weLEAD Leadership Series: Exclusive Interview with Jim Hatherley

13.8 min read

Greg L. Thomas

Interviewed by Greg Thomas

Jim Hatherley has been a manager and leader for a Fortune 150 Company for over 25 years.  His inspiration to write “Daring To Be Different” actually came from employees who convinced him that managers, and their employees, could significantly benefit from understanding his approach to managing. Told that over 90% of management books are never read in their entirety, Jim’s goal was to write a book that was easy to read, easy to remember, and easy to use – and that held the reader’s interest until the final page.

Based on the reviews in Amazon, he has been successful in this regard. While the book was written with existing and aspiring managers in mind, it has been increasingly used in universities and graduate programs as a supplemental reader in their management programs.

A native Bostonian, Jim is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and has several professional designations.

1. Jim, thank you for your fine book as it was a pleasure to read. What past events in your career contributed to you writing “Daring to Be Different?

Without a doubt, the main reason for writing “Daring to Be Different” was the ongoing encouragement – almost a demand – from the people working for me to write a book that could help managers become more effective, even leaders, by using a similar managerial approach with their employees.  Frankly, it was a very flattering experience for me because I was not really aware of the differences until I began to hear about how many employees are almost routinely dispirited by their managers.

I am not saying that what I do is something that just comes naturally to me, because leading is something that I consciously think about all the time.  But, it really isn’t as difficult as it seems once you place yourself into the position of the employee, and help them to see the big picture, business objectives and to understand their role in making them happen.

If there is one key, however, it is trust.  Trust is a must.

2. What can a new manager do if their predecessor lacked trust and they have inherited a group of suspicious and unmotivated co-workers?

Think about the symbiotic relationship between the manager/leader and the work force.  To be a leader, the new manager needs followers, but followers need to be convinced that their leader is capable and trustworthy of guiding them in the right direction.

Therefore, when a new manager takes over there is often a sense of uneasiness within the organization, especially when the person is not well known (or unknown) to the workers.  Everybody is watching what the new manager says and does, and many are keeping score.

While most people are usually very nice to the incoming manager at the time of the announcement, what they really want to immediately know is why they got the job, and how their lives are going to be impacted as a result. This means that the new manager must work very quickly on two things: a) establish their credibility and b) create trust.

There is little substitute for getting off to a good start.  Some of the initial relationship building can be done in group meetings, but much of it will come in day-to-day/face-to-face encounters.  As a result, new managers must be able to publicly present their vision so that their workers know where they are going, and to articulate their philosophy so they will know what is expected.  However, it also means that thenew manager must be able to personally relate to their workforce by listening to what they have to say and by hearing what they tell you.

But you also must make the distinction between suspicious and unmotivated workers.  There is a difference.  The discussion above will help to convert doubters into believers primarily because most employees want to work for someone who makes them eager to go to work each morning, not desperate to go home every night.

Unmotivated workers are another story.  Everyone usually knows who these people are, but they do not want to “rat out” another employee.  Therefore, among the new manager’s first tasks is to evaluate their staff and to ask for their commitment to reach their goals.  Experience shows that most employees will immediately hop on board, followed shortly thereafter by a smaller group once they “get it.”  However, after a reasonable effort (fairness is perceived as a managerial asset), when a new manager determines that a worker will be as unmotivated working for them as they were for their predecessor, action must be taken.  When this happens, there will be a silent cheer – and long term credibility – coming from the people who are eager to move the organization forward.

3. In your book you draw a sharp contrast between two types of managers.  One you call a Monarch and the other a Muralist.  Please explain for our readers the difference between the two.

In my experience I have found that most managers are monarchs.  Over the years I have tried to understand the reasons for this and I have a few thoughts as to why.  For example, Monarchs are typically top down authoritarians – the “my way or the highway” crowd.  Information is viewed as power, and is dispensed on a need-to-know basis.  This creates a negative environment in which  the real/perceived need is to be seen as an “insider.”  This clearly fits into the traditional command and control model, and inevitably perpetuates a political culture of concurrently bowing down and kissing up.

