Good leaders are valuable. Great leaders are invaluable.
Great leaders aren’t afraid to make life and death decisions for their organization. This is often revealed in three areas: people, sacred cows, and abandoning what works.
1. Great leaders make great “fires.”
Great people decisions aren’t limited to making great hires. Great “fires” are just as important.
When I became CMO of my company, the transition involved working with the incumbent marketer. We tried our best, but it just didn’t click. After a few months our CEO asked me, “Can you work with this person? If not, tell me now. Don’t waste time.”
I liked this guy and elected to give it more time. But in my heart I knew our CEO was right. She later transferred this guy from marketing to another department, but did it without telling me. By doing that, she actually protected me from potential personal conflict. This also killed any possible rumors of me pushing him out, which would have jeopardized my reputation.
With my own marketing team in place, we helped the company attain record profits last year. But it started with my CEO exemplifying great leadership. She transferred a valuable employee instead of terminating him. She protected me as the new hire. Together, we all went to the next level.
2. Great leaders tackle sacred cows.
Some organizations have so many sacred cows and elephants in their rooms they could qualify as zoos. If your organization is older or traditional, be especially careful.
Seven years ago, I took a job as a church music pastor. The most frustrating part was devoting an entire quarter of every year to one thing: a Christmas production.
Obviously, Christmas is important for a church. I didn’t want to get rid of it. But this production ate up three months every year. It cost tens of thousands of dollars. The productions weren’t very good because they weren’t our forte. We didn’t capitalize on our team’s strengths.
Worst of all, we never measured results. My boss didn’t want to take visitor contact info. There was no follow-up…because no info was ever taken. I never knew if the production tangibly contributed to growth. The language of the sacred cow is one of ambiguity, ignorance, or non-negotiation; never cold hard facts.
Whenever I discussed this with my boss, his response was akin to “this is what we’ve always done.” In total, I gave one entire working year (3 months a year for 4 years) to feed a sacred cow. I eventually resigned. Instead of spending my last 3 months training volunteers to take my place (which is my forte) or helping the organization find a paid replacement, the last thing my boss had me do was the Christmas production.
3. Great leaders abandon the old, even when it’s working.
In Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud relates the story of the phone company, Motorola. In the mid-90’s, AT&T asked Motorola if they would develop a digital phone. Motorola thought customers would balk at this because of poor voice quality. Since they were the market leader, their attitude was that if they didn’t develop the digital phone, no one would. A new company, Nokia, stepped in to build the phones and ate up Motorola’s market share. Motorola is now a subsidiary of Google (I actually had to Google them to see if they still existed) and making cellular phones, but they’re a bit late to the party.
Great leaders aren’t afraid to abandon the past. It’s heart-wrenching to gut a system when you’re in first place. But up markets don’t last forever. Great leaders know: the vision is in ink, the plan is in pencil.
Leader, be great this week. Don’t be afraid to make the decisions great leaders make. To quote Alexander the Great: “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” Be brave!
Question: What one brave leadership decision have you made in the past six months?
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