Gut Check: Are You A Paper Pusher, Or A Real Leader?

July 23, 2014 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Are You A Paper Pusher, Or A Real Leader?

As the interim CEO of Target Corp., John Mulligan had a simple message for his senior executives: it’s time to lead.

Mulligan has been tasked to pick up the pieces left by former CEO Gregg Steinhafel, who left the retail giant reeling from failed ventures and a massive breach of customer data from its online operation.

To say that Target is undergoing a leadership re-boot does not entirely describe the pace and magnitude of the changes occurring at the senior levels of the company.

In addition to moving Steinhafel out, investors and proxy advisors have declared all-out war on Target’s board of directors. The proxy firms recommended that shareholders use the annual general meeting this month to vote out seven of the company’s 10 directors.

They were all re-elected, but the message from investors was pretty clear: get your act together. Reacting to that signal, Mulligan is taking bold steps to re-invent the leadership culture at Target.

Mulligan is moving all its top executives into offices that share the same floor of its headquarters in Minneapolis. The former “executive committee” of the company has been renamed the “leadership team.” Internal executive committees are being disbanded to streamline decision-making.

“All across Target, we need more ‘leadership’ and less ‘committee,’ ” Mulligan told executives in a letter obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

In Mulligan’s view, Target had become a company bogged down with high-level “bureaucracy.” This was a problem identified, as the WSJ noted, by many high-level executives after Steinhafel departed.

The exact meaning of that comment is still being deciphered as more inside information trickles out of the beleaguered retailer. My sense is that it would be safe to say that Target had built a company where administrators and paper pushers occupied roles that should have been filled by real leaders.

In this scenario, nobody has the intestinal fortitude to stand up and put their own opinions on the record. People sit quietly by as they watch others make mistakes. Everyone is afraid to offer their own ideas in case they fail.

As Mulligan noted, this is leadership by committee. And that rarely works.

Yes, good leaders listen to their colleagues before making decisions. And they work collaboratively with technical experts to ensure their decisions have the best chance of succeeding.

But good leaders also have to realize at some point, it’s time to wrangle all of the data and input, weigh the pros and cons, and make decisions and move things forward.

To say Target has been facing considerable challenges of late is an understatement. Add to that the subsequent revelation that the company was weighed down by ineffective bureaucrats occupying key leadership roles is a cautionary tale for all leaders.

It’s an example that should force all leaders to ask themselves some difficult questions to ensure we are leading, and not just pushing paper.

Why am I leading? Where am I leading?

Am I a bureaucrat in leader’s clothing? And more importantly, have you fooled yourself into thinking you’re a leader?

This week’s gut check: Are you just paper pusher, or a real leader?

Follow me @VinceMolinaro

About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro
Previous Article
Gut Check: Are You All In As A Leader?
Gut Check: Are You All In As A Leader?

The FIFA World Cup is one of the world’s most compelling sports...

Next Article
Gut Check: Are You Creating A Great Leadership Experience For Employees
Gut Check: Are You Creating A Great Leadership Experience For Employees

Maya Angelou was a renaissance woman – a prolific poet,...