Know thy Leader: Episode 5 FOBO (Fear of Becoming Obsolete)

Know thy Leader: Episode 5 FOBO (Fear of Becoming Obsolete)

Hello everybody! Thank you for joining and welcome to Episode 5 of Fear of becoming obsolete at work or FOBO as we like to call it. I am your friendly neighborhood product owner, Tom Auld.

Today we are going to talk about Leaders.

Leaders, managers, supervisors. Anybody that has your career in their hands.

These leaders will directly impact your happiness, but more importantly, your future in the organization.

Grab a coffee, tea, or your favorite adult beverage, and let’s talk about staying relevant at work.


Leaders. There are all kinds.

There are the brilliant technology leaders that take their vision and will it into reality.

There are humanitarian leaders that fight injustice and bring a sense of purpose in a world of chaos, regardless of if the powers that are in charge view them as a threat.

Then there are the leaders among us. The ones that have no authority, no budget or organizational control, but they are the first people we turn to when we are lost.

Let’s remember: Every leader you encounter has something to teach you.

Bad leaders teach us how NOT to behave.

Good leaders inspire us to be more like them, but not by mirroring them, by becoming the best leader we can by being true to our values.

Leaders have an outsized impact on the success of an organization because the decisions they make, good and bad, determine the future success of your organization.

If your leader makes good decisions, opportunities and security can be yours. But if your leader makes bad decisions, you are out of a job. (Show SVP logo)

Of the rainbow of leaders and leadership styles, let focus on two types for our discussion today:

· Command and Control Leader

· Vs

· Servant Leader

Let’s start with the Command and Control Leader:

This was the primary leadership style of the 20th century and is based on the industrial age of the early part of the century as well as the military leadership influence from two world wars.

Leaders who employ this approach prefer to make all the important decisions and to closely supervise and control workers.

Leaders give orders and they expect them to be followed. Collaboration is not an option.

While this style can promote efficiency, this style demonstrates that leadership does not trust workers.

Unfortunately, this creates an environment where “the boss knows best”. They must know exactly what they are doing at all times. One bad decision could be catastrophic.

At the same time, it devalues individual creativity and almost completely removes internal motivation. Workers act out of self-preservation and fear, instead of inspiration.

It’s all about productivity. Get more done, faster.

This style also tends to emphasize the difference between leadership and workers and will usually lead to a company culture that results in a “we-they” climate, with all the baggage that can bring.

Why did this style take such a strong hold in the 20th century?

The problems we were trying to solve were more linear:

· How can we make 100 cars a day instead of 10?

· How can we feed 200 million people instead of 100 million people?

· Customer segmentation was non-existent. All customers get the same product delivered in the same way.

· Customer expectations were lower, especially in regard to customization.

· Technology was in its infancy.

· Information and data were slow, siloed and only for those in leadership positions.

· Even in the late 1980s It took 2 weeks to for me to send a letter from Minneapolis to Cork, Ireland.

When things moved slower and were less complicated, it was more reasonable for a business to rely on one or two key leaders making all decisions.

What signs should you look for to see if your leader is command and control:

Signs to look for to see if your leader is command and control:

· Always the first to speak.

· Vocal – loudest voice in the room

· Their ideas are almost always adopted.

· Not open to input – almost walled off from others and their opinions.

· Hierarchical

· Ruthless – Results Driven

· They take credit for other’s work.

· Looking to move up the org ladder.

· Surround themselves with people that will agree with them and/or serve their needs.

This leadership style can get results and is necessary in some situations.

There are some products that are industry standard.

For example, in the construction industry. I am sure you all know that a standard sized framing nail used to frame a house, is 3 ½ in and is a 16-penny nail. (Mr. know it all image).

Not a lot of debate or collaboration is needed.

The leader pulls together housing forecast information to estimate how many nails are going to be needed this year.

They then purchase the raw materials.

Make sure the machines are ready to go.

Give the workers their quotas, and we are off to the races.

At the end of each shift, we know exactly how many pieces have been built and can quickly see if we are on track to meet our deadline.


Not a lot of variability to manage.

Not a lot of risk to mitigate.

Not a lot of motivation to provide to the employees.

Unfortunately, not a lot of our work today is this straightforward.

As an employee of a command and control leader, there are some benefits:

· The leader doesn’t bug you very much.

o They leave you alone to do your job as long as you are meeting your numbers and quotas.

