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Posted: August 13, 2012

Don’t forget to sharpen your teeth

Real leaders aren't afraid to make heads roll

David Sneed

We all know that Winston Churchill was a great leader. His strength and optimism saved England and possibly all of Europe. What you might not know is that as soon as the war ended, he was fired because he couldn’t get along in an environment requiring deft political maneuvering. He could lead a nation but not when it required consensus-building.  That makes me think that while soft-skills are handy for a leader to have, they aren’t mandatory.

It’s only when things are bad that a leader shows himself. If I get my coworkers to volunteer on a hot Saturday morning to mow the warehouse lawn, that’s leadership. If I get everyone to the lake for waterskiing, it isn’t really leading - it’s organizing.

You lead when you get others to follow your plan for something they wouldn’t otherwise do, want to do, or think to do. The grand marshall isn’t leading the parade; he’s just the guy at the front.

Not all were on board with his war plan at first, so Churchill (and Iacocca at Chrysler, for instance) had to make some heads roll. We’ve long known that executing a few generals will encourage the rest. There’s a place for carrots but, without a stick behind it, the dangling treat will only get an ass over the first small hill when you’re really setting out to cross the Alps.

To lead, one needs the authority and willingness to get rid of those who don’t support you. It shouldn’t be an everyday show of force, but every follower has to know that he risks losing his job if he doesn’t play ball.

Speaking of ball, John Elway was a leader of Broncos because he had the power to have players benched. Or he could just not throw them the ball. Exclusion from a group can be a scary stick too.

The exceptions to the Lead-By-Fear model are those who lead by manipulating. It seems odd to think of Charles Manson as a leader, but he was. He got his followers to commit horrible crimes through the art of persuasion - but there’s no doubt that he was a leader.

House Speaker John Boehner can’t fire or execute his people. So if he wants support, he has to manipulate and coerce. Cross him, and you’ll be on the Committee for the Review of Offal Storage Sites faster than you can get your bib on.

A board chair who wants support for a new plan manipulates, too. Knowing opponents will waste the meeting time with arguments, the chair meets the opposition beforehand to answer their questions, then frames ideas to get the most support the quickest. This chairperson is a manipulator – and an effective leader.

Managers get people to perform their tasks well but don’t persuade them to go somewhere new. Leadership is about getting people to willingly follow you along a new and scary path. No matter how you do that, if you want lead a group long-term there must be some sort of stick behind the carrots and sweet talk.

Don’t forget to sharpen your teeth.

David Sneed is the owner of Alpine Fence Company,and the author of" Everyone Has A Boss– The Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company." As a Marine, father, employee and boss, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the benefits of a strong work ethic to entry and mid-level employees. Contact him at

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Readers Respond

David, your point is well taken. The employees need to realize that it cannot be a peer situation, that the boss can't have the same type of friendship with them as someone on the same organizational level. At the same time, like trust respect is earned, not assigned with the title. When I've had a good boss, I don't fear that they might fire me because I do what is expected of me and I do it out of respect for myself and for them. I've also had bosses with a Master<->Slave outlook on the working relationship. Those bosses I tended to fear, and although I show them respect always, I never actually respect them as a person. They haven't earned that. By Ken Garman on 2012 08 16
@Ken - I don't disagree with you. I just think that coaxing and nice only work if everyone knows the fangs exist. By David on 2012 08 15
David-Depends on situation. I agree sometimes you have to let workers go. If lazy or just don't care and don't responded to warnings, then fire them. If, the person was a good worker in past though, find what's changed, why they feel they aren't reaching potential. Most leave personal matters at home, but they still affect how we think/act, (ie. spouse leaving, death of family member/close friend.) I once worked several weeks in intense pain. I did only necessary tasks because movement made it worse. I let my bosses know the situation but I'm sure to others I was just lazy. The way I see it is this, Managers very often only care about the end result and doing whatever it takes to achieve it. Leaders realize that their success lies in the teams success and that the best possible end result always requires the health of the entire team and therefore cares for each individual worker. By Ken Garman on 2012 08 15
@Ken - And if that doesn't work, what then? By David on 2012 08 14
A motivator that works better than fear is value. An employee that feels they are valued takes ownership of the leaders vision and runs with it. If you truly value your employees efforts you don't manipulate them but rather empower them to succeed. By Ken Garman on 2012 08 14
Well said. We may not all be comfortable in the moment of doing what it takes to be a leader, but sometimes just being a manager doesn't cut it. By Monique on 2012 08 13
Superb article; speaks like that of military leadership, "The ability to motivate others to do something they may not want to but need to." A good Commander also knows when to fire thoses that don't perform...mission takes priority, but I always looked at it that "Mission Priority" was in essence "Troop Welfare". By Al Orr on 2012 08 13
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