Ego seems to often get in the way of effective leadership. Yesterday we told you about a study that compared the size of S&P 500 CEO’s homes and the performance of the companies they run. The larger the home, presumably linked at least indirectly to ego, the lower the performance. Today we came across a different but parallel perspective in the Open Debate section of the April issue of Fast Company. The "debate" (actually both sides pretty much agree) is between Bill George, the ex-CEO of Medtronic, and Wendy Kopp, President of Teach for America.
The premise for the debate is whether leaders teach and do teachers lead. As George starts out by describing, leaders often fail due to ego:
Leaders who fail often do so because they fall prey to the pressures and seductions they face. It isn’t that they lack leadership skills, style, or power–but that their egos, their greed, their craving for public adulation, and their fear of loss of power overwhelm their responsibility to build their institutions.
This ego can take many forms, from the constant media addiction of Carly Fiorina, to lavish estates, to that personal peeve of mine: the reserved parking space. Effective leaders are different.
[George]: In contrast, authentic leaders understand that leading is about serving others and bringing them together around a common cause.
[Kopp]: The best leaders keep focused on the outcomes they’re trying to achieve, resisting the very human temptation to get distracted by issues of ego and insecurity.
But one key characteristic of leaders is that they are teachers.
[Kopp]: we know that teaching successfully is an act of leadership. I often hear our corps members and alumni describe the moment they broke through as a teacher as the moment they realized that this work is not about them, but rather about their students.
[George]: I believe that great leaders are also excellent teachers. I wonder, would actually thinking of themselves as teachers help leaders be more effective?
This is especially true in the world of lean enterprise and lean manufacturing leadership, where the fundamental concepts are often counterintuitive. How many times have we had to prove to our organization that building product in units of one instead of batches of hundreds is really faster, less risky, and consumes less spaces and resources? How many times have we had to prove that 90% of a process is waste, while people in the organization are convinced that it is already as efficient as it can be? The leader… the teacher… must create that vision of the future, which to most will seem unattainable. Kopp agrees.
The most successful teachers set a vision for their students’ achievement that many think to be unreasonable. They motivate others–their students and the students’ parents–to work harder than they’ve ever worked before to realize that vision. They are purposeful and effective in planning and executing toward that vision, work relentlessly to tackle the immense challenges that inevitably arise, and reflect constantly on their students’ performance and their own practice. In other words, they do what the most effective leaders do in any context.
That is the fundamental responsibility of an effective leader: not to make decisions and wallow in the aura of power, but to teach their organization how to make decisions with the right knowledge and to guide their organization toward a vision of excellence.