You want your team to work harder, faster, and get more results. Meet Eddie Erlandson. He’s not your standard, made-to-order executive coach—which is to say he’s not some toothy grinner with a salesman’s laugh and a bunch of canned motivational quips.
Instead, Erlandson is a former surgeon and an ultra-long-distance runner; a guy who drives himself hard and who has honed a special talent for understanding what makes men like him tick. With his singular insights (and his medical training), Erlandson and his wife, Kate Ludeman, run an Austin, Texas–based executive consulting firm called Worth Ethic, which specializes in taming hypercompetitive, aggressive alpha leaders—a breed of executive of which there is no shortage in corporate America, or, for that matter, professional sports.
In the past few years, Erlandson and Ludeman have become gurus to a litany of heavy hitters, from Hollywood über-agents to business titans at companies such as Coca-Cola, eBay, and Dell—and the actual heavy-hitters of the Boston Red Sox.
The central irony that animates their approach is that the very traits that help men become leaders in business—assertiveness, confidence, ambition—are pretty much the same ones that can make them horrible leaders. Unchecked egos will derail productivity, communication lapses will calcify into grudges, and jerk bosses with piss-poor attitudes can sink entire companies. Reprogramming these guys—that’s where Erlandson and Ludeman come in. “We curb the belligerence and unleash the brilliance,” he says. Here are their 8 game-changing strategies every leader should know. And to climb even faster up the corporate ladder, don’t miss these essential 50 Ways to Look A Decade Younger.
You want to supercharge productivity, right? Well, demoralizing your subordinates with red-faced tirades does just the opposite. According to a workplace study administered by the research firm Development Dimensions International, most employees fritter away 10 hours a month complaining (or listening to others complain) about a bad boss. You think those complainers are ambitious workers the rest of the time? Being a nice guy, however, is great for business, according to a study published in the journal Management Science. Economists from Stanford and M.I.T. found that CEOs who empathize with their employees end up getting more out of them because they feel invested in the company’s success. “You can have the greatest business model in the world, or the greatest product, or the greatest people,” says executive coach Eddie Erlandson. “But you get a jerk-off running things and you’re not going anywhere.” Of course, you don’t see yourself as a jerk-off. But when you scream, that’s what your employees see. For more insider secrets that will get you richer, faster, click here for The 20 Rules Every Successful Entrepreneur Must Know.
Performers to Lunch
Hard-charging bosses thrive on the thrill of achievement. But if you hustle from one challenge to another, the successes aren’t recognized. Erlandson reminds bosses that celebrating a job well done not only strengthens morale, but also lets employees know where the finish line is. It’s easier to leap into the next project after the last one is tucked away neatly in the success column. Plus, it forces you to spell out expectations. The Red Sox are luckier than most companies in that they have a clear barometer of success. “At the end of our year, the results were clear: We won or we lost,” says former Red Sox VP Chuck Steedman. “And when we won, you better believe we had a hell of a party.”
Then Get Out of the Way
Beware the fine line between getting results and getting in the way. A healthy desire for productivity can morph into a penchant for micromanaging (a surefire morale suck). The trick, says Erlandson, is getting others to desire results just like you do. That’s more likely to happen naturally if you don’t get in their faces. Hand out assignments right before you go on vacation. You’ll be amazed how far people get.
You Give Everyone Else’s
Self-assurance is great. But blind surety can be devastating. Hyperstrong bosses are prone to overconfidence that leaves them underestimating risks. Erlandson, who was hooked on ultramarathons, used to enter races he didn’t have time to train for. Out of touch with his own limits, he invented a goofy strategy he called “in-event training,” in which he’d use the first half of the race to prepare for the second. It worked a couple of times, but he abandoned it after a 100-kilometer race gave him nine stress fractures. Try tearing your own plans apart like you would a subordinate’s. Better yet, run your bold ideas by a level-headed peer who knows your blind spots and isn’t afraid to call you on them.
The business world is loaded with ex-jocks, guys who are prone to injecting competition into places it doesn’t belong, like a brainstorming meeting. When he works with a fierce competitor, Erlandson challenges him to record his behavior on a mental scoreboard. Instead of simply focusing on quarterly sales, tally the times you fire up your employees with encouragement. Then try to beat your high score.
Where You’re Taking Them
Being the boss means standing apart from your employees. The leader needs to be out in front. But there’s a risk in being too far away. Detached bosses tend not to be clear about what they want, which forces employees to guess. When Erlandson’s wife, Kate Ludeman, first began working with Michael Dell, the computer mogul had a tough time relating to his employees. He had worked hard to keep his emotions from affecting his decisions, so much so that his execs never really knew how he felt. In 2001, with his company reeling after the tech implosion, Dell decided to share with his 14 senior vice presidents the leadership weak spots his one-on-one sessions with Ludeman had helped him discover. His candor bred loyalty in a tough time. It also gave the execs a window into what he was feeling…and allowed them to better carry out his wishes. Stop caring what other people think and focus on what’s on your mind, with these 50 Things You Must Do Before You Die.
Aggressive execs are wired to see every interaction as a test of will. “They love adrenaline,” says Erlandson. “They love competition, and they’ll create it when there is none.” But turbulence with no purpose poisons the work environment. The first step to combating the urge for work-related throwdowns is to connect on another level. Once you and your lieutenant have shared a few laughs about the dirtbags who took your daughters to the prom, you’ll start approaching each other as allies. When he first met with Red Sox brass, Erlandson had them trade funny stories about growing up. It gave them something to chat about that didn’t relate to work or involve one-upmanship. “In the six years I’ve been here, that night was one of the best,” says Red Sox exec Sam Kennedy.
Guys with the confidence to think they have the answers aren’t the sort who talk about what they’re feeling. That means old resentments build up. “One guy in particular seemed very even-keeled and respectful, even elegant at first,” recalls Erlandson. “And then a button would be pushed, and it was as if a dump truck full of old shit would show up and dump on everybody around him. People wondered, Where the hell did that come from? The behavior is disconnected from the present event.” If you don’t like the way Johnson pitched the AT&T account, give him specific pointers the next day for how you’d like to see him make the next sale. Don’t wait two months to bust his balls for performance he thought met your approval. And don’t fall victim to the pressures of being top dog. Find relief here with these instantly-relaxing 10 Ways to Beat Stress in 10 Minutes or Less.