Taking Aim at Corporate Leadership–

Jamie Dimon, Hugh McCall were just a few exemplary CEOs that were discussed this morning in our discussion around Leadership.  Their ability to deliver, tough minded interactions with their boards, zero tolerance for non-performers and vision for their organization suggested that we seem to recognize good leadership when we see it.  Characteristics or the actual qualities that define leadership, however prove more difficult to understand, identify or measure for impact.

lessons-from-ducks If you invoke the simple rule of followship, then you may end up in a precarious position.  Ducklings naturally follow their mothers and the mother duck in this example shields her offspring from danger but does she really lead?

Our perceptions of leaders and the realities of effective leadership are not always in synch. Robin Hood the hero captures our attention and appears to have attracted quite a following or at least that’s the legend as it’s often told.  Reality illustrates that he was far more enabling and was probably an amazingly talented lieutenant under King John who really had the skills and experiences to inspire and train and command a team. (See Suggested articles at the bottom of this post).

Likewise today’s army does an astonishing effective job of command and control style leadership by focusing on developing people by instilling the philosophy of Be Know and Do.  The trust within a unit and the capabilities of individual members are as critical as the leaders’ vision.  The clarity of rules for succession to command are both important and immediately visible.  Every individual is responsible for every one else on your team.  Effective units require individuals to be both emotionally committed to the task as well as each other.  The army exemplifies meritocracy and demonstrates what it means to instill the construct of success from the imperative that failure is just not an option. Which means every soldier needs to help the other soldiers excel.

How exactly does the US military achieve this level of functionality and effective leadership capability?  They also use scenario planning, simulation and constantly are challenging the relationship and perception of leadership.  But does it effectively translate into business settings, or other situations where the consequences from failure are not life threatening?

One take suggests that leadership gets people to do things they wouldn’t do under their own volition.  Leadership in this frame, inspires providing mutual psychic rewards to those leading as well as those being tasked to perform. In the context of the military it’s easier to imagine how the threat and danger elements are put to effective use, but the problem is translating them into everyday work situations.

Vision obviously matters and mercurial leaders like Steve Jobs or Richard Branson who changed the rules when they entered the business are rare. For those organizations that inherit leaders, or for whom a board replaces the leaders the embedded base may prove difficult if not impossible to move or motivate.  What are the basis or selection criteria that a board uses to choose its next leader?

Alan Mulally was brought into Ford and made big bets with expectations of long-term payoffs.  Not every leadership situation fits every leader.  Situations also change over time as is illustrated by Dov Charney who may have been great at building, growing and even scaling American Apparel until his behavior no longer suited a bigger organization.

In other words, context alone isn’t the only consideration, but boards misjudge the situation or their market or their issues ore than 80% of the time.  Which explains why the failure rate of placed leaders is so high.

when does situational vs. industry competency matter?  Not clear that many people posses capabilities in both.  The ability to adapt, flexibility and even the awareness of the rate or pace of change in an industry can be difficult to assess.  This is why succession planning and preparing your team with the discipline and transparency the military uses may prove invaluable, both as a motivator as well.

Take Aways:

Leadership to be effective must be situational:

  • offensive vs. Defensive
  • Political vs. independent
  • Short term vs. Long Term
  • Intrinsic rewards vs. monetary rewards.

The Be, Kind and Do paradigm useful and instills a discipline of Respect, Flexibility, collaboration, knowledge and courage.

We tell too many war stories that may or may not be enough on point. In Business, the importance of boards hiring, managing and changing leadership process increasingly critical.  Question is how effective are they at choosing the criteria that fits the situation the company faces?

Leadership traits are also complicated and thus vary by context, industry, “charter” etc, this variety of dimensions make it difficult to codify into one description.  This is why there are so many books on the topic!

Leadership–we need to change the paradigm, understand its situational dependence and clearly evident when they plant trees!

Situation specific, leaders good in one may not transfer/translate well in another.  Parameters worth considering include:  the business life cycle, rate of change in the industry, customers, type of business (e.g. retail, government contractor etc), growth or mature or crisis?

Under different conditions, different attributes matter.  need to assess the situation accurately in order to effectively make the call of what type is needed.

Never one set of attributes that make a leader, the context really matters!

Suggested Articles

The following links to articles were merely suggested as background reading to inspire participants thinking:

US Military’s leadership development strategy