Leadership: The Art and Challenge of Getting Out of the Way, Part 2
This is the second part of a two-part series. You can access part one here.
Creating a Sense of Purpose
Robert E. Quinn and Anjan V. Thakor authored a study in the July-August, 2018 Harvard Business Review entitled “Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization.” This lengthy study talks to the power of purpose for facilitating growth in organizations. Much of what the authors write is relevant to this article. Quinn and Thakor look at a variety of companies and examples of how purpose drives success. One example is the USAA Call Center. Retired Army Major General Joe Robles was the CEO of USAA in the mid-2000s, and when approached about why his call center had such an engaged and collaborative workforce, his response was “a leader’s most important job is to connect the people to their purpose.”
The importance of “purpose” for employees is certainly not a new concept, and research has shown that the most effective motivating factors for successful performance are those that reinforce the idea that employees matter and have a stake in the success and growth of a company. It's the “intangible motivators” rather than more tangible tools like pay and titles that are what drive people and instill the belief that they matter and are part of the “purpose” of the organization. An older concept that continues to apply to the modern workforce.
Another case involves Levi Strauss. In 2011, Chip Bergh was named CEO at Levi Strauss after 28 years at Proctor and Gamble. At P&G, Bergh led the acquisition of Gillette, and ran it as one of the most profitable divisions of the company for six years. What he found at Levi’s was quite different than what he expected. Lacking a defined strategy, Levi’s was a struggling and stagnant, although iconic, brand.
What he did find most surprising was a seemingly total lack of urgency and discipline that permeated whatever culture existed. If he was to succeed in turning around Levi's, he would have to drive significant cultural change. His management staff lacked any sense of purpose or drive for change. Bergh was successful in turning around Levi’s — it's now profitable, has expanded retail channels both online and in-store, and has become far more innovative. When asked how he has driven the brand from “staid to success,” Bergh admits that it continues to be a work in progress but the major change was the shift in the culture.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with my executive team and the company’s top leaders around the world to shape their behaviors and expectations that define a high-performance culture," Bergh told the Harvard Business Review. "It all starts with having the right people and unleashing them to tackle some of the biggest challenges.”
It's also important to note that Bergh had to change most of his senior management team. Within 18 months, nine of his original 11 direct reports were gone, replaced by world-class executive talent from within the industry and from other innovative industries. To relate back to Ferruccio Lamborghini, Bergh hired the best talent, gave them the tools and “got out of the way.”
One of the Secrets to Leadership
A final example of effective leadership and the importance of purpose and “unleashing” talent comes from Jamie Dimon, who has been head of JPMorgan Chase for over 12 years and is widely seen as one of the most effective Wall Street leaders. JPMorgan Chase weathered the recession and financial institutional scandals far better than most. In a recent interview, Dimon was asked about many aspects of how he has steered JPMorgan Chase over the years and the reasons for its sustained success. His response to the question: “What’s the best secret to great leadership?” relates to what we discuss throughout this article.
“You need humility and heart," said Dimon. "You don’t have to be that good at all the analytical stuff. But if you don’t get the best out of your people, you won’t succeed. People want to be treated with respect. They have ideas. They want to contribute. So you have to include them and not hold the ‘meeting after the meeting’ where decisions are actually made in dark rooms by a small group of friends. Managers need to understand that they don’t have all the answers.”
Effective leaders are those who have the confidence to truly empower their people in every possible way — the freedom to think, to do the job, to plan and execute the work, to make a difference. This doesn't mean the ABANDONMENT of responsibility; rather, it's the EVOLUTION of responsibility and the DELEGATION of responsibility to those who should have it. These leaders articulate a vision, create an environment in which people can succeed, hire the best talent for the tasks at hand, give them support and tools, instill their importance as part of the organization, and simply GET OUT OF THE WAY.