Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer realizes how he enabled a conflict between subordinates

From The Mistake Bank:

Another snippet from the new book “Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others” by Justin Menkes. In an interview, Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer discusses how focusing on his role in enabling a conflict between two subordinates, rather than ordering them to work it out themselves, helped them all get the problem solved.

Sharer’s insistence throughout our conversation that his success was far from preordained reveals his acute awareness of actual circumstances. His openness to the very real possibilities that events could have unfolded unfavorably throughout his life is an essential part of his insistence of a clear-eyed view of his life choices. This kind of realism is at the heart of the adaptive capacity leaders need to have: to authentically believe in the value of self-improvement, leaders must also authentically embrace how their past imperfections had very real, and sometimes costly, consequences.

For example, Sharer described how two of his best people almost blew up over tension with each other, and how he was able to claim his own role in the issue. “I had assigned my two key guys to resolve a problem,” he told me. “I just said,’Would you guys please figure this out?’ They didn’t have a shared reality, and it wasn’t clear who was supposed to do what. Soon their differences of opinion were starting to cascade down. It was really tearing the company apart.”

Once it finally dawned on him that he might have had a role in the conflict from the beginning, he asked himself honestly what part of it he owned, and then he set things right. “I came up with a list about that long” – he spread his arms wide – “of my part of the problem. And when I briefed them the next Monday, I said, ‘Look, guys, before I tell you what’s gone wrong and what we need to do, let me tell you what I haven’t done.’ That cleared the air, and then we found a way to fix things. In fact, we got stronger as a team because of going through this fire together.”

pp. 71-72

Excerpted from “Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others” by Justin Menkes. (c) 2011 Esaress Holding, Limited.

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