Saturday, August 2, 2008

Going for the Gold - the Leadership Difference

I was taking inventory today of smaller information technology companies that I have come in contact with up to the end of 2007 and where they are on the track towards success and some interesting items came to light.  The most interesting thing was that while I believed they all had potential for success, the ones that were most successful now aren't the ones I thought would be most successful when I was first introduced to them.

In fact, some of the ones with the greatest potential are now in various stages of a death spiral that they are in denial of while some of companies that seemed to have less potential are now driving towards success.

When I examine the different companies carefully, I noticed that all things being equal, including size of market, size of competitive space, client size, quality and quantity, availability of execution capital, etc., the companies all seemed to have equal access to success.

However, the one glaring item that stood out between the successful and less than successful companies was in fact the difference in leadership.

The leaders of the unsuccessful companies seemed to share a shortage in some common traits:

  • Courage

Unwillingness to take risk, to differentiate themselves from their crowded competitive space - I'll make plans to spend money only if I currently have it in hand.

  • Vision

Unwillingness or inability to proactively rally their teams around mission, vision, values, purpose and goals - Why should I have to motivate them any further - I am paying them already - that should be enough.

  • Humility

Inability to learn by acknowledging that other people have knowledge that can be leveraged for their success - I am a business owner therefore I am already successful and have nothing to learn from others.

  • Greed

Unwillingness to share the pie - I'd rather have all of a small pie than 90% of a much larger pie - I'd rather have my company collapse then give up x% to an investor who could make my company much larger.

  • Human Relationship Management

Lack of insight into leveraging the strengths of team members - They will do what I tell them - I don't care if they are happy about it or using their talents.  I just want them to work harder.

  • Responsibility

Refusal to take responsibility for mistakes made in the company - If my team has made a mistake, what is most important for me is ferreting out the culprit, not in solving and learning from the event.

  • Business acumen

Failure to observe the landscape and adjust accordingly, whether it be in technology, competitors, new opportunities, etc. - My company will be successful irrespective of what the industry calls for, what my competitors are doing, what new technology exists to empower the company, etc.

  • Stubbornness

Inability to leverage people who have "been there" - if I do this, then there may be an expectation that I will have to do what someone else tells me or worse, may have to share in the reward. I'd rather go it alone than do that - sheer brute force has and will continue to make me successful.

  • Wastefulness of time

Unwillingness to utilize networks containing new clients, industry experts, etc. - I can build my own network when I need it - that way it is mine to control and I don't need to share the rewards.

  • Strategy

Lack of interest in or commitment to spending time to be strategic in sales and marketing, competitive analysis, appropriate team building and motivation, partner collaboration, honest corporate self-assessment, articulation of strategy, internal / external communication, etc. (this one shocked me at the scale and commonality of the lack of strategy) - I don't have time for all of that stuff.  If I am planning then I am not executing and if I am not executing, I must be failing.

  • Passion (or lack of)

These leaders say all the right things, how they empower their staff, their staff is their first priority, they do all the right things, strategy is critical, etc - but you discover that it's all talk.- If I pretend to do the right things, then everything will correct itself and in the meantime, I buy time by getting the respect of those around me.

Conversely, the successful companies exhibit the following expressions of the same attributes in their leaders:

  • Courage

Smart risk is key to my success - I won't waste my money but smart risk will propel me past my competitor and will allow me to establish a beachhead before they do.  I'll find creative ways to generate the income needed to drive this behavior and to mitigate the risk.

  • Vision

I promote and live by messages centered around mission, vision, values, purpose and goals - If I don't provide my team with something to rally around, provide opportunities for individual contribution and success and provide a model that establishes our execution standard, why would they even care about contributing to the greater success (and how do they know in what direction they should be moving)?

  • Humility

There is much to learn from others who have "been there" - I acquire new knowledge every day from people who are helping me and my company grow.

  • Generosity (reverse of greed)

The bigger the success, the more there is to share with everyone - I'd rather have 90% of $100 than 100% of $50.  This empowers me and my team to live more fulfilling personal and professional lives.  If this means venture capital or some other investment vehicle, so be it.

  • Human Relationship Management

A critical success factor for success is the ability to obtain optimum results from each team member by tapping into the strengths and passions of each team member -  I understand the passion, talent, strengths and knowledge of each team member and look for ways to get them engaged such that they learn constantly, they are happy and passionate about success and about themselves, they are fully engaged in the big picture and we are mutually successful.  If we are not all winning, then none of us are winning.

  • Responsibility

Accepting responsibility for mistakes made in the company - any mistake made is a reflection, directly or indirectly on my choice of leaders, my growth of leaders, my own personal leadership capability, style and execution and the decisions made as a result of all of these.  For this reason, any failure is a direct reflection on me and therefore I own responsibility to produce optimal result at all levels of the organization.

  • Business acumen

Strong leaders observe the landscape and adjust accordingly, whether it be in technology, competitors, new opportunities, etc. - my business execution skills will create success or failure.  If I and the leaders that work for me do not have the necessary business acumen for success, I will find or hire the necessary people who bring essential business knowledge to my company.  Our success is more important than our pride.

  • Pride (reverse of stubbornness)

Successful people leverage and model people who have "been there" - success is something I am proud of.  If I don't have the experience I need, I will find people who have the experience, even if they are smarter than I am.  Pride in a successful company is far more desirable than failure created through stubbornness.

  • Leverage (opposite of wastefulness)

Utilizing networks containing new clients, industry experts, etc. - A strong network can take a lifetime to build.  My window of success doesn't provide a lifetime - why build what exists through other contacts and can be tapped immediately?

  • Strategy

Total recognition for the importance of strategy and commitment to building strategic plans, revising them where appropriate and executing faithfully in areas of sales and marketing, competitive analysis, appropriate team building and motivation, partner collaboration, honest corporate self-assessment, articulation of strategy, internal / external communication, etc. - If I can't articulate my strategic intentions, how will I ever translate my corporate purpose into tactical roadmaps.  Failing to plan truly means planning to fail.

  • Passion

These leaders model passion in everything they do.  They have a passion for excellence, for commitment, for focus, for mutual winning, for team collaboration, for ongoing learning, etc.- Passion is not something I can fake. I'm either all in it or I am not in the game at all and everyone is clear where I stand by observing what I do and not just listening to what I say.  Success depends on passion throughout the ranks.

I know this is old hat for people who have been there.  My thought is that if knowledge of this is so common these days, why are leaders continuing to make these fundamental mistakes and why aren't they willing to do what it takes to correct them before they and their organizations fail?

I will post my thoughts on that shortly.

In the meantime, where are you as a leader and a person of influence in your company?  Is your company successful?  If so, what can you do to make it more successful and to be a model for other companies to follow?

If not, do you have the courage to do what it takes to take corrective action?

It comes down to how badly you desire success.

As Bob Proctor quoted me in his daily "Insight of the Day" in February of 2007.

"Everyone's life is under someone's control - it might as well be under your own so that you can direct your destiny."

Click here to listen to Bob.

Do you want success in your organization?  If so, get stoked up about it and drive towards it.  Otherwise, everything you are doing is just entertainment.

Yours in leadership service.


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