What Makes a Dynamic Leader?
Penetration: Being "of the People"

by Larraine Segil

Dynamic leaders that affect change have the trait that I call "penetration." The term penetration encompasses many subtraits of a dynamic leader:

  • The ability to see the whole.
  • A deep belief in people.
  • A willingness to be personally vulnerable.
  • The ability to see interrelated connections.
  • A balanced perspective between short- and long-term needs.
  • A balance between the extremes of toughness and humanity.

Phil Carroll, formerly CEO of Shell Oil USA, is a good example of a leader who exemplifies the trait of penetration. Those who worked for him at Shell affirm that one of the most important things he did as their leader was to be inclusionary. Says Jerome Adams, former leader of the Shell Learning Center:

This is not a superficial gesture that communicates, "Let's give everyone a say but do what we want to anyway." Rather, it is a concerted effort made personally by him [Phil Carroll] to get the opinions, concerns, and issues on the table that confront the people in the organization, no matter what their title or position. This means genuinely being interested in different points of view, not just from senior management but also from those in the middle of the organization who are often more knowledgeable about what is really working or not.

This personifies the ability to have a deep belief in people. Penetrating an organization to its depths such as this enables a leader to become educated about his/her employees to endear their trust, confident that their points of view matter.

Respect, Not Friendship

The objective of organizational penetration is not about friendship, but about respect. Some companies have a Friday happy hour or a pizza lunch to create social situations where everyone can mingle. A small company called The Iris Group in Carlsbad, California, has taken this concept to higher level.

Steven Hoffman, founder and CEO of the privately-held company in the postcard business, noticed that hundreds of employees were leaving the company building for lunch, driving far to a restaurant since the company was located in a developing community. This time-consuming activity caused a decrease in productivity. Alternatively, some employees would bring lunches and eat at their desks. This resulted in no communication, little networking, and few opportunities for team and group leaders to build personal relationship equity and penetrate the organization with new and fruitful business opportunities.

Hoffman decided to provide a soup and salad bar for employees, thinking his employees might use this a few days a week and go out the rest of the time. However, the idea is so popular that no one leaves the company during lunch hour ---- employees sit together in the cafeteria and talk, less time is wasted, and building personal relationship equity through penetration has moved into all areas of the company, dramatically increasing the effectiveness of all teams. Computers with access to the Internet have been added to the lunch space, so that employees can do personal email, e-shopping or surfing the net during their lunch hour, rather than on company time. Hoffman and his senior management talk with people during lunch, at every level of the company and learn important information.

Interestingly, this is THE benefit that employees talk about. It has become an employment differentiator and part of the culture of this small company, which is growing by double-digit numbers annually.

"Of the People" Traits

So, what other traits do "of the people" leaders possess:

Ability to be humble: A leader who is insecure in his or her decisions runs the risk of communicating that problem to employees in one-on-one discussions. It's difficult to imagine that a leader can rise through the organizational ranks to a position in senior management while being insecure in his or her decisions. But it happens. Don't mistake this characteristic for humility. The most appealing trait of a leader is the ability to be humble. It generally comes from a good sense of self and a feeling of personal adequacy that enables an open willingness to learn.

Humility: Humility is a rare characteristic in the corporate world. Yet, where it is found is the same place that leadership will naturally find its home. Herb Kelleher, Chairman of the Board of Southwest Airlines, describes it as "professional terminalism." Says Kelleher:

People who emphasize strongly the fact that they are professionals usually are not very good at what they do. What really adds up to professionalism, is being very good at what you do in a very modest way. That's the way our people are. They are results oriented. Whether it's the best safety record in the work, the best customer service record in the world, the youngest fleet or lower fares, our people are really focused.

Patience: Personal equity is not built in a day or even in a year. It takes time. It takes many repeated interactions. Those who patiently build multiple relationships over the years are continually creating their own databases of community. These leaders often take their teams with them to new opportunities.

Intimacy: Intimacy is not a term we often use in business. In fact, we avoid the term and the concept because of visions of sexual harassment and more. Yet, intimacy is as old as the human condition and every organization has to define its perception of intimacy. The characteristic of being "of the people" denotes some level of emotional and intellectual intimacy. And, organizations that create intellectual and social intimacy among their employees, and even with their customers and suppliers, will succeed in building long-term loyalty.

Leaders who invest time in developing individual relationships at multiple levels within an organization provide a conduit to bring about organizational change and buy-in. Are you "of the people?" To find out, consider these questions:

  • Map out the relationships that you have developed in your present or past positions. Have you continued to nurture them?

  • Are you a person whom others consider to be in their personal equity pool?

  • What is your plan to make others aware of your value and willingness to be a part of their personal equity plan?

  • Do you encourage "of the people" behavior such as get-togethers, walk around management, brain storming sessions, etc.?


Larraine Segil is a Thought Leader on mergers, alliances and the importance of business relationships. Her latest book, "Dynamic Leader, Adaptive Organization: Ten Essential Traits for Managers," was published in March, 2002 as the lead book for Wiley Publishers. She is also the author of "FastAlliances™: Power Your E-Business" (Wiley, 2001), and "Intelligent Business Alliances," (Times Books, 1996). Larraine has been featured in BusinessWeek, CIO, CFO, Bloomberg News, and Internet World. She is a commentator on CNN, CNBC and Yahoo FinanceVision on alliances and mergers, and consults worldwide on alliances for domestic and global companies. Larraine can be reached directly at (310) 556-1778 or via email at lsegil@lsegil.com . More information can be found on her website at www.lsegil.com .

Media Contact: Cindy Kazan (414) 352-3535; cindy@communik-pr.com .

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Copyright 2003 by Larraine Segil. All rights reserved.

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