Darwinian manager vs. GEO leader: Winning tactics of the gifted boss

What kind of boss are you? Consultant and author Dale Dauten proposes a new model guaranteed to boost performance exponentially while moving the company dynamic beyond traditional hierarchies. He calls it the GEO leader— GEO as in "Great Employees Only" which is the title of Dauten’s latest book, subtitled "How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success."

What kind of boss are you?

The occupation-force general believes that employees “need watching.” Their strategy is based on instilling fear and the avoidance of mistakes. They think of themselves as prison wardens instead of leaders.

The ranch boss thinks of employees as “the hired help.” They feel superior to their employees and believe they are smarter. In fact, they believe they could do each task better if only they could clone themselves.

The momordad adopts a parental role of management, based on control (both positive and negative reinforcement) and “inviting all the Freudian maelstroms into the workplace.”

The friend-boss wants to be liked and wants everyone in the workplace to be pals. Problems resulting from this model include a tendency of employees and employers to take advantage of the relationship, and a potential blindness to mediocrity.

The GEO leader

“Most managers see their role as babysitters, problem-solvers, and firefighters. And so they produce babies, problems, and fires all around them,” says motivational speaker Steve Chandler.

Dale Dauten proposes another model, one he says is guaranteed to boost performance exponentially while moving the company dynamic beyond traditional hierarchies. He calls it the GEO leader— GEO as in “Great Employees Only” which is the title of Dauten’s latest book, subtitled “How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success.”

Dauten is the founder of The Innovators’ Lab, an organization devoted to testing new ideas in marketing and management. Member organizations include Caterpillar, Avnet, NASA and General Dynamics.

Who is the GEO leader? He or she views employees as allies. Dauten explains: “Having allies changes the nature of the relationship. For one thing, you don’t have to try to select or modify personalities — you free yourself to assemble a diverse team of talents who don’t even have to like each other, all just have to be committed to helping not helping you, but helping the team committed to a circle of helping.”

GEO leaders don’t hire by a playbook; they carefully view the potential employee and try to see past the surface to “the genius lurking inside.” The hidden “star” may not interview well. He or she may look a bit disheveled but have a sharp intellect and a flair for creative marketing. Most important, the less-than-perfect-seeming candidate may have the passion for the job that would make them the perfect addition to the workplace team.

The “Darwinian boss” goes through the usual Q&A, checks the HR manual and then dismisses this less-than-perfect-seeming candidate within seconds. The gifted boss knows better, says Dauten. “The Darwinian has no time for ‘failures,’ but the GEO leader has an open mind and a large heart and is willing to look for the genius inside.”

De-hiring — not firing

In his work with all levels of management, Dauten has come across all kinds of bosses. The stickiest problem for most is the responsibility of firing employees. In fact, replacing employees is so hard for some managers, Dauten says, that they don’t do enough of it.

Of course, the best way to handle problem employees is to not hire them in the first place. Dauten offers a wealth of advice on how to recruit and hire “stars,” including innovative ways of tapping underground sources and networking. He illustrates examples of companies who do it right.

If you, the GEO leader, view employees as allies, and if you are looking out for the interests of everyone on the team, it follows that the low-performing employee either must move up to a higher performance level or find another job. It is your responsibility to find out why this employee is not fitting into the organization.

The GEO leader approaches this employee with respect, honesty and good intent. After working with the employee to (a) find out what is making him or her unhappy with the job, (b) what can be done to improve performance and setting a benchmark schedule to improve, and (c) whether in fact that person’s talents and skills would be of better use elsewhere.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, but Dauten provides numerous examples of the “de-hiring” process. In many instances, he notes, managers discovered that the low-performing employee opted to leave the company because the manager’s thoughtful approach sparked a realization that it was time to move on.

To court or not to court?

In the ideal world, the de-hiring process would consist of the following: You (the GEO leader) and the employee come up with an agreement on performance, you keeping your word to do all you can and the employee keeping a commitment to thrive or depart.

Surprisingly, says Dauten, this often works. While working as a volunteer mediator for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, Dauten discovered this fact of human nature, supported by statistics:

“When people had an outcome forced on them — such as a court order — they might contest it, refuse to honor it, declare bankruptcy, or otherwise escalate the disagreement. However, if they came to an agreement and gave their word as to what they would do, they almost always did so.”

Still, in a workplace where people come and go, Dauten urges any manager to consult with legal and/or HR when it comes to hiring stars or de-hiring employees. “Know where it is they choose to get involved, so that you can either get their help or know how to avoid their interference.”

Hanging on to a star

Maybe you’re fortunate enough to be in the presence of GEO leaders in your workplace. Dauten points to a number of models of this type of leadership: PetSmart, Southwest Airlines, Cold Stone Creamery. Some of these leaders — Dauten cites Doug Ducey of Cold Stone Creamery — actually enjoy helping employees onto the team, nurturing them to become “stars,” and helping them when they need to depart for new frontiers. Ducey calls it “the dance of working with people.”

While every company should nurture star employees, the GEO leader should not be angry or sad to see them move on in their career path. Instead, managers should view them as “graduates” of the team, and lifelong allies.

There is some risk to hiring “stars.” Dauten points to the possibility of being stuck with a prima donna who desires self-promotion over teamwork. The goal, he says, is to hire humble geniuses — ones who want to be part of a team, “which means you’re looking for 1 percent in the top 1 percent.”

Nobody said the life of a GEO leader is an easy one.

Bottom line:

A summary of GEO leadership philosophy according to Dale Dauten:

  • It isn’t enough to put up good numbers; to qualify as a gifted boss, you must put up good numbers and good karma.
  • Using money to make more money is a useful skill, but using people to make better people is the gift that the best executives share and receive.
  • Hiring, de-hiring and inspiring are all part of a higher-order manner of dealing with people.
  • Done properly, the great customer experience and the great employee experience merge into one.

Leave a Reply