Power of two

The Smart Manager - - Leadership - DOUG SKONORD IS FOUNDER AND CEO OF TRAN­SI­TION MAN­AGE­MENT INC.

“The days of the ‘Great Man’ the­ory of Lead­er­ship—where one sole leader rules over the masses from their ivory tower, are long gone…But while co-lead­er­ship can be en­er­giz­ing and re­ward­ing, if the re­la­tion­ship isn’t strong, the ar­range­ment can easily be­come drain­ing and frus­trat­ing.”* For co-lead­er­ship to be fruit­ful, it has to be a strong emo­tional part­ner­ship that rests on the foun­da­tion of com­mit­ment.

Or­ga­ni­za­tional ‘emo­tional part­ner­ships’ be­gan with the birth of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. High-level lead­er­ship bond­ing has al­ways ex­isted, re­sult­ing in a syn­ergy that al­lowed a rel­a­tively small group of in­di­vid­u­als to cre­ate a large or­ga­ni­za­tion of loyal fol­low­ers. With­out the cre­ation of th­ese part­ner­ships, or­ga­ni­za­tions will re­main small and in­ef­fec­tive. Why? Be­cause the re­quired di­ver­sity of func­tional com­pe­tence,

the vari­abil­ity of hu­man na­ture, and the vast num­ber of trans­ac­tions re­quired to man­age a large or­ga­ni­za­tion will over­whelm one in­di­vid­ual’s in­tel­lec­tual ca­pac­ity and their emo­tional abil­ity to cope.

Let us turn our at­ten­tion to the busi­ness or­ga­ni­za­tion. For the pur­pose of in­ter­change­abil­ity of the hu­man parts, the busi­ness com­mu­nity has evolved a hi­er­ar­chal struc­ture of func­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that can be plugged with

peo­ple hav­ing the ap­pro­pri­ately re­lated tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise. The con­cepts of ‘bond­ing’ and ‘emo­tional part­ner­ships’ are typ­i­cally left to the CEO’s dis­cre­tion. CEOs rou­tinely en­list the help of re­cruiters, psy­cho­log­i­cal assess­ments, and other trusted ex­ec­u­tives to help them select in­di­vid­u­als for their top man­age­ment team.

It is also com­mon for newly ap­pointed, but sea­soned lead­ers, to reach into their past en­deav­ors and pull for­ward in­di­vid­u­als that they have per­son­ally worked with and have en­joyed a suc­cess­ful and trust­ing re­la­tion­ship. Why? Be­cause, in­stinc­tively, they un­der­stand that emo­tional part­ner­ships are crit­i­cal to suc­cess­fully manag­ing a large or­ga­ni­za­tion.

While do­ing re­search in grad­u­ate school, I ran across the ‘dual-deputy’ lead­er­ship sys­tem. To the best of my rec­ol­lec­tion, this lead­er­ship sys­tem was cre­ated by the US mil­i­tary in the 1940s to run an or­ga­ni­za­tion that re­quired dis­parate lead­er­ship skills, likely tech­ni­cal and or­ga­ni­za­tional. Dur­ing th­ese past forty years of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing and in­ter­act­ing with a va­ri­ety of suc­cess­ful or­ga­ni­za­tions, I have no­ticed a lot of emo­tional part­ner­ships. I firmly be­lieve that th­ese emo­tional part­ner­ships have been the se­cret to th­ese in­di­vid­u­als and th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tion’s suc­cesses. Th­ese part­ner­ships usu­ally come in 2s or 3s, some­times more.

A sad as­pect some­times stem­ming from the in­for­mal­ity of many emo­tional part­ner­ships is that their value is not al­ways con­sciously and overtly ap­pre­ci­ated. A lack of recog­ni­tion of true value even­tu­ally will log­i­cally erode an other­wise trust­ing re­la­tion­ship.

Most of you have heard of co-CEOs, co-pres­i­dents, CEO/COO re­la­tion­ships and likely won­dered about the na­ture of th­ese re­la­tion­ships and if they work, then why do they work.

