Home > Hiring, Side conversations > Leadership 101; back to basics

Leadership 101; back to basics

Two events prompted this blog entry.

First – I spoke to my former colleague last night.  “M” is a brilliant software engineer, working on a new feature that will be instantly behind the times at launch.  Competitors already have this capability for quite some time. “M”‘s company competes in a market, where “me too” software release does not influence the sales pipeline.

“Did you talk to your manager”, I asked.    “M” indicated that his manager is not a leader, capable of accepting and channeling accurate (painful) feedback.

This is not surprising.  CNN reported on January, 5, 2010 that US job satisfaction hit a 22-year low.  Poor leadership is undoubtedly one of the factors.  Leaders are tested even more so during stressful economic times.  Warren Buffet said it best in his letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in 2001:  you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.

Second – Doyle Slayton posted a very interested question on Linkedin.

“What is the biggest problem with leadership? What is the solution?”

Doyle’s question could not be timed any better.

The biggest problem is that leaders forgot the fundamentals of leadership, i.e. what leader should be doing. And very few companies have implemented internal controls to ensure that great leaders remain and grow, while not-so-great leaders depart before doing more harm than good. The exceptions to the rule are companies that understand the risks of having poor leadership: Pfizer, PepsiCo – where I spent 7 years, GE, and many others.

Leaders plan, organize, control, and lead, where “lead” includes making decisions, motivating, and developing people (50% of one’s time in more senior roles). These are the four pillars of good management. Note that “lead” component is the last one and for a good reason.

“Plan”. One cannot lead an organization without a plan to achieve a set of goals. No amount of motivation can convince a team to pursue a poorly defined goal.

“Organize”.  One cannot lead an organization without an organizational structure that reinforces shared goals. Imagine a software company with a great engineering team but very weak sales team … or the other way around.

“Control”.  One cannot lead an organization without controls in place and metrics. Imagine a sales deal which may not be profitable due to excessive support costs over the deal lifetime. Good leader knows how to create an organizational structure and controls which will trigger a conversation to solve the problem – and quickly.

“Lead”.  Once “plan, organize, control” work in a transparent manner, then “lead” becomes the most important component: how to build and motivate the organization to achieve the goal.

I want to share a few thoughts about feedback, something that appears to lack in my former colleague’s company. It’s true – leaders have a tremendous responsibility to collect, distill, and the communicate feedback.

Good leader knows how to acknowledge feedback and inform the organization that a different course needs to be pursued in a transparent, direct manner. Yet it’s OK to disagree and make a difficult, yet balanced decision that can be understood by everyone.

Feedback can be very uncomfortable for some. One of the best leaders (and an exceedingly difficult person I ever worked for in the past) told me,

“Actively seek discomfort. When it’s really uncomfortable, you will never notice”.

“Make every loser feel like a winner and you will know what leaders do”.

Categories: Hiring, Side conversations
  1. January 8, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Could not agree more. Great article.

  2. Steve
    January 9, 2010 at 12:42 am

    Excellent article

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