What is the major difference separating businesses that succeed from those that don’t?
The simple answer to this is people. It’s Jim Collins’ “First Who Then What” fundamental from Good to Great. Often this answer goes beyond the people to the leader themselves.
An important part of the equation separating great businesses from good or mediocre businesses is the ability of the leader to grow and recognize not only their strengths and weaknesses, but their ability to get out of the way of their ego and let others take the reins to get results for the business.
Collins tells several stories of businesses that were built upon the aspirations and dynamic personality of their leader. The greatest example of this is Henry Singleton [known as the Sphinx] of Teledyne. Lee Iacocca might be another example of a leader who became so enthralled with his leadership and charisma that he became invincible in his own eyes. Chrysler grew for a time under his leadership, eventually crumbling without strong leadership to succeed and support his efforts.
John D Rockefeller knew the importance of having strong capable leadership to support Standard Oil, which is why he met with his executive team daily to discuss issues and progress on their accountabilities.
Gallup’s Strength Based Leadership book provides an excellent tutorial on what a leader needs to recognize. It provides four domains of leadership. However it never indicates that one domain is superior to the rest, nor is having strengths in one domain or all domains important for leadership. A leader comes from any of the 34 strength themes, however great leadership teams have strengths in each of the domains.
A crippling weakness in the organizations I see struggle is leadership. At either the top level or in the executive team, they either fail to take action and be accountable or they are control and micromanage efforts. The sense of freedom and independence necessary to fuel growth is extinguished. One person or too few carry the weight of decisions and implementation. From Good to Great their example is Bank America versus Wells Fargo. At Wells Fargo their leadership team acted as a strong team of equal partners, ferociously debating eyeball-to-eyeball in search of the best answers, the Bank of America weak generals would wait for directions from above.
In some businesses the weakness of the supporting team means the weight of major projects is destroyed by their inability to carry the ball forward. A weak leader is simply not capable of carrying out a supreme challenge. Too frequently however this is the result of a leader who fails to hire capable lieutenants to carry out their orders. One dominant leader or a few strong executives limits the capacity of the business to concentrate on and achieve priorities.
As the leader, how can you recognize whether or not your executive team is capable of carrying their weight or not? One observation is to ask yourself how frequently does your team disagree with you? Are they comfortable expressing their views and opinions even if they know you won’t agree? Open conflict in meetings is a sign your people have confidence, not necessarily insubordination.
A great leader is not afraid to admit mistakes. I’m reminded of the Battle of Gettysburg where General Robert E. Lee greets his returning army after Pickett’s charge failed to take the Union center on Seminary Ridge, “It’s my fault!” he shouted to them. Only a leader with confidence, courage and humility, a level five leader is willing to admit their mistakes.
Admitting your mistakes allows your team to be more open. They will not fear making mistakes because you’ve shown them that mistakes are okay. This inspires and builds leadership qualities.
Growth of your business requires leadership. The capacity to elevate your team, admit your weaknesses and distribute power, responsibility, and decisions to your team.
How can you teach your team to lead better? The power of Strategic Discipline provides this. Through meeting rhythms your executive team observes decision making, learns how to choose priorities, measure performance and conduct themselves in daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual meetings. The DNA of the company is passed on through these consistent practices and discussions.
While people is one of the four decisions emphasized in the Rockefeller Habits coaching, you should not forget that level five leadership’s a common theme in each Good to Great company. The right People starts with you as the leader. Working on you is the best place to start on improving your team. How much energy are you devoting to improving you?