I also see that some Monarchs are an extension of the less devious Parent-Child relationship.  They have learned and clearly understand how to do as they are told, and expect their employees to be as equally obedient. This is probably why so many employees complain that they feel like they are treated like children.

There are other reasons for Monarchic behavior.  For instance, too many managers are more concerned about themselves than with the people reporting to them.  When managers are thinking more about getting the credit, or posturing themselves for their next opportunities, than developing the people who are depending on them for direction and support, you can see how lack of trust issues develop.

And, finally, I think a good part of it is laziness.  It is far easier to say, “Do it, dammit,” because it places the burden on the employee to learn what they are supposed to do through personal initiative and by organizational osmosis, than it is to roll up your sleeves and help a person develop into their roles and responsibilities.  Laziness may be the wrong word – it may be a combination of immaturity and laziness, or it might be that many managers do not fully understand that their “widget” is developing and enabling their subordinates to deliver their “widgets.”

Conversely, Muralists lay out their vision so clearly that their employees not only can see where they are going, but also how they will get there, and what their roles are in the process.  They invite their workers to participate in the process to share in the ownership of the result.  As a result, employees can see themselves being successful within the plan, and the process set out to achieve it, long before the plan is completed.

Muralists challenge the individual limits of their employees and delight in their mutual discoveries and successes.  By doing this, they create a trusting and collaborative environment in which information and knowledge are shared, and so is feedback and ongoing support.  What develops is an organization in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Perhaps it would easier to provide a few contrasts and let you judge who you would prefer as the head of your organization:

Muralists dialogue; Monarchs dictate

Muralists supply contagious energy; Monarchs provide infectious lethargy

Muralists give credit; Monarchs take credit

Muralists serve employees; Monarchs are served by employees.

Muralists attract the talented; Monarchs repel the talented.

Muralists lead; Monarchs manage.

Picture a race between two boats on a lake.  One is a kayak, the other a rowboat.  Who wins?  The kayaker is facing forward, moving forward, with a clear view of their destination AND of the obstacles emerging along the way.  The rower is moving forward but looking backwards, seeing where they have been, not where they are going.  Which one is being propelled by the Muralist?

4. Within your book you write with a sense of passion in your description of a “Monarch” manager.  Earlier in your career, were you a Monarch, or did you work under a Monarch? How did you learn about this type of manager?

This is easy because I have not met anyone who has not worked for  Monarchs at some point in their careers (perhaps even their entire careers).  And, because new managers learn how to manage by following the example of, and taking direction from, more tenured managers, you can see another reason why this kind of leadership style is so prevalent, and in my view, under-effective.

However, I was fortunate that the most influential manager for whom I worked came early in my career.  Amid the Monarchs, this manager stood (in the Dr. Suessarian sense) as the “tallest of allest.” What I saw in him was that he not only took the time to be visible, he used his time to learn – and remember – something about everyone who worked for him.  They were simple, but important, things, like the names of their spouses, or children, or dogs, or their colleges, or activities, or their special skills, or how they got their nicknames etc.  And, he had a great handshake which he used often.  All of this made everyone feel very “special” when you were in his presence – and you never wanted to disappoint the person who made you feel special.

But, all of this takes work, and many managers will tell you that they do not have enough of it to invest in such trivialities, even if they are good ideas.  Many are just not comfortable asking questions that create such a level of connectivity.  Having a workforce that is often dispersed in several locations and even across the country, provides even more challenges.  However, developing relationships is a very important part of the job, and the best managers make it look easy, even though I know that it isn’t.

Keep in mind, however – and this point is clearly made in the book – the best leaders are not 100% muralists, nor are the worst managers completely monarchic.  Using labels does not eliminate the need to deliver projects and services on time and on budget.  The challenge is to develop a leadership style that helps connect employees to the organizational vision and to create a trusting environment in which people do not want to disappoint their leader.  Therefore, the best managers are probably “Muralarchs.”

5. In chapter 10 you discuss the overused cliché to think “outside of the box.”  Tell us why doing this can actually be destructive.

