All of the above sounds fine, but a bigger problem will be created in the process that can be as bad as those solved if it is not done correctly. We may have created a herd of high-energy wild horses galloping in all directions, without consideration of the common direction or good. There must be a leader that gives direction and provides organization and control, someone whom the others must follow to survive.
Sometimes, the word team is used in business, which to some implies that all have equal voice and have a vote on direction. Imagine a professional hockey team managed that way. In professional football, each of the players on a winning team are passionate about their position and their role, but they are directed by a coordinating leader so that their efforts add up to a total greater than the sum of its parts. Players personalize their assignments based on their particular talents that the coach appreciates and that he can weave into the overall play. He will customize his playbook based on the actual talent and capability; that is, the expected contribution mix.
Can you imagine an orchestra with the most talented musicians available not paying attention to the conductor? The musicians have individual style that the conductor recognizes and plays on for the overall effect. Each member of these organizations is an important contributor and benefits from the collective success. They will catch that pass and score, or make that sack, or perform that solo in an individual effort as their passion, imagination, and aspirations guide them and they will be recognized for it.
The principal tympanist (percussionist) and soloist for a major city’s symphony orchestra recently commented that “It’s a great challenge to keep up with colleagues who bring so much imagination to their music.” Imagination with teamwork in the ranks of a symphony orchestra!
Ultimately, many may coach or conduct themselves. They then face the challenge of giving their players maximum freedom for creative input, but then making the tough decisions and still getting 100 percent effort from them for the project at hand.
It’s very rare that an individual effort can ignore the efforts of others in the same organization without negative effects. In software development, for example, even though there may be a great deal of special custom code within a given task where the more individual imagination employed the better, at each end it must relate to the work of others and it must be integral to the fabric of the total. This is true of almost any effort.
The qualities – passionate, enthusiastic, resourceful, and independent thinking can be those of football players, orchestral musicians, or surgical team members who are a part of a larger success story and realize the rewards of the reasons we work.
A desired quality of leaders parallels the master chef who is able to combine many ingredients and in an almost magical way, can bring out all the subtle influences of meats, fish, spices, herbs, flavorings, vegetables, and fruits to produce a gourmet meal. In other words, a leader capitalizes on individual talents and passion in the team while involving each member.
The leader must be able to customize the effort based on the actual talents and spirit of the actual players available each time out to maximize the output. He must be able to supplement, replace, train, and mentor to fine tune or to add a touch of a spice to the recipe. No recipe works to the maximum possible extent right from the book without some adjustments, based on the actual available ingredients, the specific unique circumstances, and the specific objective for each exercise.
Leadership (author’s definition): Inspire, counsel, and guide behavior and activities; facilitate realization of “W3(why we work)” for all, while assuming performance responsibility for a group or enterprise.
Facilitates “w3 – why we work” for all
Facilitates and guides the culture of Yankee ingenuity in a virtual “no rules” environment
Leads by example (demonstration of courage in doing the right thing every time)
Continually tests by trial (challenge)
Facilitates and requires ownership (a stake)
Facilitates advancement as aspirations and performance indicate.
Is this another conundrum? As leaders, are our own jobs in jeopardy because we have done a great job? We have made a point of creating an organization of imaginative, courageous, and passionate people to whom we have said that a way to the top is there for you if that is your goal. Are we intimidated and challenged daily by ambitious, inquisitive people to the point that we feel threatened by them and question our own courage to do the right things? What is the right thing?
We will have already done the right thing as that set of circumstances has certainly given the organization the best chance for success. A common measure of a good leader is that he or she has positioned the candidates for succession to reach that capability level at an early time. That, of course, makes it possible for company growth or expansion and the current leader to move on to greater opportunities if that is the goal.
Opportunities become available as much from the expansion of the company as from attrition. This results from its success and is facilitated by its passionate and imaginative people. Rather than a threat, it is in fact energy that benefits all, including the leaders, and is another benevolent cycle!
Wisdom in a leader means sensibly accepting challenge and risk, learning from both successes and failures, guiding his team accordingly, graciously enduring the consequences of both and acknowledging the impact on others.
In May of 1998 Daimler-Benz acquired The Chrysler Corporation. In the years just prior to the acquisition, Chrysler was very successful in nearly all that it did. It was known for its innovative styling concepts and for its successful mini-van, sport, and retro style vehicles. Its innovative approach to supplier company relationships produced mutual cost reduction successes and technological progress. It seemed to have a natural Yankee ingenuity culture.
The track record following the acquisition was so seriously flawed that to some, including the new owners, it seemed that nearly everything had gone wrong. Analyses showed, in fact, that many different things went wrong. How was this possible in such a short time?
The secret to the earlier success, as with most, was a passionate leadership team carefully assembled over a period of time. That team disintegrated within a very short period following the acquisition. Some left by their own accord and some by invitation, but either way, the effect was the same.
A senior executive, well-known industry-wide as a “car guy” with an international reputation for his understanding of product and market, was one of the first to leave. It appeared to be by mutual agreement. His style of directness may have made it apparent to him that he couldn’t be successful, considering the impending cultural shift. He was later sought out by the largest competitor for an executive assignment at the highest level, including the responsibility for product and market strategy, a move applauded by many in the industry and beyond. His mark was very apparent after a very short period of time in the new assignment. Another very high-level executive, the one responsible for the innovative supplier philosophy, was unceremoniously released not long after the acquisition.
The human element and its leadership are typically the reason for the success of any company, as was the case with Chrysler. An acquiring company will normally act to retain that leadership, potentially by contract, at least through a period where a thorough understanding of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses can be gained. One business cycle makes a lot of sense, which in an automotive business, from product development to introduction, is several years.
Remember, these were known leaders with proven track records. In the example, each of the members of the departing top team were the key people in each of the important disciplines that directed the company, typical of the industry of which it is a part. They in turn had assembled their spirited organizations over some period of time. The individual organizations could have easily lost their way because of the loss of proven, spirited, and coordinated direction essential to their success.
Can you imagine each of the important disciplines in that company continuing their earlier successes after the loss of their proven and respected leaders over a short period of time? It seems unreasonable to believe that they could! Was it arrogance or simply a lack of understanding of the local culture that got in the way of reasonable logic?
As of this writing, this company is showing signs of a reasonable recovery and will likely be fine, at least short-term. The question of cultural adaptation remains. For example, will the average American consumer gravitate to the rear-wheel drive preference demonstrated by European consumers?
Lawrence B. Johnson, Tympanist drums up solo for DSO at Meadow Brook, (The Detroit News July 7, 2001).