The Carrots and Eggs of Leadership


What would you do in these two situations?

A)  Jennifer is not living up to expectations on this project.  After a second try at delivering the results, she is late and the product is not useful.  Would you:

  1. Empathize with her situation and show her how to do the work?
  2. Emphasize how important this work is and set specific, measurable expectations for success the next time?
  3. Get someone else to do the work, and move her to a different role or terminate her employment?
  4. Get someone else to show her how to complete the task?
  5. It depends.

B)  You are the guide of a group of hikers and as you crest the first hill, a hiker halfway back suddenly yelps in pain.  He has stepped into a hole and felt a sharp pain in his ankle, convinced that a snake bit him.  Would you:

  1. Collaborate:  Gather the rest of the hikers, brainstorm options, then vote on each option?
  2. Encourage:  Tell the hiker he’ll be OK, and then encourage the other hikers to help the victim as best they can?
  3. Inspire:  Set high expectations for the results you expect each hiker to achieve in addressing the medical needs of the fallen hiker, and appeal to the plight of their fellow hiker who is now hyperventilating?
  4. Command:  Instruct one hiker to call 911 on his cell phone, instruct another (who happens to be an EMT) to administer medical care, instruct a third and fourth hiker to return to the camp to coordinate help?
  5. It depends.

These two scenarios are different, yet both demonstrate the value of having a broad set of leadership skills to achieve results.

In question 1, if you ascribe to Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model, the right answer is 5.  It depends.    He recommends that you assess the employee on two spectra:  Skill and Will.  If she lacks the skill, then drowning her in empathy isn’t going to get the job done.  Conversely, if she lacks the will (confidence or commitment) then showing her how to do the work probably won’t do the trick.  Instead, he recommends using the following model:


This model can be very useful, and it is important to remember that this model is situation specific, not person specific.  Ask yourself which leadership approach you would take if you asked a Navy Seal to complete a military mission?  Next, ask yourself which approach you would take if you asked that same Navy Seal to teach kindergarten.

As for Question B above, I would choose 4:  Command.  This is an emergency situation that requires quick, decisive leadership.  This Command & Control leadership style, so popular in the 50s, is unfashionable today, especially when used exclusively.  Yet, it remains an important tool in the leadership tool kit, as do collaborative, encouraging, inspirational styles, in certain situations.

The art of leadership is knowing which leadership tool to use in which situation.  We all have a default style, but any style of leadership used exclusively will derail us from getting the results we want.  Watch out for those blind spots, and remember this:  The hot water that softens a carrot, will harden an egg.

Cathy Carroll is the founder of Legacy Onward, which provides leadership coaching for family businesses.  Growing up as a third generation member of a family business, Cathy enjoyed a 20-year corporate career before leading her father’s manufacturing business.  Legacy Onward is dedicated to helping family businesses achieve greater profits through greater performance.