Last week in the Southern California mountain resort town of Lake Arrowhead a small group of senior leaders came together to launch their trek toward building a great company. I was honored to support them. And they were thrilled with their experience and the results of their meeting. Here’s what my client reported to me in the days following the meeting:
Christopher – Thank you, thank you, thank you. I knew you were a great facilitator and coach, but you exceeded my expectations. After we finished everyone basically said the same things: “Way beyond my expectations,” “Just what we needed,” “Outstanding,” and “I am so glad we did this.” We accomplished all the goals I had for this meeting and more. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help in getting my reign as president off to a great start. I look forward to working with you as we move forward and hope that we can get you back to work with us again.
It’s a closely held company in the business of supplying heat exchangers (radiators, oil coolers, etc.) to the US automotive industry. They have a long history of steady growth, a move over the last decade toward establishing regional customer support centers staffed with engineering and sales, and a series of manufacturing joint ventures in China having visited—get this—approximately 5000 Chinese companies since 1990 to find potential partners with compatible values.
The gentleman who has been COO for the last few years is a long-time friend of mine. A few months ago he called to say that he was going to become CEO and President and wanted to shift the culture of the company toward his theory of management which is derived from Jim Collins blockbuster book Good to Great.
One of the first concerns was that the company did not believe in coaches, nor in leadership collaboration. The longtime outgoing CEO was established as a hero and the company revolved around him. This is the type of level three or level four leadership Jim Collins says can fuel growth but not create sustainability because the charismatic genius leader gets things done through his or her brute will and clever cunning, but does not build a culture of responsible leadership or a sustainable values-based system for getting things done.
Having a Theory of Management
So I dug into Good to Great while pestering my friend with questions about whether it is really his theory of management, and if so, how committed he is to it over the long run. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was very committed to it. To quote him: “I can’t maintain my passion around heat exchangers, but I can get passionate about spending the rest of my career building a great company with great people, customers, and suppliers . . . which happens to be in the heat exchanger industry.”
The phrase “theory of management” wasn’t his term. It was mine. Many years ago I realized that most leaders do not know what their own theory of management is. They obviously have one, even if subconscious, because they show up and do stuff everyday they refer to as “leadership” and “management.” And what they do has recognizable patterns, so you could infer that they aren’t operating randomly and must be enacting some internal “theory of management.” So when I coach executives I pester them to own, develop awareness, and confront what their theory of management is and to enact it consciously. When my friend read Good to Great he found his theory of management and knew it.
What’s your theory of management?
How Responsibility Redefined supports Good to Great
Jim Collins and his researchers uncovered what they call “Level Five” leadership. A Level Five leader taps into—to use my words—Responsibility Redefined. Whereas a Level Four leader can move huge numbers of people to accomplish great things, their downfall is their attention on themselves and their lack of building a sustainable culture. Lee Iacocca was used throughout the book as an archetypal Level Four leader. But a Level Five leader draws less attention to self and more attention to the shared responsibility to forge ahead.
Employing the exquisite “Window or Mirror” metaphor, Collins says that when things go well, a Level Four leader looks in the mirror and preens and announces how smart they are. And when things go wrong, a Level Four leader looks out the window and blames other people and circumstances, and never accepts responsibility for their own actions.
However a Level Five leader looks out the window when things go well and attributes their own success to being surrounded by great people and to being in the right place at the right time, i.e., luck. And when things go wrong a Level Five leader looks in the mirror and accepts 100% responsibility for making poor decisions or inappropriate assumptions or actions.
So it turns out that Responsibility Redefined is a core component of going from Good to Great.