Leaders and choices
Most leadership failures are traceable to poor choices. Poor choices made by leaders result in bad decisions which lead to undesirable results. How strong, stable and successful a company gets is determined by how sound and profound its choices are. The prosperity or otherwise of a nation is an indication of the kind of choices its leaders make. Individuals, organizations and nations are at the mercy of their choices. We first make our choices but the choices end up shaping and determining what we eventually become. Rich or poor, energized or enfeebled, progressive or retrogressive, respected or reproached, choices make people and organizations so.
While sometimes it is quite easy to make a choice, good or bad, that is not always the case. There are many instances when an issue is neither purely white nor plainly black, but gray. Making a choice in such situation is usually difficult. When faced with a situation like this the leader should be guided by two questions. One, what is the best thing for the organization in the situation? Two, what is the best thing for the people in that situation. When these questions are properly answered, even when the coast is still foggy, the leader is guided by the best intentions. Leaders make wrong choices when in a quandary if they put their personal interests first. For a leader that will go places, the corporate interest and people’s interest must come before personal interest. If the order is changed, the result would be calamitous.
Making the right choices is a function of the quality of information at the disposal of a leader. The more a leader knows, the wider and more sharpened his perspectives become, the more accurate his choices get, and the better his results are. Therefore, to guard against making perfunctory choices that could jeopardize the success of their organizations, leaders have to update their knowledge and top up information about the industry in which they operate.
Ross Perot’s great miss
In 1979, after running Microsoft for about four years with a measure of success, Bill Gates was willing to sell the company to Mr Ross Perot, who owned Electronic Data Systems (EDS), because EDS was looking to invest in a small computer company and saw Microsoft as an attractive option because it could potentially supply valuable software, while Gates was hoping to get into the corporate marketplace through EDS. At that time, EDS was worth over one billion dollars.
According to Perot, who said the offer was for between $40 and $60million, Gates “was absolutely on the right track with what he was doing. And we were really impressed with the people he had working with him and his ability to get the people working with him to work to the outer limits of their capability.”
But at the meeting to seal the deal, the first statement Perot made was, “Well, if I buy this, will I make money? Why would you want to sell it if it is such a great idea?”
From that moment, it was difficult to make progress on the deal because Gates was not convinced Perot was serious about acquiring the company going by his attitude and utterance. He decided against selling Microsoft to Perot. With that, Perot missed out on the opportunity to own one of the most influential and transformational businesses on earth.
Lamenting his loss after Microsoft became a global phenomenon, Perot said, “I consider it one of the biggest business mistakes I’ve ever made. My satisfaction wouldn’t be in all the money I’d have made. It’d have been in the day-to-day contact with Bill and the people at Microsoft and watching them do their work.”
Today, while Microsoft market capitalization stands at $1.144 trillion, Perot’s EDS is now a division of Hewlett Packard, following its acquisition by HP.
Critical choices that leaders have to make
Choice making is critical to leadership. Here are some vital choices that determine the success or otherwise of leaders.
The leader’s team
A leader is as strong as his team members. No matter how good a leader is, he can only realize a fraction of his potential if he works alone. Nothing of significance has been achieved by lone rangers. It takes the collaborative efforts of a group for the best in individuals to be realised. Hence, the appropriateness of the Chinese proverb that behind an able man there are always other able men.
What a leader does is to cast the vision, get the right people around the vision to drive it, and provide the motivation to achieve the vision. If a leader picks the right people to run with the vision, achieving the task becomes easy but if he chooses the wrong people, the vision may be aborted. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So, unless the leader gets the right people for the task, not only will he be shooting himself in the foot, he will also be making accomplishing the task arduous.
To a great extent, a leader’s attitude determines his success. Attitude determines accomplishments; no one can outperform his level of attitude. Attitude is superior to aptitude because the latter does not solely determine success. If the aptitude is right but the attitude is wrong, the outcome will be far from right. A study carried out by Stanford Research Institute substantiates this. According to the finding of the study, success is comprised of 88 per cent attitude and only 12 per cent of education (aptitude).
An attitude is a viewpoint about situations, people or places. It is a belief that informs reactions to, and handling of issues, circumstances and persons. It is a perception that shapes behaviours. It is a mindset that determines what is done and how it is done. Social scientists are of the opinion that no one was born with any particular attitude. So, attitude is a learnt behaviour.
