And lead successfully by acquiring a bit of ‘mongrel’
By Christopher J Tipler
Some years ago my firm was retained to advise a global investment banking house on its strategy for ANZ, which took me to New Zealand for discussions with their local teams. The M&A team were lovely people – pleasant, urbane, and quite charming – but they were having no success picking up mandates from the large NZ corporations. They complained to me about how their main competitors did not play fair; they wined and dined clients on their fancy yachts and generally schmoozed their way into the big money.
I had an image then that has never left me; of a bunch of sheepdogs trying to compete with wolves. Don’t get me wrong; sheepdogs are great. They’re all fluffy and bounce around going ‘woof’ woof’, but when the wolves show up it’s no contest.
Since then, I have often looked at leadership through this lens and I am convinced that successful business leaders are almost always nice wolves.
The wolf has a unique place in our psyche. As courageous as a lion, it also clever and determined, hunting in teams, or packs. Wolves have been a symbol of power and magic for shamans down through the ages, spawning the idea of the werewolf – the creature who is half human, half wolf. It is no accident that the dangerous Hugh Jackman, equipped with facial hair and steel claws in X-Men, was not ‘Wooferine’ but ‘Wolverine’.
The quality of wolfishness is generally associated with power and success and our heroes and heroines are almost invariably depicted as a bit dangerous or ‘mongrel’. Clint Eastwood constantly looking for people to ‘make his day’; Gene Hackman always on the point of exploding; Robert de Niro never far away from a snarl; Angelina Jolie raiding tombs single-handed.
And the popular psyche has it right. Success generally, and success in business leadership in particular, requires real strength of character, determination, intensity, persistence, a willingness to take risks, a lot of savvy, and a dash of ruthlessness. These are the qualities of a hunter; of a wolf.
There is one important caveat. Successful human wolves must be nice wolves. The hard-edged qualities must ultimately be softened by compassion and some warmth if the wolf is to command respect and loyalty for very long.
So, how do we cultivate the qualities of a nice business wolf? Let me outline the ten qualities that I have observed in these people and you can decide what you need to do to become one of them.
- Restlessness and scepticism. Nice wolves always seem to be alert to opportunities and to trouble. They don’t accept much at face value; indeed their starting position is one of doubt – what you are telling them is probably wrong
- Refusal to accept ‘can’t’. Nice wolves don’t like to hear all the reasons why you can’t do something; they simply want to hear how you are going to do it. They are always interested to hear, however, why you shouldn’t do something
- Insistence on performance. A nice wolf is relentless in demanding that commitments are met on time and on budget, and he or she is quite willing to punish poor performance
- Willingness to confront. Don’t expect a nice wolf to shrink from confrontation. They are not scared of it; indeed they often seek it as a way of testing that things are on track
- Fitness for purpose. The nice wolves demand a tidy, tightly run ship. They won’t accept inefficiency or inappropriate casualness anywhere – in proposals and presentations, in operations, in speech or in personal appearance
- Attention to detail. Nice wolves can sometimes appear to be excessively concerned with detail. This is because they know that attention to detail is often a proxy for success with the big things
- Lead from the front. Like their namesake, nice wolves lead the pack and they won’t ask a pack member to do anything that they wouldn’t do
- Know when to push. Nice wolves have an uncanny sense of timing that tells them when to seize the moment and go for it. Conversely, they also know when to hold back and wait. These are the qualities of a good hunter
- Enjoy the hunt. The sense of enjoyment that nice wolves derive from leading the pack is palpable
- 10. Loyalty. Finally, nice wolves are intensely loyal to pack members who perform
Now for the scary bit. I want you to give yourself a score out of ten for each of the above, and then add them up. If your total is 75 or better then you have the qualities of a nice wolf and you are deserving of the wolf stamp below. If you have scored less than 75% then you have some work to do if you want to be a successful business leader.
[WOLF STAMP IMAGE]
Christopher Tipler is a Melbourne-based management advisor and author of Corpus RIOS – The how and what of business strategy. His web site corpusrios.com contains more material on this and related topics.