Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I came across an article that may make you think differently about the challenges of followership and its relevance to client service. Warren Bennis' article titled Followership notes:

"What makes a good follower? The most important characteristic may be a willingness to tell the truth. In a world of growing complexity, leaders are increasingly dependent on their subordinates for good information, whether the leaders want to hear it or not. Followers who tell the truth, and leaders who listen to it, are an unbeatable combination.

"Movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn seems to have had a gut-level awareness of the importance of what I call "effective backtalk" from subordinates. After a string of box-office flops, Mr. Goldwyn called his staff together and told them: 'I want you to tell me exactly what's wrong with me and MGM, even if it means losing your job.'"

Let's face it, the same holds true for outside counsel of any kind advising a client. The only question we have to ask ourselves is: Are we selfless enough and courageous enough to speak truth to power, even if it means losing the client? When have you been faced with that dilemma, and how have you responded?


  1. Hi Leo,

    Really enjoy this streamline of thought...

    First, I need to state upfront that I encourage you to read The Alchemist (if you haven't already). It's short inspirational story that discusses the idea of one's Personal Legend and the obstacles we place in our own way. What I took from it is that one should dare to dream, but for so many of us, we sabotage our dreams by relying on the familiar. Ultimately, fear, conditioning and the inability to provide honest reflection in our lives are the culprits.

    Now, transferring this thought pattern to the questions you raise...I am currently undergoing a career search which started by the ending of a twelve year relationship, albeit with a new management team, with my largest client. I was very candid in my assessment that they were a green organization (as in former admins being promoted to senior brand management positions) and their expectations were outpacing execution. Further, they were shooting themselves in the foot when it came to strategy and promotion - in part because new management came from a foreign culture outside of the US and they were firmly entrenched in the idea that they could adapt non-US strategies to the US marketplace. Money wasted, market share lost, brand dileniation and severe damage to stakeholder relationships followed. Maybe they will turn it around, but in speaking to industry constituents, they've lost value and have essentially become a non-entity.

    I decided it was best to provide a transparent, candid assesment regardless of outcome simply because it was the right thing to do. It was difficult given my history and loyalty to the brand, but it would have continued to be a downward spiraling, unhealthy relationship. I concluded that I outgrew the organization and my talents were not being challenged or optimized. So I am now forging my own personal legend, and couldn't be happier. Scared of the unknown and uncertainty? Absolutely, but dollars/income only makeup a part of the story and certainly cannot completely justify personal fulfillment.

  2. It's also important that we don't act like Oedipus in Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex. Oedipus, as you may recall, spent his whole life trying to escape his tragic fate. By doing everything to avoid it, he walked right into it. When one isn't honest with their client and afraid to tell the truth simply to preserve their job/client relationship, they risk being fired for that very behavior. For my money, speaking truth to power is the only choice. Well done Chris.



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