Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:
Ever hired a bona fide, battle-proven high performer, only to see them stumble and flame out under your watch?
Maybe it’s happened to you. There you are, blazing a trail, breaking records, getting the awards and plaudits, then…everything starts going awry. It’s like your feet got caught in molasses, or you’re in one of those dreams where you keep trying to run, but your feet won’t move. Nothing you try seems to go well, everything feels forced and somehow ‘off’. People start to wonder if you’ve lost your touch.
It’s happened to any of us who’ve been in business for a while, and watching it take place (or experiencing it yourself) never gets easier.
Top Leaders Who Have ‘Lost It’
History is replete with examples of incredible leaders who somehow ‘lost it’: Michael Ovitz, co-founder of the monolithic talent agency CAA, and known as the ‘king of Hollywood’ famously lasted barely a year as President of Disney.
Winston Churchill, arguably the greatest leader of the 20th century, was ignominiously kicked out of office immediately after World War II.
Even the blessed Saint Steve (Jobs) got dumped from Apple at a crucial time in the company’s existence.
A Closer Look at Leadership Styles
To understand what’s happening here (and why you or some of your team may be struggling despite years of achievement), let’s start with a brief reminder of the four leadership styles we’ve so often talked about as key to achieving Predictable Success.
(And if you're not sure which style you are, you can take take this free assessment and find out.)
The Visionary Leader is someone who wants to do just that. They bring a vision to the organization, motivate people to think big and challenge everyone to achieve the near-impossible.
All three examples above (Ovitz, Churchill, Jobs) were Visionary leaders who achieved mind-boggling success, often against all the odds.
Operator leaders are focused on just getting things done. Much less interested in blue-sky thinking or ‘the vision thing’, they work hard, drive everyone furiously, and depend on sheer determination to battle through to the destination.
Steve Ballmer at Microsoft, the elder George Bush and Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick are all great examples of Operator leaders.
Processors ‘lead by the numbers’. Devoted to metrics, graphs and detailed reports, a Processor leader can often seem remote and uncaring (neither is necessarily true) and bring a resolute logic to decision-making.
Think of Bill Gates (while at Microsoft – his style has modified since he left), Warren Buffett and Star Trek’s Mr. Spock and you’ll get the picture.
The final type of leader – Synergists – are motivated to build great teams. They are constantly on the lookout for ways to make sure everyone is engaged in, and satisfied by, their work.
At the end of the day, a Synergist leader is primarily people-focused.
Great examples of Synergistic leaders include Jack Welch (in the final third of his career – he started as a Processor, morphed into an Operator, and then became a Synergist), Nelson Mandela and Reed Hastings at Netflix.
When Style and Role Conflict
Now, guess what happens when a highly successful leader finds themselves in a role entirely unsuited to their style?
Suddenly we have dysfunction, confusion, disappointment, and usually, eventual separation from the role.
It happened to Mike Ovitz when he left CAA to work for another mega-Visionary (Michael Eisner), who expected Ovitz to report to him more as an Operator.
Churchill experienced it in 1945, when a tired and bruised British electorate turned to the bureaucratic Clement Attlee – a Processor, who restored the appearance of calm and mundane stability after a tumultuous war.
It happened to Steve Jobs when a frustrated and scared board backed the Processor-Operator John Sculley to bring focus and scalability to what Jobs had perceived (and treated) as his own personal sandbox.
Here at Predictable Success, we call this ‘Fit to Role’ – the ‘fit’ between your VOPS profile and the role you’re being asked to play.
Where there’s a close fit, (and presuming you have the talent, of course), success ensues.
Where there’s little or no fit, then all the talent in the world won’t prevent the stress, dysfunction and loss of motivation that ultimately leads to under-performance.
Loss of Fit
The most insidious examples of ‘loss of fit’ can occur without even changing jobs.
Let’s say you’re a high-flying sales manager in a small, fast-growing business with an ‘Ov’ style (primary Operator, secondary Visionary).
"Where there’s little or no fit to a role, then all the talent in the world won’t prevent the stress, dysfunction and loss of motivation that ultimately leads to under-performance". - Les McKeown, Founder and CEO, Predictable Success
You thrive because your hard-driving Operator style gets the job done and you get to indulge your secondary ‘v’ by closing creative deals with customers.
Then, over time, as the organization grows, the role gradually shifts. More and more reporting is required – not just on your performance, but that of your team.
You’re spending more and more time on your computer, working with spreadsheets, sending memos and sitting in meetings than you are out on the road with customers.
Your job has transformed from ‘Ov’ into ‘Po’ (primary Processor, secondary Operator) – leaving you with much less ‘fit to role’, increased stress and reduced job satisfaction.