Monday, October 27, 2008

More Musings on Leadership

On Leadership and the Moment of Truth

Back to my favorite topic - leadership. I was watching the press interview Ray’s rookie pitcher David Price after Tampa Bay’s Game 7 win in the ALCS. The reporter asked him if he was nervous when he entered the game in the 8th inning with the bases loaded and the clutch hitting JD Drew at the plate. Drew had already torched the Rays in Game 5 and the American League Championship that once seemed a lock was slowly slipping away. Price responded by striking out Drew and then retiring the Red Sox in the ninth. What was most impressive about his performance, which Price quickly relayed to the reporter, is that he wanted the ball. With the game on the line in the biggest game in franchise history, at arguably the defining moment of the franchise, a 23 year old rookie sought the spotlight.

Thus, another element of great leadership - Leaders relish the opportunity to perform at the highest level. They want the ball with the game on the line. They relish the spotlight. They’ve learned to take the pressure and nervous energy and focus it on achieving outcomes. They take charge when their environment is most chaotic. They have an odd sense of clarity and self-assuredness when others are in doubt. I’ve heard it many different ways, but what it comes down to is that leaders have a strong desire to be where the action is. Perhaps it is because they understand the magnitude of the outcome, perhaps it stems from a desire to grow and learn, or perhaps it is simply their ego that drives them. But for whatever reason, they are there.

On Leadership and Trust

I recently read a blog posting by one of my esteemed colleagues, Steve Bendt, who wrote about brands that he trusts and why that is important to him. It got me to thinking about the role that trust plays in leadership, and it’s an important one. The fact is, people trust leaders, not because they are in first place, but because leaders invest heavily in the people around them. The great leaders that I know spend as much time investing in people as they do investing in strategy. They create an environment in which others can be successful. It’s a bit of a quid-pro-quo, where each party is bound by a common interest – the success of the other party.

Trust is important because it creates an irrational loyalty. Leaders who have established trust naturally have teams that perform at a high level. Everyone pitches in for the good of the team because they know in the long run it will be good for the individual as well. I have seen trusted leaders who have developed a bit of a cult following, where employees will follow them no matter where they go, what they do or what projects they work on. Now, imagine if your brand had customers like that.

If we project this idea out to brands, it becomes abundantly clear that most brands fall short in creating this type of relationship, and thus fail to generate trust. If we placed trust at the center of our marketing strategy, I believe our marketing plans would look a lot different. We would spend a lot more time engaging directly with our customers on an individual basis and a lot less time pushing messages through mass media. I think this is where the power of social media comes into play. Brands that can engage consumers meaningfully through direct dialogue will have a significant advantage because of the trust factor. But, not every company will be able to do this. I have learned through the Insignia Open Principles test that culture will be the number one factor in determinging which companies will be successful. Those that embrace openness will win.

On Leaders and Ideas

I’ve been thinking recently more specifically about leadership in my organization and how it manifests itself. The conclusion I’ve come to is that leadership at all levels is more important at my employer than at any other organization I’ve been involved with. The reason is the organizational design employed by our CEO. The design principle is controlled chaos, which is aimed at two things – destroying bureaucracy and empowering our people.

First, the organizational design favors leaders because it emphasizes skill sets that leaders are inherently better at than the general population. Over the course of their careers, leaders have developed the skills related to vision and persuasion. Leaders are also accustomed to making tough, real-time decisions with minimal information in chaotic environments (why do you think the military places so much emphasis on leadership development?). Therefore, leaders are inherently better equipped to see the opportunity, evaluate it and act upon it with confidence and conviction.

Second, the organizational design encourages ideas, but discriminates against selection of any one idea. This actually creates a role and an opportunity for strong leaders. One of the principles of controlled chaos is the notion that ideas can come from anywhere in the organization. Therefore, there is no shortage of inputs, and frankly, I have found this a great way to expand my own thinking and to make my own ideas better. However, the organizational design also removes bureaucracy, the process by which ideas are vetted in most organizations. Hence, it is difficult for the organization to select any one idea over another. Therefore, it is imperative in this organizational design to have strong leaders because, again, leaders are practiced at the art of decision making and persuasion - the precise skills required to move an idea from concept to execution.

Finally, ideas are usually not strong enough to win on their own. Unless ideas are so self-evident that they are undeniable to a majority population, they will fall to the wayside without an organizational mechanism to support them.

So, what are the implications of this design? Here are some thoughts:

  • Developing leaders is an organizational imperative. As you probably know from some of my previous posts, I believe that this is important and that most organizations don’t place enough emphasis on this. I also believe it is doubly important in this environment.
  • Leaders will win over ideas every day. Or, perhaps ideas win because they have strong leaders who support them. Which leads to…
  • There will be times when a leader with a bad idea wins over a good idea with no champion.

Leadership in Difficult Times

One of my readers from South Minneapolis (okay, it was my wife) sent me this audio clip from MPR discussing the leadership qualities required of our next President. The speaker highlights several great qualities of leaders. It’s well worth the listen. Her hypothesis is that leaders possess:

That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed today's musings.

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