Sunday, 15 July 2012

Is this your time...


Most often, leadership is ‘…for such a time as this…’
If I asked a roomful of executives the question ‘how many of you view yourselves as leaders’, I would fully expect to see all hands raised.

If the follow up question was ‘how many of you have the word leader on your business card’, I expect that no hands would be raised.

Leaders come in a range of shapes and sizes.  Their core competencies are often similar, but the overall package is quite different.  The axiom that there are ‘horses for courses’ is as true in business as in sport.  Every company, every enterprise, every team is at a different point in its history.  And what is needed for the success of one company may, and usually is, quite different for another company.

Some leaders can be chameleons and make the necessary changes to adapt with the changing needs of the firm.  But more often than not, their fundamental skills are hard wired.  After a time, they no longer fit the personality that is needed for continued success.  This is hardly surprising because the skills needed for start-up differ from those of a turnaround and again from those of leading a mature business.
History offers us an interesting look at just what I mean.

Winston Churchill, rather SIR Winston Churchill, is acknowledged as perhaps the finest leader of the 20th century. His time as Prime Minister embodies all the elements of an inspirational leadership model.
He had the moral authority to lead by virtue of his election to Parliament.  His oratory and diplomatic skills rallied a willing populace to perform feats that were unimaginable.  And the goal of victory over their enemy and ultimately freedom in Europe cannot find a more noble or worthy purpose.

Churchill came to power upon the resignation of his predecessor Neville Chamberlain. He served from 1940 until the war’s end.  But to the point of ‘…for such a time as this…’, he was voted out of office scarcely weeks after the end of the war because the general opinion was that his skills were not consistent with the needs of a nation now ready to re-build its’ economy in the post-war period.

Churchill had not changed.  The noble purpose had changed.  And thus another leader was necessary.
In the examination of leaders, too often we become mesmerized by past performance and ignore the current state of affairs.  Perhaps it is our natural resistance to change. Perhaps the rose coloured glasses obscure the view.  Regardless, companies, organizations and any situation in which the inspirational leadership model is active, must come to terms with the reality that what has become broken cannot be fixed by sheer force of will.  Change must happen for the benefit of all. Organizations are organic.  They grow and they change. 

This is not meant to be unnecessarily critical of the leader.  Indeed, in most instances we will find that the leader did an extraordinary job.  It is just an acknowledgement that you cannot be all things to all people all the time. The very best, most inspirational leaders will recognize instinctively that their time is done.  And during their time they will have prepared the organization and their successor for the transition to the next stage.
Research in Motion presents a classic case in point.  Originally founded in the 1984, RIM carved out a unique space in the telecommunication market with the introduction of its first Blackberry in 1999.[1] In a short time they had developed the `must have` hand held mobile communications device.  RIM grew exponentially and essentially created and dominated a sector of the cell phone market.  Its products were in demand around the world and used by people as significant as  President Obama of the United States.

The founders were two men from the relatively small city of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.  Michael Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, co-CEO`s, grew the company from humble beginnings to a point where, for a time, RIM was the largest company in the country based on stock value.
But the industry changed and the co-CEOs lacked the skill sets necessary to maintain the company`s competitiveness.  This is neither an indictment of their abilities nor of their desire.  It is simply a statement of fact.  RIM entered a long term free fall in which it lost over 90% of its value.

Like Churchill, the skills needed to address the changing times were not consistent with the skills that had led the company in the earlier days.  RIM had to make changes at the CEO level and history will record whether these changes were made in time to avoid ultimate disaster.
Had the founders acknowledged their status sooner and made the necessary executive changes, perhaps they could have avoided the dilemma in which they ultimately found themselves.  But it is very difficult to see the forest for the trees and to confess that someone else can do the job better than you can. 

Another case in point is Yahoo and its founder, Jerry Yang.  From humble beginnings in the dormitory room, Yahoo took on a lead position in the web search market.  With an initial third party investment of only $2 million, Yahoo seemed certain to be a spectacular success. From that time in April 1995, the company grew exponentially.  
Not surprisingly, competition followed from several fronts.  Most notably, Google started to overtake Yahoo as the industry leader.  By 2008, Yahoo was a distant second and continuing to lose ground.  With Yang having returned to the CEO office he had given up in 2001, Yahoo received an offer of $31 per share from Microsoft, valuing Yahoo at over $40 billion.  Today the company has lost over 50% of its value.  Most investors blame Yang for not supporting the sale to Microsoft and thereby condemning the value to the decline it has experienced.  Apparently it was just too hard for Yang to give up on his creation as emotion won over logic.[2]

It takes strength of character and outstanding self- awareness to make this confession.  But at the end of the day, if you don`t, someone or something else will have to make the decision on your behalf.  Candidly, it is much less painful if you are willing and able to make the confession yourself; less painful for you and for others impacted by that decision.
This simple statement should guide your decision making.

“…do the right thing for the company; have the company do the right thing by the employee…”
If this principle is followed by both parties – company and employee – then the resolution will be fair and just.  The interests of both will have been properly considered.

Sometimes the blame extends not only to the leader but to the Board of Directors as well.  I recommend you to this article to you as it speaks to the need to stop idolizing leaders and recognize their actual performance and contribution to the company.
As a leader, do you have the courage and confidence to step forward and recommend change, even when that change means that you lose your job?  If you are as good as you think you are, there will always be opportunities to apply your skills in another role.  And if you truly care about the success of the company and the welfare of your staff, this will be an easy decision. 
Or will you choose to hang on beyond your personal best before date. Your leadership is for such a time as this.  IS THIS STILL YOUR TIME?



[1] http://www.rim.com/company/index.shtml
[2] http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/06/03/us-yahoo-microsoft-idUSN0229819820080603

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