Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recently released memoir, Known and Unknown, reveals a man of prodigious intellect (no surprise), an endearing sense of humor and little self-doubt. Whether or not you're a fan of the Secretary, it's a great read.

Secretary Rumsfeld's book tour has included stops at several of the Sunday morning news shows. Virtually every one of those show's hosts has questioned him about his management style. A typical question: "Mr. Secretary, many people state that your style intimidated the generals who worked for you. How do you respond to that?"

Rumsfeld has answered that question virtually the same way each time it's asked: "That's absurd. These Generals are combat veterans. They're not intimidated by anyone or anything."

He's wrong. His answer reveals his big blind spot. He has (and as Secretary, HAD) no clue as to the power of his own voice. That became his primary undoing.

From my own treasure trove of experience:

During a strategy session with the executive team of a Fortune 200 company, the CEO reiterated his commitment to reduce the firm's expenses by 20 percent over the ensuing 24 months. During that session, he froze the senior VP of Sales and Marketing with an icy stare and speared him with the following inquiry: "John, you'll be able to hit your sales targets despite these expense reductions, won't you?" Apparently undaunted, John replied with his typical enthusiasm. "Sure – no problem!" After the meeting, I saw John in the hallway. He was, shall we say, less certain.

I later commented privately to the CEO that after reviewing the assumptions in the company's sales plan, I believed the planned expense reduction would kill its chances of meeting its plan. His response? "I pay these people lots of money to overcome obstacles. John's a big boy. If he said they could do it, they'll do it."

They didn't do it. Here's why:

* Expense reduction always hits the bottom line quickly. The corresponding impact on the top line takes longer. As a result, executives usually rationalize that impact away. Many CEOs don't contemplate this. The great ones do.

* People have a burning desire to please the boss. Accordingly, when asked to make a commitment – even about something really important and on the spur of the moment – many executives will cave in to the pressure.

* Many CEOs don't recognize the power of their own voices. The great ones do.

How could this situation have been handled more effectively? The CEO could have said, "John, have you and your people contemplated the impact of these reductions on our sales plan?" When John responded in the affirmative, the follow-up could have gone like this: "The company's results are at stake here. We should all have a comfort level with the exact nature of that impact, and the precise actions you have planned to overcome it. Let's set aside an hour or two this afternoon (assuming John is ready) to discuss this."

Both Secretary Rumsfeld and my CEO client underestimated the impact of the pressure they exerted with a stare, an inquiry, or an implied expectation. If you're "the boss," you have to accept the notion that the influence you have, merely because of the job title on your business card, squeezes people's psyches regardless of whether they're three-star Generals or one-star trainees.

How would you have handled this problem? Would you have recognized that to engender commitment and enthusiasm among the team members, you would need to deal with the reality and complexity of these situations? Would you have been willing to subordinate your ego to get to the right answers and increase everyone's confidence? Would you accept the notion that, as a leader, your job is not merely to get people to DO what needs to be done, but to WANT TO DO what needs to be done?

Are you one of the great ones – or are you willing to be?

Copyright 2011 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit