Leadership: The Art and Challenge of Getting Out of the Way, Part 1
Many of the organizational research reports argue that the best managers/leaders empower their people and focus more on giving them the tools to do their jobs rather than telling them exactly how to manage the tasks at hand. This is common sense but not quite as easy to implement as it is to proclaim. We've all had experiences of working for and with leaders who are classified as “controlling.” And there are many reasons why a manager leads in this manner, trying to control every detail and often tending toward micro-management. The most obvious explanation is by far the simplest: basic insecurity. Or maybe we should term it EGO.
There are myriad research studies that look into why one micro-manages, and most correlate micromanagement to insecurity and, often, to a lack of both self-awareness and to a history of having been rewarded for this type of behavior. These types of managers/leaders simply believe they know more than anyone else and, hence, have to be involved, direct, and know every detail to ensure things come out right.
In the original organizational research conducted by Frederick Taylor in the early 1900s, he studied iron workers on the basis of time management and task completion. Taylor posited that the most effective method of business management was to tell a worker what to do, offer them a better wage if they showed they could do things correctly and better than before, and create absolute measures of their “output” to ensure success. This led to the development and study of the Type A manager.
We're sure that we've evolved beyond Taylor’s basic theories, as noted in seemingly endless studies and reviews of successful management forms and experiments, yet it's surprising how many managers and leaders still demonstrate a more modern day version of this basic Type A management style. Obviously, there are gradations of how much direction senior leaders should give to their organizations, but generally research shows that the most effective leaders are those who empower their people, create a climate of purpose and simply “get out of the way.”
The Lamborghini Case
The Wall Street Journal recently published a column about the creation of the 1970s Lamborghini. We found this article fascinating being somewhat car crazy but also noting the profound message around effective leadership that the creation of this automobile demonstrated. The prototype for the Lamborghini Countach was unveiled at the 1971 Geneva Auto Show. This was the vision of Ferruccio Lamborghini, and existed only as a prototype (and, perhaps, a dream). Three years later, the first Lamborghini Countach went on sale to the amazement of all except the Lamborghini team. Three years to get “from prototype to street” was unheard of in the auto industry. Add in the lack of advanced technology in the 1970s, and this feat becomes somewhat more astonishing.
So how did Lamborghini pull this off? By identifying the top three challenges and reacting: design, engineering, and aerodynamics/testing. Reinventing these three concepts led the fast-forwarding of Lamborghini's dream sports car. However, the most interesting part of this story is the role Mr. Lamborghini played in the process and how he led it by empowering his teams.
“As his team worked, Mr. Lamborghini mostly let them be. When he did check in, it was usually to express his skepticism about whether the Countach would actually work.” (WSJ, June 2-3, 2018.)
The team was determined to achieve the challenge and relentless in their own personal drive to achieve. And while the result was achieved, it was far from perfect or practical, and Lamborghini was forced to sell a controlling stake in the car maker in 1973. However, it was the legacy of achievement and innovation that endured, and the image of Lamborghini as innovative and different that endures. In fact, the original “periscopio” model now fetches more than $1 million at auction, and the Countach contributed to Lamborghini’s renaissance (under its current owner, Audi). The brand continues to strive for innovation and excellence, and is currently working on an electric supercar based on the original Countach prototype.
“Ferruccio Lamborghini might have gotten lucky with the Countach, but there’s no question that he set a favorable stage. He’d built a capable factory and a brilliant engine and infected his workers with high standards. His finest achievement, however, was identifying three emerging talents with fresh eyes who weren’t married to the status quo. He simply told them to build something incredible — then went water skiing. The hard work of leadership was already done.” (WSJ, June 2-3, 2018)
This example is a clear counterpoint to the Steve Jobs model, the opposite to the hard-driving visionary who relishes making all the decisions with a team leader who inspires genius in others. The former model obviously worked for Apple under Jobs, but there's another dynamic at play. The research of the late Harvard psychologist Richard Hackman found that in the most effective teams, team leaders had limited impact once the work actually began. What mattered most were intelligent preparations and clear responsibilities.
Lamborghini and Jobs both created environments that allowed their visions to come to fruition, but did so in very different ways. And even in Steve Jobs’ drive to be the most successful micromanager of his time, his company might not have become what it is today without a more clearly defined entity with a set infrastructure and constantly recruiting the absolute best talent.
Related story: Leadership and Corporate Responsibility Challenges in 2018