Doug Herzog – How Generosity of Spirit Helps People Grow
“Another generous leader with whom I’ve worked for many years, and for whom I have great affection, is Doug Herzog, the President of Viacom Entertainment Group. Doug is much more likely to assume positive than negative intent – he believes that people generally want to do good work, and that you should hire smart, capable people and assume that they’ll then be smart and capable. I’ve noticed over the years that most people really like working for him: they tend to blossom in the sun of his regard. They feel motivated to fulfill his positive expectations. Of course, sometimes people don’t fulfill his expectations, and then he can be disappointed, and sometimes even has to let them go – but the vast majority of the time, I’ve seen his hopefulness about people bear fruit.
For example, at one point many years ago, Doug was having some difficulties with one of his direct reports. This guy – let’s call him Joe – was running programming for one of the channels Doug manages, and while he was creative and smart, he was uncommunicative and hard to read. Rather than assuming that Joe had some hidden agenda or was being secretive, Doug assumed that he simply didn’t understand how his lack of communication was affecting those around him. He offered Joe an executive coach; Joe took advantage of the opportunity and improved his communication and his focus on teaming with others. Now, almost ten years later, Joe is running the network: he and Doug have a strong and positive working relationship.”
— From Chapter 7 of Leading So People Will Follow
Doug was the first client with whom I shared the six Accepted Leader attributes, in 1996. I had been working on the model for about a year, and felt as though I had something important – simple, true and useful. I explained to Doug how I had been observing the differences between ‘appointed’ and ‘accepted’ leaders, and how I had come to believe that we have a kind of radar for good leadership built into us from ancient times as a group survival mechanism. I laid out the six attributes – and he started applying them instantly, thinking out loud (very accurately) about some of his direct reports and which of the qualities they did and didn’t demonstrate. It was exciting for me; his immediate adoption was my first indicator that I had found something core to our perceptions of leadership.
But it also said something to me about Doug as a leader. I had already noticed that generous leaders tended to ‘assume positive intent’ – to believe that people want to do good work and be strong team members, and that when those things aren’t happening, it’s more likely to be the result of a misunderstanding or a lack of skill or knowledge, rather than of a malicious or selfish agenda, or a permanent inability on that person’s part. What I understood that day with Doug was that this generosity of spirit doesn’t make leaders naive or pollyanna-ish. Doug was quite clear about the leadership deficits of the folks working for him. Assuming positive intent, when well-practiced, is hopeful but realistic: you see people for who they are, and you believe that they can grow and want to grow.
It’s the essence of ‘reasonable aspiration,’ and it provides a great developmental environment for the followers of a generous leader.