A great leader grants greatness. He or she recognizes the natural ability of others and allows them to practice their gift. Too often, leaders are chosen by their pedigree and/or ability to perform well on their feet. In reality, this only covers a small part of the leadership criteria. The more important part is whether the leader can get his/her entire organization to thrive and can effectively inspire them to do their best. The activity of leadership is not about looking good behind a podium. It’s about fine-tuning an organization so that individuals uniquely master their trade, while fully contributing their gifts to the larger whole. Think of an orchestra—it’s not how the conductor looks on the stand that matters. It’s how the conductor inspires each musician to play his/her individual best to create a harmonious, splendid and orchestrated sound.
I once knew of a leader in an organization who had multiple Ivy League degrees, dressed and looked like the one in charge, was good in front of a crowd, and was certainly smart—but made uninspired and unimaginative business decisions time and time again. He selected an elite few on the executive team who had his ear and couldn’t rally the rest of the team together. Needless to say, it wasn’t too long before capable people shut down and the organization began to fall apart. The chosen model of the future became “efficiency,” which called for massive centralization of all critical functions—even the thinking! In this model, all “thought leaders” would be at the headquarters location (heaven help the organization if a local disaster hit!) and the rest of the offices around the world would execute “the-thinking-that-was-thought-of-elsewhere.” No big ideas required outside of those glass walls! Well that might seem like a way to drive efficiency and lower costs—but what about the concept that a good idea can come from anywhere? And what about inspiring people to be inventive and do their best? What happens to the motivation of a capable leader of another location when he/she finds out that the “good-idea patent” is owned solely by headquarters? You can just feel the inspiration and enthusiasm melt through the floor. The best people don’t need to be managed or thought for—and you want the best people in as many places as you can possibly find them.
True, there is a balance between centralization and anarchy. I would argue that leadership at the most profound level is the kind that empowers greatness, leads by example and then lets capable people shine. It is this type of leader that is hardest to find. One who listens for passion and commitment, takes responsibility if a team is not flourishing and makes a decision that goes against the grain.
The moment you need to manage someone tightly, or limit their ability to think independently, is the moment you’ve either made a hiring mistake or have clamped down on innovation. Hire well, grant greatness to your team—and then watch the orchestration of something truly remarkable unfold.
2 Comments December 15, 2010