“All Star vs Average”… Applied To Top Leaders

A couple of recent HBR posts by Bill Taylor  (author of Practically Radical) caught my eye.  They were brought on by Zuckerberg’s justification of FB’s recent FriendFeed acquisition at a value of roughly $4M per acquired employee.  An energetic debate followed via blog comments about whether an “all star” worker can really deliver exponentially more than a “good” worker. 

In context, the original discussion was about technical people like engineers and developers… but I’m intrigued by the application in the leadership realm… In fact I think it may be truer of leadership roles than technical roles.  Let’s set aside the topic of executive comp; here’s a personal example of the actual business results that an “all star” leader can deliver v. just an “average” leader.

Early in my career I worked at two different financial software companies… and they were a perfect example of the difference that the leader’s capability makes. Consider:
    > Both were founded at roughly the same time, each by a really smart guy
    > Both thought “I bet I can write software that makes accounting & taxation stuff way easier.”
    > Both were classic B-school studies with founders growing businesses beyond themselves.
    > Both (arguably) had access to the same supply of labor, capital, etc.
    > And, it’s a fair generalization to say they had the same basic opportunity. You get the point.

The Results?
After ~20 years in business, Company A topped out at less than $40M in revenue.  It was ultimately acquired by Company B which had exceeded $1.5B in revenue over the same time horizon.

The Difference?
I had an inside view to both companies and I believe that the leadership capability of the top guy made all the difference. In Company A the founder couldn’t figure out how to distribute leadership authority in a way that left him confident about the company’s direction.  In Company B, the top guy figured out that letting go was the only viable path to growth.  But the way he let go is actually the key: He figured out how to develop a robust leadership factory, teaching a common set of leadership values & methods, which led to a robust leadership infrastructure: a broad group of unified, high-performing leaders all running the same direction.

Bottom line:
There is little doubt in my mind that an “all star” leader v. a “good” leader will drive exponentially better business results.

Leaders: Change Your Mindset

Leaders: you have to have the right mindset.  If you don’t, then it’s unlikely that you will be able to effectively lead for the long term.

This applies equally to your personal life & your professional life!  

  • Start by getting clear on what mindset you want to have.  Think about it.  Write it down.  Borrow the points from my last post on mindset if you want somewhere to start (like everything else in life, if you don’t have a target for this, then you can’t know how you’re progressing).
  • Self-assess.  How does your mindset today align to your aspired mindset?  What would other people say about your mindset based on your words & behaviors when they are around you?  Are you role-modeling the mindset that you want your team members to have?
  • Change your mind(set).   In the end, the only person who can change your mindset is… you.   And the way you change it is simple: you make a decision that you want to be different.  If you’re feeling brave, share your goals with someone important to you that you trust: a team member, a boss, a close personal friend, a spouse?

There are no pre-requisites for growth… meaning: you can start doing this right now.

Mindset for Leaders

(Warning: I will camp on this topic because of its importance!)

I want to suggest that the most critical input leaders have is our own mindset.  Recently I asked a group of emerging leaders what they thought mindset was.  Their answers: “attitude, beliefs, values, viewpoints, inclination, disposition, habits.” That’s a pretty good definition.

I will suggest that your mindset will pre-determine your response to & interpretation of every situation.  Only you can decide what mindset you should have… But I’ll share with you the mindset aspirations that I’ve developed over time based on observation of other successful leaders:

> Believe you have significant impact on your success… don’t be a victim
> Go for “gold” results… don’t settle for bronze or silver
> Help the bigger team win… not just your own area
> Have confidence… get comfortable being vulnerable to the unknown
> Relish learning, don’t fear it… that’s how we get better
> Never get set in your ways or “hard-wired”… must remain open to growth
> Have courage to make qualitative judgment calls – you’re never going to have perfect info!

More to come on mindset…

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