The Greatest Leaders Are Often The Worst Leaders
It’s a common occurrence, a CEO leads a company to record earnings, retires and in months, those once high-flying earnings are dropping like shot ducks.
Observers blame the new leadership team. But most likely the observers are wrong. It’s not just the new leaders who are screwing up. Instead, it was most likely the former CEO. Yes, the former, supposedly great CEO. Look to him for what went wrong – and what went wrong provides lessons for leaders at all levels.
The reasons are clear but seldom recognized. They get back to the raison d’ etre of leadership – which is not the performance of the individual leader but the improved results of those being led. The problems lie in the definition of results. For when results are defined narrowly, i.e. in strict terms of share, margin, shareholder value, profits, organizations lose their elasticity.
And the quality of organizational elasticity is linked to its culture of leadership, leadership with a broader vision of results, encompassing the necessity to hire and develop people who lead others to get results.
So when decline follows the departure of great leaders, the safe bet is that those “great” leaders haven’t hired and developed leaders – and so really weren’t great at all, no matter what results they got. In fact, they were quite poor.
To paraphrase Vince Lombardi on winning, getting good leaders for your team isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. The moment that you decide to hire, that very moment, is the living, breathing future of your organization.
A curious chemistry takes place in the hiring process. We don’t just reach outward, we also reach inward. In hiring leaders, we invariably hire ourselves – our strengths and weaknesses. So the hand we reach out to shake is not just the other person’s hand, it’s our hand. Hire to our strengths, we hire strong leaders. Hire to our weaknesses, we hire weak leaders.
I know a brilliant, young executive in a multimillion dollar manufacturing company whose ambition to become CEO of that company may founder on his maddening propensity to hire leaders who may be good but who are none-the-less not the very best.
That’s because the leaders he hires must have what is an unstated but at the same time real skill: the ability to curry his favor. Those leaders are ostensibly qualified. But they are often not the very best of the pool because they come equipped with that extraneous skill.
Since results on his teams are also defined as the care and feeding of his ego, that executive is hiring to his weaknesses, so he continually makes what may ultimately turn out to be garbage-in-garbage-out hiring decisions that can ultimately wreck his ambitions. On the other hand, I know another young executive, not nearly as brilliant, but whose hiring dictum may very well get him farther along in life.
The dictum is: Hire leaders who can not only do well in this position but in the next position and maybe even the position beyond that.
In other words, he hires to his strengths, his inner sense of self-confidence, which allows him to surround himself with people who are smarter and in some ways more capable than he – and so is creating a rising tide of action and results that will further his career in powerful ways.
As Steven Jobs said, “I don’t hire people to tell them what to do but to tell me what to do.”
Yet hiring people who are capable of supplanting you isn’t enough. Do more. Actively develop the knowledge, skills and careers of those leaders to give them the best possible chance of supplanting you.
An epitaph on a 1680 New England gravestone speaks to this:
What I gave, I have.
What I spent, I had.
What I left, I lost.
By not giving it.
That can be an epitaph for failed leaders. By not giving to your leaders, not developing their skills and careers, you lose them, lose the opportunity to have their riches enrich you.
Nobody is a success unless others want them to be. And when you have a passionate desire for their success, for helping them improve and achieve their goals, when they know that working on your team will be a defining experience of their career – then you will have people who want like hell for you to be a success.
The decline following the departure of “great” leaders indicates that those leaders were most likely control-monsters, commanders not convincers, great at getting jobs done themselves but not challenging others to do them.
And when those others are ignored, they become inept.
So let’s take an additional yardstick to our leaders and measure their total value, both when they’re there and after they have left. Link that value to deferred compensation, bonuses, stock options for executives and to partially-delayed evaluations for middle managers and supervisors – or whatever.
When leaders define their performance beyond their tenure, they will most likely pay more attention to those two factors that are absolutely necessary for any organization’s continued well-being: getting and developing exceptional leaders.
2006 The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
The author of 23 books, Brent Filson’s recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – and for more than 20 years has been helping leaders of top companies worldwide get audacious results. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get a free white paper: “49 Ways To Turn Action Into Results,” at http://www.actionleadership.com For more on the Leadership Talk: http:///www.theleadershiptalk.com