But if attitude can be learnt, it can also be unlearned. Therefore, no one needs to enslave himself to a wrong attitude. Like a worn out shirt or skirt, a bad attitude should be shed. A bad attitude is like having a flat tyre, it can’t get anyone anywhere until it is changed.
The most important attitude a leader must learn is positivity. Positive attitude produces optimism and unleashes latent energy. It dulls worries and fears while playing up possibilities. Having a positive attitude is making a choice to see a situation from the bright side instead of viewing it from the horrible side. It is a determination to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. Positive attitude puts the dividing line between a leader who is able to steer his people from adversity to prosperity and one who leaves them enmeshed in their catastrophe.
Positivity is very important because, as Napoleon Bonaparte observed, a leader is a dealer in hope. It is a leader’s responsibility to give his people hope. But he can only give them hope if he is not hopeless himself, and being imbued with a positive attitude, hinged on a belief that things will work out well, is one sure way to demonstrate hope.
A leader with a positive attitude believes the best in his team. He does not concentrate on what is wrong but rather focuses on what is right with the team. He does not overstress what is not good about the products but emphasizes the edge his products have over others. He does not amplify what is inappropriate with the system but underscores what is good about it.
A leader should also imbibe the attitude of gratitude. The easiest way to show that an individual is valued is to express gratitude to him. When this comes from the leader, it enlivens the people and encourages them to put in more effort. But showing gratitude, especially for activities that are regarded as run of the mill, does not come naturally to many people. Most leaders wait till a team member achieves an earth-shattering or a record-breaking feat before showing them appreciation. That is not quite right because it is capable of sending a message to the team that their efforts are not valued. However, while accomplishment of tasks that are regarded as outstanding may attract incentives, those that fall into other categories should be noted and commended, even if verbally. Gratitude should be the second nature of a leader. It should flow freely from him and the leader should show how every activity that is appreciated contributes to the overall objective of the organization so that the appreciation may be fully appreciated by the recipients.
Strategy is vital to the actualization of corporate objectives because it bridges the gap between means and end. Strategy involves the deployment of resources at the disposal of an organization for the actualization of corporate goals.
According to Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor, strategy should determine how organizational resources, skills and competencies are combined to create competitive advantage.
That is why many have argued that any corporate failure is traceable to failure of strategy. Those of this school of thought insist that when a company goes down it is because it has employed the wrong strategy; if the strategy is inappropriate, the result will be unsatisfying.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of strategy; offensive and defensive.
An offensive strategy is employed by companies that wish to increase their space. They are always looking for new grounds to cover, new products to launch and new territory to extend to. Their hunger for conquest is insatiable. They grow from town to town, region to region, country to country and continent to continent in their bid to increase their market share.
Some companies that deploy this strategy also introduce new products always to meet the realities of the times and take care of emerging markets.
Defensive strategy is deployed by an organization when it wishes to discourage encroachment into its market or territory. This strategy is concerned more about holding on to its share of the market than increasing same. A company with this strategy is not driven by any empire-building ambition.
The choice of strategy is a function of the vision of the organization. But a leader needs not hold on to a strategy that fails to deliver desired result. Hence, strategies should be reviewed regularly to see if they are in line with the current aspirations of the organization.
Response or reaction
A leader always has to choose between responding to a situation or reacting to it. Response and reaction are similar concepts with profound difference. To fully understand the distinction between the two, let’s seek help from the field of Medicine.
If a medication administered to a patient agrees with him and he exhibits signs of improvement, he is said to be responding to the treatment. However, if instead of improving the patient seems to be getting worse, he is said to be reacting to the treatment. We can deduce from the foregoing that when a leader responds rather than reacting, he is improving both as a person and as a leader. But when the reverse is the case, then he is not getting better.
When a leader chooses responding above reacting in a given situation, he is taking charge of the situation. With that disposition, he is able to keep in view the bigger picture and is positioned to right what is wrong for the benefit of the organization. But when a leader opts for reacting, he becomes defensive and is willing to extricate himself from the blame for what has gone wrong. Instead of protecting the overall interest of the organization, he is interested in protecting himself and starts looking for who to hang for what has gone wrong.
When leaders react, they give vent to their emotions and gag their reasoning. Any leader worth his title knows that emotions can be misleading because they are, more often than not, transient. So, any decision based on emotions is more likely to be wrong than right.
Leaders who make the right choices for their organizations leave indelible marks on the sands of time.