With the dry weather this summer my backyard oak trees seem to have made a premature determination that fall has already arrived. How do I know this? By the amazing proliferation of acorns throughout my yard before August had even arrived. As fast as the acorns could fall the family of gray squirrels was scampering across my yard burying their new found bounty. Although food was abundant the squirrels were making the effort to bury these acorns for their future survival. While snow may come relatively early in Minnesota it wasn’t likely to start falling for at least three months but the squirrels weren’t waiting for even a moment to begin their work.
Where have all of the General Managers gone? HBR has recently run a couple of articles on this topic (Bring Back the General Manager – 7/10) and I couldn’t agree more with the findings. With the constant pressure to demonstrate quarterly profits and to find dollars to invest in growth opportunities, organizations have been trying to be as lean as possible. They are seeking to garner every efficiency that they can out of the system. One way corporations have done this is by merging smaller businesses into larger business groups and cutting out any redundancies with the new organization. The elimination of the general manager position in particular is not just due to the recent economic downturn but has been going on the better part of the last decade. After a few iterations of narrowing the food chain, an organization can be quickly left with too few good leaders who are equipped and able to lead a team of cross-functional business directors. These “Leaders” might have functional expertise in their discipline but they are lost when it comes to setting a vision and strategy their broader business.
Recently, a friend and former colleague and I were discussing how we had both learned so much more about leadership and leading people from children than we had from any other source: training, education, or on the job experience. Perhaps the last example was due more to the fact that we were deficient in strong developmental “leaders” at our mutual employer but I really think there is something to the simplicity of working with children versus the complexities of leading in business. This simplicity allows us to take action, quickly see the results and then to adjust accordingly if we don’t get a “good” outcome. It is almost like a little mini case study where we get to practice our techniques in real time.
Inc. Magazine just did a great story “The 22nd Time is the Charm” on entrepreneurship, failure, perseverance, and finally success. When Beachbody first launched the P90X home fitness DVDs in 2005 the product was a huge failure: it was costing too much to make and the sales were dismal. By the end of that year the company’s revenues had sunk from $100m to $83m. With all of the production and marketing expenses involved in launching the product the per order costs were at roughly $250 (much of this due to sizable fixed costs and low sales volume) and they were only selling the DVDs for what they thought customers would be willing to pay at $120 per set – obviously not a sustainable business model.
Earlier this year I had finished Walt Isaacson‘s biography of Steve Jobs. It was a great read with a litany of insights to be garnered out of the book. In fact, I would make this book required reading for every employee in the electronics and retail industries. I will frequently run through a mental index of many of those insights but there is one in particular that continues to stick with me and causes me to examine my understanding of best leadership practices. Throughout the book Isaacson shared examples of Steve’s leadership or people management style. Jobs would oscillating back and forth when giving his employees feedback on their work. He would bounce between “This is Shit” and the occasional “This is Amazing.”
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