The Essays on Leadership Series focuses on relating issues “In the News” to the choices we face in developing and engaging as leaders.
For most of us, reading “Dish Network, the Meanest Company in America,” (via Bloomberg BusinessWeek) focusing on the style and tactics of the firm’s chairman and co-founder, Charlie Ergen, will leave us feeling thankful that we work somewhere else.
Without truly experiencing the environment, it’s hard to tell if the indication that, “merely setting foot in Dish’s headquarters is a danger to the soul,” and the claim of Ergen’s style as one that focuses on “pounding people into submission,” are representative of reality or simply the words of former disgruntled employees.
Nonetheless, if the allegations of Ergen as a successful, but micro-managing, all-consuming, sue happy boss prone to screaming and responsible for quarterly mass firings are even close to the truth, it raises some interesting questions and concerns for those of us aspiring to success as business leaders.
Ergen’s alleged style runs counter to what most of us read, write and talk about in pursuit of something we view as effective leadership. The tone for effective leadership in most settings these days is one of respect, encouragement, support. It’s a kinder, gentler style than Ergen’s or frankly, what many of us grew up with during an era where the Command and Control style was more the norm.
There’s no doubt that this style can drive results that enrich the King’s coffers. Ergen counts his wealth in the billions with a “b” and as the controlling shareholder, he is most definitely King at Dish Network. Nonetheless, is this a style can sustain or that you personally can select and still comfortably stare at yourself in the mirror and believe that it is right?
There are people who need jobs and will work while cowering in fear for their paychecks. It’s a choice you can make to not trust people to work at home or, to require them to clock in with a fingerprint i.d. and to trigger an e-mail to HR if they are late. You most definitely can treat workers as disposable…bringing them on to fill demand and then fire them en masse as the numbers dictate. It is your choice to scream and rage at your employees if you so desire. People will work for a period of time at the end of a whip or a gun barrel, particularly when they have no choice.
What Price Success?
I’ve worked for Ergen-like leaders before…and long ago concluded that if the price of success required me to behave like that, then it was too high. I know of no way to get the best out of people, much less how to comfortably stare at myself in the mirror if my style tends towards that of oppressor. I’m not clear on how to build a performance culture and foster innovation in an environment where fear rules the day. There’s no doubt that history is filled with bastards who for a moment in time conquered and ruled with an iron fist. It’s a choice. It’s just not a choice I’m willing to take, and not one that I believe works for much longer than a few moments in time.
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