Company Leadership: From the Top Down
For most of my career I’ve worked for small companies, usually between 30 and 200 people. Occasionally up to 900 which I suppose makes that a mid-size company. Only one of those companies ever made it to an IPO. My guess is that the reason for that mostly had to do with where I was on the east coast and the time, the early 90s. Some were bootstrapped, and some were “experimental” departments from larger organizations (Reuters and IBM). I never had a stock option until I moved to California and accepted a position at OnDisplay. I’ve had the misfortune/fortune to have seen a lot of mistakes made on all levels, been sold as an asset, and seen good products just fade away. I will be writing about some of those experiences. I think that it’s important that they be documented because it frustrates the hell out of me to watch current companies make the same or similar mistakes as other companies have made. Especially now, we’ve got the Internet folks, we have blogging, we have an incredible amount of opportunities to learn and gain from others’ experiences.
I believe in leadership and you’ll have an opportunity to read a great deal about it on my site. Most problems are created because of lack of leadership at some level within the organization. Everyone has leadership responsibilities; to think otherwise seriously reduces a company’s ability to react creatively and immediately to new situations and problems. If a person is not capable of accepting personal responsibility; then that person is not capable of leadership and needs to be let go. Let them mess up someone else’s company.
Personal leadership is the ability to attend to your responsibilities. To make intelligent and informed decisions that surpass the expected results. Whenever possible, deliver more then is expected of you. There are times that it’s okay to do something so that it’s “good enough”. But that decision should be made with the people that the decision affects. For example, when building a product prototype you don’t have to make every feature work perfectly, you just have to prove that the idea will work.
As you look up (or down) through your organization...what do you see? Do you see a clearly communicated company directive, department directive, and team objective? If you don’t then you should ask why. Let’s just assume that you have a company full of responsible leaders but things just aren’t going as you expect. Where is the break down? Is it because they don’t know what they are trying to accomplish, or that they don’t have the resources to fulfill their purpose? Maybe they don’t understand their roles and they don’t know who to ask. Is this a communication problem or a process problem?
I consulted with a company a couple years ago and I just couldn’t believe the things that were happening there. The company has maybe 150 people, very nice facility, good location and some really good and smart people. But what they also have are kingdom builders. People who are looking out for themselves and not for the company. The fact that those people still have jobs is the fault of the executives who allow it to continue. What amazes me is the amount of money the kingdom builders are burning through. Who is watching the money? Now, I interpret this as a good company with some fiscal irresponsibility. The executives who are supposed to direct the company’s commercial growth have not exhibited leadership. I’m not sure they even realize the waste. But most of the staff does and probably the non-kingdom building managers do too. Now I know some executives who read this will think that this company’s leaders probably have some bigger plan, but I have to say that I really doubt it. This waste has been going on for years and there is no visible ROI in sight. Executives and staff have been replaced, unfortunately some good ones. Leadership has failed with some at the middle-management level because they are thinking of themselves and not of the company. Leadership has failed at an executive level because they have not identified the problem or put in place processes that would stop it. And for some at the staff level, leadership has failed because they are frustrated and just don’t care anymore.
This is NOT an uncommon problem. What this company needs to do to solve its problems is bring in a management consultant who has experience with small technology company problems. Their problems aren’t going to be fixed by some new mission or vision statement. They need to sit down and figure out what their business is, what it will be, what they have now, what they need and don’t need. After that they need to figure out who among their current employees are leaders and who are kingdom builders. Fire the kingdom builders and charge the remaining leaders with the mission of fulfilling the corporate, department, and team objectives. They need a management consultant to help them with this because they need someone who is standing outside the problem; who can hopefully, see things more clearly.