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Leadership yin and yang drive success

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

If you ask Doug Tieman to describe his leadership style, he’ll give you two answers. When he wants to inspire employees to excel, he sees himself as a cheerleader. But when crises erupt and he seeks to reassure an anxious workforce, he acts like a mule skinner.

Tieman has served as CEO of Caron Treatment Centers since 1995. A nonprofit, Caron provides addiction treatment programs.

Growing up in rural Missouri, Tieman loved to watch the cheerleaders at high school basketball games. He marveled at how their spirit and enthusiasm ignited the whole crowd.

Working as a fundraiser for a college a few years later, he met a board member who hailed from Michigan. The board member, whose father was a copper miner, told a young Tieman that mule skinners were a miner’s best friend.

Mule skinners were dirty, unshaven roughnecks. But they were the most re­­sourceful, resilient folks in the mine. In an emergency, mule skinners could lead everyone to safety.

Cheerleaders radiate optimism. Mule skinners refuse to take no for an answer and confront adversity head-on.

For Tieman, leadership means combining the best traits of both cheerleaders and mule skinners. To prod people to hit ambitious goals, he rallies them to up their game and cheers their progress. But when uncertainties or roadblocks leave employees worried or frustrated, he thinks like a mule skinner and relies on mental toughness.

“You can’t be one or the other all the time,” he says. “A constant cheerleader will not be taken seriously, while a tough, hard mule skinner may seem unapproachable or unpleasant.”

— Adapted from Flying Over the Pigpen, Doug Tieman, HCI Books.

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