an extended leave of absences of a combination of long service and leave without pay. Before returning to DL’s store she visited the human resources at head office to talk about the anxiety of returning to the DL’s store. She was offered a team member role at a different store under a female leader and accepted. She was often asked to return to leadership but never did. Her trust in leadership had diminished and she never wanted to place herself in that position again. She couldn’t understand how two managers in a company that prided themselves on people could be so different.

The administration manager slowly slid further within himself. He slowly detached himself from the company and business, and became the yes man the DL wanted in the administration role. Most days, he was nothing more than a data entry person, and the office team lost personality, drive and became almost soulless. The upside (I guess) was that very few now ventured into the office for this reason. The office team became isolated and started resenting the store team for that.

Performance of the store slid backwards over an 18-month period until it reached the low status it had held previously. The leadership team was a shell of the team it was, the team culture was fractured and toxic and the DL led with an iron fist and a like or leave approach. The churn from the team hit 50% in that 18 months. After 18 months the store and the team bore little resemblance to its former glory. It was noticed.

After 18 months the DL was transferred to another location. Somewhere else where he can declare

I treat everyone the same

On a sidenote, the DL had been moved into the store so he could work with an empowered and well-performed leadership team. He had been told to come into the store, get to know the team and work with their strengths and continue the great work the store had seen. It was left to a team reporting to a leader to influence the leader, a strategy that would be flawed 90% of the team. Yes, leaders can lead up, but to expect a change in a leaders style and behaviour from the team that report to him is unlikely.

The 3-Step Strategy

The dumbest leaders I meet are the ones that tell me, often quite proudly,  they treat everyone the same The reality is leadership is situational and personal. We must had adaptive styles to obtain the best results from each situation and person.

  1. Understand that leadership is not about you. Having a one-dimensional leadership style and treating everyone the same may come across to you as simple and efficient to you, but in effect will limit the performance of your team. A mindset shift is needed personally to change this. Leaders often feel the need to place a stamp on a new team, set a new direction and change things for the sake of change. Ask yourself, first. Is this needed?
  2. Read up on different leadership styles and theories and gain a grounding on how each works best in differing situations. Think back on the situations where the results have been less than desired, and apply reflection skills to work through which leadership style should have been applied. Take the learning for future application.
  3. Share your understand of leadership styles with your team, after you have built rapport with them. During the conversation, ask them to share with you. Ask them questions about leaders they have succeeded under, worked best for, loved and learnt from and then ask them to describe those leaders and what style they saw them as. Take note and apply. Its more than just asking what the team prefer, ask them how they have been successful. This gives you the best understanding of what style they work best for.

Don’t be the leader that proudly states – I Treat Everyone the Same