· You have comfort in knowing exactly what your day will look like.

· You have security in your job as long as your boss keeps making the right decision on how to use your skills.

· Your focus in on how to do the work and not on what to do next and the operational components of the business.

· Your skill set is deep and narrow in one area.

· There is downside as well to being under a command and control leader:

o You are viewed as a resource that is expensive.

§ To keep their margins healthy, they will explore ways to replace you.

§ Be it for a cheaper person OR

§ A machine that can do your job, with higher quality, for longer time periods, and with no benefits.

o The biggest risk to you is if the leader makes a bad decision on what to build.

§ Sure, it is not your fault. You did exactly what you were asked to do.

§ But, if it is so big of a failure, the company may not make it and thus, your job is lost.

Now let’s take a look at the other style: The servant leader:

The name says it all: They are a servant to the team first. They lead by serving.

Their focus is putting their team in a position to be successful.

They understand that fostering an environment where individuals are valued in all aspects will lead to better work outcomes.

Servant Leaders build a vision for where the team needs to go, what product(s) they need to build, and why it is important to the overall success of the company.

Then they collaborate with the team on HOW to get there.

They trust that these experts know how to do their jobs and that that have ideas and insight on the best way to build the product that will delight customers and will help the company meet their objectives.

One way to think of it is that Servant Leaders are like FARMERS:

· They create the environment for their crops to grow.

· They make sure the soil is ready, that there is enough water and sunlight for the plants to achieve their full potential.

· They don’t tell the corn how to grow.

· They don’t yell at the wheat when it isn’t growing fast enough.

Now back to the corporate offices:

They build the culture of inclusiveness and collaboration that leverages everybody’s strengths while giving them a safe environment to improve upon their weaknesses.

Signs to look for to see if your boss is a servant leader:

· Last one to talk during a collaboration session.

· Asking for input and actually LISTENS.

· They are as interested, if not more interested, in the morale of the team vs. just their outcomes.

· Actively removing impediments and resolving issues that the team cannot solve on their own.

· Always gives the team credit.

· Always takes the blame for a missed expectation.

· They provide growth opportunities to team members even if that is outside of the team.

· They protect them from unreasonable and unhealthy requests from the company.

· They respect people’s time away from the office.

I will not pretend to be a perfect servant-leader, but I ran into a friend and colleague a few Saturdays ago and he reminded me of a story. For sake of the story, I will call him Jon.

We were consulting at a giant retailer in Minneapolis. Jon was a very valuable member of our consulting team. He was so valuable that the giant retailer wanted to hire him full time.

Now from a consulting standpoint, this is a hit to our revenue. But when I talked to Jon about it, this was something he really wanted to do. Jon just welcomed their second baby to the family, and he liked the idea of being an employee at this really good company.

My reply was: “Great…let’s make this happen”. It was a win for Jon, and it was a win for our client. This was an easy decision.

Jon mentioned how much it meant to him and it really made me feel good about helping Jon do what was best for him and his family.

As work continues to get faster and more complicated, I am seeing less and less business cases for the command and control leader and a desperate need for more servant leaders.

There are very few leaders that have all the knowledge needed to make ALL of the decisions.

Servant leadership is the future. (Kickboxing image from Say Anything)

Servant leaders build environments and teams that people want to be part of. Employees want to have opportunities to build new skills and advance their careers and they see that servant leaders are the ones that will help them get there.

For a while there during the pandemic more power was given to the employees, and they could migrate to the leaders they wanted to follow. It seems like that pendulum is swinging back to management so you will want to assess how it is working in your company.

No matter where your company is heading now, I implore you to find a leader that you want to be associated with and do everything in your power to join that person’s team.

Having a leader that you want to follow, one that you trust, and one that opens up opportunities for you will help you be much more fulfilled, and relevant, at work.

So, what do you think, did you get any value out of this episode?

I would greatly appreciate hearing from you. What did you like? What did you not like? What would you want us to do more of? And what would you like us to stop doing.

All feedback is appreciated.

Keep helping us spread the word about FOBO.

Please share this with a friend, share it with an enemy, we all have the right to be relevant at work.

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Thank you and have a great week.

I am your friendly neighborhood product owner, and I look forward to connecting with you in the future.

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