About six months ago I read the book, The Leadership Pill. It’s not a long book by any means, but I was surprised at Ken Blanchard and Marc Muchnick’s ability to interweave a fictional story with real life references and provide the reader with a parable on effective leadership.
The Leadership Pill begins with the idea that a fictional company has just developed an antidote for correcting poor leadership and in turn improving the productivity and profitability of workplace teams. Set in “Corporate America,” Leadership Pill Industries (LPI) has just announced to the media its new discovery and boasts of its ability to revolutionize the way in which people lead. The company quickly gains national recognition and is hailed as the savior of the modern workplace. There is, however, one man known as the “Effective Leader” who decides to challenge LPI on its product, stating that he believes the pill contains the wrong ingredients. From there the story grows into a competition of two cross-functional teams led by two separate people. One is led by someone taking the Pill to enhance their performance and the other by the Effective Leader. Each team is made up of employees with the worst performance ratings, at two companies struggling to stay afloat. The two leaders have a year to turn their groups into high-performance teams and each will be regularly measured using the “Triple Bottom Line” (Provider of Choice, Employer of Choice and Investment of Choice).
As the two teams take off there is quick separation in their performance. The group on the Pill shows great improvement within the first few months while the Effective Leader’s team is much slower to respond. The book focuses primarily on the Effective Leader’s team and illustrates that quality leadership is not about completing the job as accurately as possible in the shortest amount of time. The idea behind effective leadership is in the person’s ability to create a culture within an organization where employees feel valued and are internally motivated to produce quality work. Throughout the story the Effective Leader instills in his team what he calls the “Secret Blend.” The Blend is developed by his group and is made up of characteristics that they feel are vital in a leader. They include integrity – that the leader’s actions must embody the organization’s values resulting in a values-driven culture, partnership – where a leader helps his/her people work, learn and grow together in unity, and finally Affirmation – making people feel valued. The team believes that the Effective Leader’s “blend” will help them win; however, the realization to the reader is that each organization and team’s secret blend is based on the needs of the individuals in the group.
While the Effective Leader continues to lay the foundation for his team, providing them one-on-one time, opportunities to grow and take the lead, and showing them recognition for work well done, the Pill team finds themselves with a leader who is focused solely on performance and driving his team to exhaustion. His team begins to feel undervalued and overworked, which eventually leads to a lower score in the morale rating. As the teams enter the fiscal fourth quarter, it becomes clear that the Effective Leader’s team has made up ground with productivity and sales, and is continuing to rate high in employee morale. With the competition neck and neck, the Pill team leader ups his dosage to meet the demand and finds that many employees decide to leave the organization as a result. While this is going on with the Pill group, the Effective Leader is able to take a step back and allow his team to decide what the best approach is for winning the competition, stating “don’t check your brains at the door, I am empowering you to get to the goal however you see fit. Just use your best judgment, and I will be here to back you up.”
In the end it is the team that had built a foundation of trust and support that proves to be the winning combination over a leader focused solely on results. We are not immune to this way of thinking in our own lives, and have, at some point, probably worked for or have been the leader who cared more about job completion than employee growth. Blanchard and Muchnick infuse this story with a number of quotes, used to help guide the reader in how leaders must able to communicate their vision. They are the essence of how managers and supervisors should view their role as a leader.
The Leadership Pill ends with the head of LPI believing that there is still hope for the Pill and that all they need to do is adjust the formula using the secret blend that was identified by the Effective Leader. Unfortunately there is no secret blend that will work for them or for us; instead we must be able to engage our workforces and meet the needs they have in us as their leaders.
Michael will be a featured presenter at Hudson-Mohawk ASTD’s 15th Annual Workplace Learning and Performance Conference on March 29, 2010 in Albany, NY
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