Let's Follow a Leader

Jan 24, 2019

By Howard M. Guttman

Believing that a picture can be worth a thousand words, we present a brief “snapshot” of one high-performing leader in action, Grant Reid. Before he became global president of Mars Drinks, Reid was executive vice president of sales and customer care for Mars Inc. Snack. When he assumed full responsibility for Snack sales, he faced a significant leadership challenge. Sales had not met expectations in this key strategic unit, and a quick turnaround was needed. We have distilled his experience into six principals that guided him.

1. Don’t Bury the Past; Build on It
Reid knew that organization structure had been a big factor in the unit’s failure to meet its objectives. Under the old structure, he had shared responsibility with the unit VP of sales. This had led to the usual issues related to strategies, priorities, and accountability.

One way to lead is to blame others. This was not the way Reid wanted to lead. “If the decision had been based purely on results, we would both be gone,” Reid told the unit sales group in his first meeting with them. It was an honest and forthright statement, which won Reid immediate respect from his new team. Reid praised his former colleague for the way he had encouraged his associates to work with Reid to make the integrated sales group a success.

Reid stressed that, going forward, sales had to have one strategy, set of goals and priorities that guided everyone. They were going to put the past behind them, but not before they had learned all they could from it.

2. It’s All About Relationships
Leadership is as much about creating a human connection as it is about changing minds. Reid realized that his new troops would not transfer their allegiance overnight. He was going to have to work hard to win them over.

He set up individual meetings with each of the unit’s vice presidents and his or her direct reports. “The first cut was not about competency, but about commitment,” said Reid. “Did they believe what I was telling them? Were they comfortable with me? Would they buy in to my vision?”

He encouraged each of them to speak openly and honestly, asking each, “How are you feeling? What are you thinking about your future here? What are your major concerns? How can I help?”

Reid learned that people wanted reassurance that their future was secure. He explained to people what their roles would be, what they should focus on, and what was going to change. He also promised that he was not going to play favorites.

3. Don’t Just Lead Your Team—Be a Part of It
Throughout his career, Grant Reid has gone beyond “management by walking around” to “management by working around.” Early in his career as plant manager at an M&M’s plant, Reid made a point of actually doing every job in the plant. He connected hoses, out sugar in to the storage hoppers, melted cocoa butter, ran the packaging equipment and even swept the floor. All because he believes deeply that a leader must understand the business and the people that make it run. “After that, when we had a meeting and people talked about a problem with a particular piece of obscure equipment, I knew exactly what they were talking about. I had helped to run that machine.”

4. Help Everyone Become a High Performer
Grant Reid made good on his promise to forge a new, unified sales team where everyone’s contribution would be valued equally. Over 600 people from the central sales organization were integrated into Snack’s sales group, and the process went smoothly because Reid and his team saw to it that they received the skills they needed to work together as a high-performing team.

Reid began by getting agreement from his vice presidents on Snack’s future strategy. After ensuring that his VPs were aligned around strategy and goals, Reid quickly moved to align them around the other elements that make for a high-performing team: roles and responsibilities; protocols, or rules of engagement for making decisions and dealing with conflict; and business relationships, or mutual expectations for how they would behave vis-à-vis one another. Everyone was encouraged to hold one another—and Reid—responsible for achieving results.

Reid did not stop there. He continued to cascade the alignment process down through Snack, aligning teams below the vice president level so they too could achieve the highest possible level of performance.

5. Show How It’s Done
On great teams, candor is king. Reid set the tone when he engaged in “straight talk” about Snack’s failure to meet its sales goals, the replacement of the unit VP, and the need for radical change. He encouraged the old and new members of his team to respond in kind. He told them that he wanted them to challenge him. “If I ask the seven people on my team if they agree with me, and all seven say yes, I might as well get rid of six of them,” Reid told his VPs. “I want to hear the contrarian view.”

He went further. In front of his team, he is comfortable challenging his boss when he feels things are moving too slowly—role-modeling the upward confrontation that he expects from players on his team.

6. Park Your Ego
Leadership is not about “me,” but “us”—and getting results. Steely, quiet confidence trumps brassy displays of infallibility. Effective leaders in a high-performing environment possess a special kind of self-confidence—the ability to admit not having all the answers.

“Putting your ego aside and asking others to help find answers isn’t something everyone can do,” says Reid. “It takes a very strong person to relinquish control in the interest of finding the best solution.” Such solutions come when leaders harness collective brainpower.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. from Great Business Teams  Copyright (c) 2008 by GUTTMAN DEVELOPMENT STRATEGIES. This book is available at all bookstores, online booksellers and from the Wiley web site at www.wiley.com, or call 1-800-225-5945.

About the Author(s)

Howard M. Guttman is Principal of Guttman Development Strategies, Inc., a Mount Arlington, NJ-based management consulting firm specializing in building high-performance teams, executive coaching, strategic and operational alignment, and project implementation. His articles and commentary have appeared in many publications, including Chief Executive, Financial Times, Harvard Management Update, USA Today, U.S. News and World Report and the Washington Post. He is also the author of When Goliaths Clash: Managing Executive Conflict to Build a More Dynamic Organization. GDS has been selected one of the twenty best U.S. consulting firms in leadership development by Leadership Excellence magazine.