Actually, I find “out of the box” talk a little misleading and disingenuous. Think of the “box” as the organizational business plan and the strategy to achieve its objectives.  These goals are not set lightly. Employees are hired and resources expended.  To achieve them in a competitive market requires the collective efforts of all employees working together.

This is somewhat analogous to a football team.  Once the play is called, every player has a specific role and responsibility to execute.  Each player must rely on their teammates to do their jobs.  You cannot have eleven players running eleven different plays because they think they know more than the coach or because they have an “out of the box” flea flicker in their bag that makes them the center of attention.

Therefore, talking about “out of the box” thinking can be harmful if it naively encourages the misallocation of resources, or the misdirection of significant energy to activities that do not propel the organization forward.

Instead, it is incumbent on managers to paint the organizational vision so clearly for employees (i.e., to muralize) that everyone understands the desired end result.  With that in mind, they can work “inside the box” to get where they need to go, even if they must creatively stretch some of the boundaries to get there.

6. Another important comparison in your book is the difference between “lifters” and “leaners”! Give us a definition and help our readers to differentiate the two.

Lifters are the people whose commitment, intelligence, energy, and stamina are at the forefront of organizational success.  Their energy is contagious.  They are the ones who tirelessly “figure it out,” raise the bar, and, in the process, inspire others to become part of a winning team.

Conversely, Leaners know what they are supposed to do, but choose not to do it consistently, or well.  For an experienced group of employees who should be able to produce much with little management, they produce too little and require too much managing to get it.  Their bad habits are infectious.

Problematically, many leaners are promotional blockers for up and coming lifters.  Unless this is appropriately managed, the lifters leave for better opportunities and the leaners stay – precisely the reverse of what the organization needs.

Picture a group of highway workers leaning on their shovels on the side of a highway.  As the boss’s truck approaches, the word quickly goes down the line and the shovels begin digging.  However, as soon as the truck goes over the hill, the leaning resumes.  Motivated workers are quickly advised to conform to the norm or face the consequences.  This either perpetuates bad habits or encourages termination.  How often does this happen in organizations every day?

You have to dive into the reasons for this kind of behavior (see monarchs vs. muralists above), but the problem is greater than most people know.  Employee engagement surveys reveal that more people actually classify themselves as disengaged (unproductively on the payroll, or leaners) than highly engaged (lifters who exert extra effort and spend discretionary time to help their organizations reach their objectives).  However, the majority of employees could go either way.  This is why management matters and why better leadership is needed.

At the end of the game, the team with the most lifters usually wins.

7. The “Leadership Compass” you publish in Chapter 20 is innovative and a great teaching tool. Without taking away from the book, briefly tell us what the compass can tell us about ourselves or others.

Thanks for the nice words about the Leadership Compass.  I have been using this for over twenty years.  It works on two levels.

First, it helps a manager to evaluate the talent/contribution of their employees.  Lifters are most critical, of course, because while they are the most valuable employees, they are also the most fragile.  They need continuing challenges and occasional reinforcement of their value.  They are the employees your competitors are looking for.  Besides the lifters, the manager also identifies their Leaners, Learners, and employees on Life Support.  The key for managers is to develop a plan for each employee specific to their place on the Compass, to help them either move up in the organization, or out of it.  Either is a good result.

The second step is to calculate the performance rating of the entire organization and compare it to the model of a highly performing organization.  I have never seen this concept expressed before, but from my experience the process works very well because it requires managers to take a critically introspective look at their organization, and then develop a holistic plan of action to a) develop more lifters; b) to either re-invigorate or remove leaners; c) to provide training and development to support the learners; and d) to deal with those on life support to free up places for candidates better equipped to become lifters.

8. How much have the teachings of servant-leadership influenced your philosophy and writing?

Frankly, while I have read articles about servant-leadership, my philosophy and management style were well established when “Daring to Be Different, A Manager’s Ascent To Leadership” was written.  However, I do find it encouraging to see that others are using different labels to describe a similar philosophy and style of management that I believe is critical for organizations who understand that success does not come from “doing more with less,” but from “getting more from more.”

Thanks Greg for your questions and the opportunity to express my views in weLEAD.

  • Quote of the Day

    “I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?”

    — Benjamin Disraeli