Reuters was making a profit in every country in the world.
Except one. Brazil.
Tom, a young lawyer at Reuters. was offered the position of leading the Brazilian operation, Robert E. Quinn recounts in the Deep Change Field Guide, his wonderful book about leadership. The CEO shared with Tom that Brazil was a long-time problem and that he wasn’t confident it could be turned around.
The challenge energized Tom. He went to work gathering information, analyzing trends, and looking for ways to improve the Brazilian operation.
He arrived in Brazil confident he had all the answers.
By noon of his first day, he wasn’t so sure. Things were even worse than he anticipated. The operation was totally corrupt. Incompetence, cronyism, and outright theft were rampant. It was hopeless.
Tom threw out his carefully created analysis and plans. He made a decision to start over. He fired all but three people. He made a series of complex decisions with insufficient information.
He had no experience leading this type of change. “He was truly building the bridge while walking on it,” Robert tells us. “He left behind the systematic mind of a lawyer and walked naked into the land of uncertainty.”
“There was so much urgency. I had no choice,” Tom recalls. “I had to act. If something blew up, it did not matter. Things were so bad there was only one way to go. So I did what I had to do. It was terrifying, but we learned how to do what needed to be done.
“It was the best work I have ever done,” Tom stated.
Ultimately, Tom Glocer and his new team triumphed. Brazil became a profitable operation. Tom later became CEO of Thomson Reuters.
Tom’s story illustrates the difference between being a leader and being a manager. “The psychological state we are in determines the quality of the influence we exert,” Robert writes.
Managers live in a normal state, Robert states. As managers, we engage in reactive problem solving while minimizing personal risk. We avoid leading others into new, unexplored territory. When we show up as managers, we are comfort-centered, focused on our own needs, externally-directed, and internally closed.
Leaders create value, which we can only accomplish by developing new initiatives and approaches. In the story above, Tom entered what Robert calls the “Fundamental State of Leadership” by being purpose-centered, values-driven, other-focused, and externally open. When we show up this way, we invite others to transcend their normal assumptions of self interest, external rewards, conflict, alienation, and scarcity, writes Robert.
Leadership is not a title. It’s not authority. It isn’t determined by hierarchical position.
Leadership is influence.
And, everyone has influence, whether positive or negative.
Reflection: What are the key lessons from Tom’s experience in Brazil?
Action: Journal about my own experiences. When have I experienced the fundamental state of leadership?