Shaking-up Leadership

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Shaking-up LeadershipFact: You cannot win a chess game without moving your pieces to create strategic and tactical advantge. The same principle applies to business. The problem with conventional leadership theory is it’s littered with misunderstood and misapplied practices. The fact is that any practice, no matter how highly regarded, when taken out of context or taken to the extreme cannot only erode the intended value, but can often cause great harm. To prove my point,  today’s post will examine the downside of a topic you have not likely considered as a possible area of weakness…Leadership Continuity.

In general, continuity of leadership is an admirable goal and something that I advise all my clients to work toward. That said, the manner in which you work toward this end does in fact matter. As mentioned above, anything can be taken to unhealthy extremes. You see, leadership development and succession are only positive practices if they’re applied to those worthy of the investment. Do you ever wonder how businesses can fall from the pinnacle of success to the depths of stagnation in only a few short years? One of the main contributors to corporate stagnation and decline is keeping the wrong leadership team in place for the wrong reasons. My premise is a simple one – because the marketplace is ever changing, corporate leadership must adapt and change with the times in order to survive.

The point I ask you to ponder is this: Leadership teams often espouse the need for change and innovation, but rarely apply this thinking to themselves – why? Ego, pride, arrogance, fear or just being out of touch with reality can cause major blind spots. Leadership is not a right of entitlement, but rather a privilege that must be earned. Leadership teams who view themselves as a protected class are leadership teams not living-up to their obligations and responsibilities. Leadership teams on autopilot, while they may be adept at maintaining course, will rarely soar to new heights. If you take one thing away from today’s message it should be this: the most costly legacy system a company can maintain is poor leadership.

A lack of fluidity, development or contextual savvy can cripple even category dominant brands. Case in point – I recall reading an interview with Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE in which he touted the fact that his top 175 executives have been with the company an average of 21 years. While Mr. Immelt may actually believe this is a good thing, I would submit it is far from a foregone conclusion…Creating a fraternity does not constitute great leadership. It is simply not possible that all 175 of these executives have been the best people for their respective positions for the last two decades. A cursory examination of GE’s stock performance over the last decade would tend to support my logic.

Need to reinvigorate a stale enterprise? Try changing the corporate landscape by shifting existing roles and responsibilities, or by bringing in fresh talent from the outside. If you want to drive innovation, lead change, and create growth, stir the pot…It has been my consistent experience that when longevity of leadership is brandished as a badge of honor, it is usually just the opposite. The length of someone’s tenure is not nearly as important as whether they are the best person for the job, and whether they are performing at tier-one levels. Smart companies realize that if someone is performing below expectations, they need to be coached to productivity or replaced – there is no third option if a healthy organization matters to you.

Static organizations also tend to embrace comfort zones and are often built upon the “DITWLY” (Did It That Way Last Year) principle. This attitude precludes the advancement of change initiatives and cripples innovation. Albert Einstein said it best when he noted “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time.” Don’t be the CEO who causes your management team to continually say “the boss won’t go for that one.”

The bottom line is this…leaders need to possess an extreme bias toward performance. Reward talent, innovation, loyalty, attitude, creativity, work ethic, contribution, and leadership ability…not tenure. Meritocracy or Mediocrity – the choice is yours…

Thoughts?

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