How a powerful leader’s behavior changed the culture of his team.

THE CHALLENGE

The leader of a large northeastern hospital (2000 employees) was a commanding presence. Not only was he an organized, demanding, intimidating leader, but his humor and personal charm combined to create both fear and love among his leadership team of thirteen. When Lou spoke you listened, and then, you did what he said.

His leadership track record was highly successful and productive. The downside was that it also created a powerful dependency that reduced the members of his team’s willingness to risk, think independently and initiate new ideas on their own. The culture of “dependence,” as he called it, would demand a change from him as well as those on his team. Taking them to the next level would mean developing new skills and strategies. It would be a team “do-over.”

THE PROCESS

The team had never had any formal team building or leadership training. Because of his powerful role and charismatic behavior, Lou realized that new skills were demanded and new norms needed to be created. It was predicted that there would be a high degree of resistance. TNG planned a series of three, three-day off sites each two months apart, with a fourth if necessary. Everything was experiential based, grounded in theory and empirical evidence. New tools, skills and strategies were introduced during each session, with the two months between sessions used by the participants to practice their new learning. Content areas included: the fundamentals of groups and teams, the introduction of 360 feedback for each participant, conflict resolution skills, problem solving tools for individuals and groups, communication skills, the use of intentional leadership and the art of “design,” and performance management/supervision with attention to both individual development, but, also, measured accountability. 

THE OUTCOME

It’s one thing to intellectually advocate for change. It’s quite another to personally affect behavior change. Lou was no exception. Because the group did not believe he could or would change, they waited, and just went through the motions. It was not until mid-way through the second, three-day session that the team saw evidence that his behaviors were actually changing. His skill at using the new tools of collaboration and “design” and his demand that the team use them with their teams as well, turned the tide. 

At the end of one year the team had internalized a range of skills and virtually everything they did, individually and collectively, as leaders changed. The commitment of an esteemed leader and introduction of new skills and tools turned the group from being compliant, fearful and dependent to one in which trust grew dramatically, risk taking increased and participation expanded in every facet of the team’s activities.