The Enduring Organization

by Ron

Some organizations do not stick with something long enough to actually make it happen. They create a company full of orphaned projects, ideas, goals, and mandates.

This is particularly a symptom of the quick-deciding company we discussed in an earlier post. The quick-deciding company or team moves rapidly from decision to decision. Rather than taking time to learn from others, seek input, or teach in order to find quality, long-term solutions, the goal is deciding in a hurry. An organization’s goal needs to be quick learning so that good decisions can be made as soon as possible.

Building an Enduring Organization

It is important for leaders to ensure that their direct-reports become great leaders too. Many leaders enjoy serving under leaders whose style is balanced by humility and endurance, but when leading their own teams, they adopt an autocratic leadership style. In most cases they do this because they do not think the people under them are as good as they are in their respective jobs (prideful thinking). They say to themselves, “I can handle the style of my leader, but my people can’t function to the level we need them to under that style, so I’ll be more controlling and autocratic.” These leaders lack the perseverance to build leadership depth within the organization.

Do you remember Newton’s Cradle? That finely built desk toy sat on many desks in many offices around the country. It was usually made of some beautiful cherry wood with polished steel balls hung from nylon strings, all hanging in a nice row between the ends of the cradle. Each steel ball was tightly secured to the top, but if a person pulled one or two of them and let them go, they would bang continuously against the other balls.

My consulting partner and I have been working with two CEOs over the last few years whose leadership styles have so many similarities that we decided to give the style a name: the Newton’s Cradle approach to leadership. These two leaders developed a very tight and trusting relationship with each member of their teams. Everyone talked of them as “great” leaders and the kind of bosses for whom employees would do anything. However, these two leaders would send one or more of their direct-reports off on a mission that was bound to conflict with a similar mission of another direct-report. The leaders, however, would never make any effort to help the direct-reports reconcile the conflicts. They would just let them bang against one another until one was victorious—Newton’s Cradle.

For example, they would tell their CFO or COO that they must do whatever it took to control costs for the next quarter or two while, at the same time, encouraging the CIO to move ahead and implement the great, new, and costly computer system. This creates tremendous tension and turmoil throughout an organization as each person, feeling empowered by his or her boss, either joins the battle with the other direct-report or completely ignores him or her in dogged pursuit of individual goals.

Unfortunately, the Newton’s Cradle leader does not see the value of bringing every part of the organization together into a highly functional, persevering team.

In their book The Leadership Engine, Noel Tichy and Eli Cohen write that the best companies have “good leaders who nurture the development of other leaders at all levels of the organization.” Instead of defining reality for their workers, these leaders urge their workers to see reality themselves and mobilize the appropriate responses. Tichy and Cohen go on to discuss how much time many chief executives spend “formally and informally” on teaching. They conclude that the success of those firms is a direct result of everyone’s pulling in the same direction. “All of the winning leaders I’ve studied share a passion for people. They draw their energy from helping others get excited about improving their business. And they energize their people at every opportunity with stimulating ideas and values.”

The kind of leadership Tichy and Cohen write about is one that encourages leaders to develop other leaders. It is a primary focus for the leader who wants to build an enduring organization.

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1 comment

Rich Hill January 5, 2017 - 11:39 am

Ron – Your blog on ” The Enduring Organization” was outstanding and ties right into what we often experience in our Leadership Development sessions in a variety of organizations. It is enlightening to see, hear and watch mid and upper management level participants when they engage in team building and team problem solving exercises and enables us to guide them in the direction of becoming great leaders.

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