Forget the Formula, Go for Authentic


Forget the Formula, Go for Authentic

As inspiration for this week’s VIM Executive Coaching blog, I was “moved” after seeing the rerun of an ancient and silly sitcom, the Phil Silvers Show, with the hapless U.S. Army sergeant, Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko. It first aired in 1954 and lasted about five years. It was once all the rage for a nation not more than 10 years removed from WWII and still fighting in Korea.


In the episode I saw, one of the enlisted men’s wives had to go to Cleveland or someplace, to visit her mother. The enlisted man was left to care for their newborn for a few days. Naturally, Bilko’s platoon took to the baby, passing it from “uncle” to “uncle,” but they did encounter one huge problem: making the formula to feed the baby (it was a 1954 sitcom, folks!).

The new father, not knowing how to make baby formula (he did have a recipe), went to the only expert he knew, the mess hall sergeant, a cigar chomping, grizzled veteran. He had the father read off the recipe: an ounce of this, and an ounce of that.

“An ounce?” exclaimed the mess sergeant, “Gimme that recipe, tonight the whole base is gonna eat formula!”

As I began to laugh, I also realized an executive leadership business coaching lesson was at hand. And, as funny (though dated) as the sitcom was, it is impossible to relate how many executives we’ve encountered who were force-fed a management system, text book solution, or managerial guru who basically related it was “his or her way or the highway.”

At VIM Executive Coaching, we have learned over time that one executive leadership approach does not work for everyone. Our approach is to help each executive leader achieve a level of authenticity and an approach that not only works for them but for their management style as well.

It is impossible to force someone into a management style where they cannot effectively function. I once knew a delightful, introspective and highly perceptive manager who was told his management style was too tepid and timid. Taking the advice to heart, he started to approach his staff with a reactive anger. The result was that he alienated his people and was eventually counseled by his supervisor.

“But you told me to do it this way!”

“Well, it’s not working was the reply.”

You are Unique

You can only manage and lead in a way that is consistent with your personality. However, there are several caveats to my statement. You must be authentic, you must develop the ability to respond and not react, and as a leader, you must be compassionate. In this manner, you can develop listening skills, an effective management style and a leadership style that it consistent with who you are as a person.

“Natural born leaders” are not formula-fed, but learn to develop and hone their strengths in such a way that they are consistent and effective.

SGT Bilko was, of course, complete fiction, but as I watched the sitcom, I couldn’t help but appreciate his authenticity and compassion, and yet he got things done. In today’s workplace, to be effective by copying the template of another leader is an approach often fraught with disappointment.

Be unique, stay away from the formulas and hone the qualities that make you, you.

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Bruce Wolk