What Comes First in Leadership WHO or WHAT

published in: Leadership

21 May
2010

For many years I believed that if we have a great inspiring idea (WHAT), somehow we will find the right people (WHO) to share it, embrace it and work selflessly to achieve it.  And it was almost true.  The company was doing well.  But I wanted more; I wanted to be market leader.  And what was missing to achieve that goal? - The right people.  It turned out that to find the right people is neither easy nor fast ...  And when the company is on the run you have no time to look for the right people – you hire what is available at that moment on the labour market.  And after a while – you reap what you have sowed.  But it is not the employees’ fault. Something else was wrong.


Sometime in 2004 I "met" Jim Collins book "Good to great".  The book is the result of 15,000 hours study on how good companies can be turned into great ones.  According to Jim Collins, the first thing the leaders have done prior leading their companies to greatness was not first to drive the bus (to create the vision), then to collect passengers for it.  But they have rather done the opposite.  The leaders explained their action:leadership, who or what, leaders "Look, I really do not know where I should get this bus to.  But one thing I know for sure: if we get the right people on board, if we put them on the right positions for them, and if we drop those considered improper for our journey, there's no way we cannot reach to a great place. "

The leaders that have achieved remarkable results over decades have a clear understanding of the three truths:
 
The first is that if we start with the question "who" rather than "what" we will more easily adapt to the changes in our dynamic world.  Consider what would happen if people joined us on board just because of our final destination (the vision, the great inspiring company goal), but halfway something unforeseen forces us to change direction?  Some people will leave, others will try to dissuade you, all creating problems.  While if people entered the bus because they like their companions they would exclaimed: "If we need to change direction in the name of greater success - excellent, no problem. Onward!"
 
The second truth is that if we have taken on the bus the right people, the question of motivation and management is largely eliminated, because such people are self-motivated, working hard and selflessly, guided by their own desire to be part of building something great.
 
The third truth is that if we have taken on board the wrong people it will be entirely irrelevant whether we are moving on the right track - we will not have a great company.
 
No matter how great the vision is, it will be meaningless unless we have great people to work with.
 

Of course, nothing is that simple in practice. For instance, I have a dozen quality colleagues with whom I want to take a new direction, but it appears that thenew bus is with 5 seats only. Who to start with? And will the rest of these wonderful people wait for me to buy a bigger bus or life will spreadthem all over the planet? There is no full happiness and one cannot have all the good luck in the world.

 

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