The Visionary Leader When Frank Coleman first began his job as president of Hi-Tech Aerostructures, most managers and employees felt a surge of hope and excitement. Hi-Tech Aerostructures is a 50- year-old, family-owned manufacturing company that produces parts for the aircraft industry. The founder and owner had served as president until his health began to decline, and he felt the need to bring in someone from outside the company to get a fresh perspective. It was certainly needed. Over the past several years, Hi-Tech had just been stumbling along. Coleman came to the company from a smaller business, but one with excellent credentials as a leader in advanced aircraft technology. He had a vision for transforming Hi-Tech into a world-class manufacturing facility. In addition to implementing cutting-edge technology, the vision included transforming the sleepy, paternalistic culture to a more dynamic, adaptive one and empowering employees to take a more active, responsible role in the organization. After years of just doing the same old thing day after day, vice president David Deacon was delighted with the new president and thrilled when Coleman asked him to head up the transformation project. Deacon and his colleagues spent hours talking with Coleman, listening to him weave his ideas about the kind of company Hi-Tech could become. He assured the team that the transformation was his highest priority, and he inspired them with stories about the significant impact they were going to have on the company as well as the entire aircraft industry. Together, the group crafted a vision statement that was distributed to all employees and posted all over the building. At lunchtime, the company cafeteria was abuzz with talk about the new vision. And when the young, nattily dressed president himself appeared in the cafeteria, as he did once every few weeks, it was almost as if a rock star had walked in. At the team’s first meeting with Coleman, Deacon presented several different ideas and concepts they had come up with, explaining the advantages of each for ripping Hi-Tech out of the past and slamming it jubilantly into the twenty-first century. Nothing, however, seemed to live up to Coleman’s ambitions for the project—he thought all the suggestions were either too conventional or too confusing. After three hours the team left Coleman’s office and went back to the drawing board. Everyone was even more fired up after Coleman’s closing remarks about the potential to remake the industry and maybe even change the world. Early the next day, Coleman called Deacon to his office and laid out his own broad ideas for how the project should proceed. “Not bad,” thought Deacon, as he took the notes and drawings back to the team. “We can take this broad concept and really put some plans for action into place.” The team’s work over the next few months was for the most part lively and encouraging. Whenever Coleman would attend the meetings, he would suggest changes in many of their specific plans and goals, but miraculously, the transformation plan began to take shape. The team sent out a final draft to colleagues and outside consultants, and the feedback was almost entirely positive. The plan was delivered to Coleman on a Wednesday morning. When Deacon had still not heard anything by Friday afternoon, he began to worry. He knew Coleman had been busy with a major customer, but the president had indicated his intention to review the plan immediately. Finally, at 6 P.M., Coleman called Deacon to his office. “I’m afraid we just can’t run with this,” he said, tossing the team’s months of hard work on the desk. “It’s just … well, just not right for this company.” Deacon was stunned. And so was the rest of the team when he reported Coleman’s reaction. In addition, word was beginning to get out around the company that all was not smooth with the transformation project. The cafeteria conversations were now more likely to be gripes that nothing was being done to help the company improve. Coleman assured the team, however, that his commitment was still strong; they just needed to take a different approach. Deacon asked that Coleman attend as many meetings as he could to help keep the team on the right track. Nearly a year later, the team waited in anticipation for Coleman’s response to the revised proposal. Coleman called Deacon at home on Friday night. “Let’s meet on this project first thing Monday morning,” he began. “I think we need to make a few adjustments. Looks like we’re more or less headed in the right direction, though.” Deacon felt like crying as he hung up the phone. All that time and work. He knew what he could expect on Monday morning. Coleman would lay out his vision and ask the team to start over.
1. How effective would you rate Coleman as a visionary leader? Discuss.
2. Where would you place Coleman on the chart of types of leaders in Exhibit 13.1? Where would you place Deacon?
3. If you were Deacon, what would you do?