A Tale of Two Leaders

Once upon a time, there were two business leaders:  John and Carlos.

John and Carlos had a lot in common – but not everything.

They worked in similar roles for the same company.  They had advanced quickly because of their technical skills and their ability to get results.  Identified early as having high-potential, they were given growing responsibilities and were promoted into the executive ranks.

Though they had much in common, their differences became more pronounced as they advanced – especially when the market dipped and their company hit a tough spot financially.


John became increasingly irritable and short with people.  This was especially true after difficult meetings with his bosses where they grilled him about raising his group’s productivity while reducing costs.  Interactions with his team became tense and focused only on performance and production.  John’s team members commiserated that he micromanaged everything they did.

“It’s like John doesn’t trust us.”

John demanded more hours and more ideas for improvement from his team.  Yet when they did offer new ideas, he was dismissive and critical.  The extra pressure and risk of criticism began to stifle their engagement and their creativity.

They also didn’t appreciate the way John blamed them when things went wrong.  And he did not recognize them when they did something well.

“If the economy was better, I’d be outa here” was the all-too-common refrain from John’s team.  Of course, they didn’t tell John this.


Carlos was under the same pressure as John.  But he found other ways to deal with the stress from above so he didn’t pass it down to his team.

He kept the bar high, AND he found ways to inspire people to jump over the bar.

To accomplish the team’s aggressive goals, Carlos remained positive, friendly, and respectful.  People appreciated the little things he did:  he smiled and said “hi,” “please,” and “thanks.”  He injected fun and humor where he could.  He brought out their best contribution and excellent results.  And he let them know when they did well and how their contribution mattered in the bigger picture.

Carlos didn’t back off from having difficult conversations about performance.

But he also asked people how they were holding up under the stress.  This approach resulted in Carlos having candid conversations with a few team members about their thoughts of leaving the company or changing careers.

Interestingly, Carlos’s group had among the highest engagement, retention, and productivity in the company.

People enjoyed working for Carlos and gave 110% for him.  They trusted him and knew he genuinely cared about them – not just their production.  One of his direct reports spoke for the rest when she said, “He’s got my back.”  His peers agreed.

Are you more like John or Carlos?

Most organizations have leaders like John and Carlos.  Think of the leader you know best at your organization:  you.  Would your colleagues say you are more like John or Carlos?

Joe Baker is a Partner and Executive Coach with PeopleResults who helps corporate leaders be more like Carlos.