Do you lead like a Tigger or an Eeyore?

Russ Kathrein

In the early ’90s, I was running our family business with my older brother. The Gulf War had begun, and we’d seen a little slowdown in business. We noticed that the vendor salespeople visiting our stores would ask us how business was, and then they’d share how bad all of their customers were saying things were. We got to wondering if our slowed business had become a self-fulfilling prophecy given how we’d answer when they asked the question. So, my brother had the idea that from now on when people in the industry or our customers asked how business was, we would just answer that it was “incredible.” Maybe it was incredibly good, or maybe it was incredibly bad, but either way we were telling the truth, and just maybe we could start passing on what most people would view as positive news. It was our hope that this positive example would be shared and start to gain momentum.

Not long after that, business did start to pick up. Was it because of our new response or just the normal cycle of the economy? We will never know, but we do know how it made us feel and how it affected those around us. That positive vibe started creeping into many different aspects of our business, and all our attitudes started to improve.

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Someone once told me that she divided the world into Tiggers and Eeyores. Tiggers were people who celebrated life, spoke and acted optimistically, and were looking for the next adventure. Eeyores were much more reserved, tended to look at the negative side of things, and let the past influence their actions and decisions. Leaders can be divided into the same camps.

The challenge for leaders who are Tiggers is that their staff can view them as too focused on the opportunities and not taking problems seriously enough to want to fix them. One good habit a Tigger should have is to accept and react to all news, both bad and good, with the same demeanor. Celebrate the good news and tackle the bad news with an equal amount of enthusiasm. “Every problem is an opportunity” is the mantra for the Tigger, but just make sure to solve the problem by doing a root cause analysis as to why it happened. Don’t take shortcuts or just trust that it will be fixed.

The Eeyore leader has the opposite challenge. You take everything seriously and are very practical about wanting to fix things. It is the speed and the degree at which you address things that can cause you problems. How can you go out and be enthusiastic to your people when there is so much yet to be done? In your world, speed kills because you end up missing things. Eeyores are often more introverted, so it’s key to step outside your comfort zone or beyond what you think needs to be done. Be cognizant of the image you’re portraying to your staff. While you may feel the need to be calm and collected in your thoughts, your words and actions may need to be more dramatic and purposeful.

Most people have both a little Tigger and a little Eeyore inside of them. The trick is in how you manage them and when you let them out. Early in my partnership with my brother, we went through some tough economic times, and it weighed heavily on us both. I remember him walking into my office and closing the door. We both channeled our inner Eeyores as we talked about the challenges we faced, but I will never forget his words as he stood up and left my office. He said, “In here, you can moan and groan how bad things are to me as much as you want, but when you walk out that door, you have to become our biggest cheerleader. They look to you to set the tone, and if you’re walking around like the world is coming to an end, they’ll follow your example, and that will only make things worse.” What he was really telling me was that it was now time to step out of my Eeyore mode that was trying to solve things and into my Tigger mode that would help lead our people. Pretty good advice.

Russ Kathrein is with the LBM Division of Do it Best Corp. based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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