This is why I think a sys­tem of ‘emo­tional part­ner­ships’ can be quite ef­fec­tive. Emo­tional part­ner­ships in­clude th­ese in­gre­di­ents: mu­tual re­spect, mu­tual com­mit­ment, and in­di­vid­ual func­tional com­pe­tency. Com­bine those in­gre­di­ents with a de­vel­oped trust and there is a po­ten­tial for syn­er­gis­tic re­sults. The com­mit­ment and com­pe­tence al­lows each in­di­vid­ual to suc­cess­fully fo­cus on their spe­cific

A lack of recog­ni­tion of true value even­tu­ally will log­i­cally erode an other­wise trust­ing re­la­tion­ship.

re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. The mu­tual re­spect and trust al­lows them to syn­er­gis­ti­cally in­ter­act on shared re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Fi­nally, to fully em­brace an emo­tional part­ner, one needs to ex­tend one’s own ego to in­clude judg­ments of their part­ner(s). This ex­plains why the most suc­cess­ful CEOs (level 5), as de­scribed in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, all have a fair amount of per­sonal hu­mil­ity. In essence, they are cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment that al­lows for a sys­tem of emo­tional part­ner­ships to con­geal at the top of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Per­sonal hu­mil­ity and sub­or­di­nated egos are not sub­jects that are widely un­der­stood in the con­text of suc­cess­ful or­ga­ni­za­tions, but they are crit­i­cal to un­der­stand­ing the na­ture of dy­namic syn­er­gis­tic and suc­cess­ful emo­tional part­ner­ships.

Top-level busi­ness lead­er­ship is typ­i­cally con­cerned with

■ fi­nan­cial in­tegrity

■ in­creas­ing the ef­fi­ciency of com­pany sys­tems

■ per­son­al­ity of the or­ga­ni­za­tion

■ lead­er­ship team man­age­ment

■ or­ga­ni­za­tional ef­fec­tive­ness in the mar­ket and

■ strate­gic part­ner­ships with cus­tomers and sup­pli­ers In a ‘co-led’ busi­ness or­ga­ni­za­tion, in­di­vid­u­als typ­i­cally split func­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity as fol­lows: fi­nan­cial, op­er­a­tional, and mar­ket de­vel­op­ment. They col­lec­tively share or­ga­ni­za­tional per­son­al­ity, lead­er­ship team man­age­ment, ex­ter­nal strate­gic part­ner­ships, and strate­gic plan­ning, goals, and ob­jec­tives.

Zap­pos.com is an in­ter­net com­pany that has ex­pe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess in the last ten years, grow­ing from be­ing a startup to clock­ing over $1 bil­lion in sales and re­cently be­ing ac­quired by Ama­zon.com. Early on, Nick Swin­murn, the founder, in his quest for funds met up with a fel­low en­tre­pre­neur and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist, Tony Hsieh. Hsieh de­cided to in­vest both money and time in this ven­ture. Af­ter work­ing closely to­gether over a num­ber of months, they de­vel­oped a close work­ing re­la­tion­ship and trust. Hsieh of­fi­cially joined the firm. Even­tu­ally, Al­fred Lin, a prior part­ner of Hsieh, was brought in as CFO. With­out know­ing the specifics, it is a fair guess that th­ese, ‘emo­tional part­ners’ di­vided the func­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and worked as a team on the ‘shared re­spon­si­bil­i­ties’.

Don’t let your ego get in the way if some­thing is work­ing. –Nick Swin­murn

Com­pa­nies that have the po­ten­tial to grow quickly need the ‘syn­er­gis­tic in­te­gra­tion’ power of true emo­tional part­ners or they will stall out be­cause of top man­age­ment com­pet­ing agen­das.

Re­cently, I had a con­sult­ing client ask my ad­vice on this sub­ject. “We are be­ing ac­quired by a pub­licly-traded com­pany. Steve and I have worked as part­ners grow­ing this com­pany to­gether. He runs op­er­a­tions and I han­dle sales and mar­ket­ing. They don’t ‘get’ that we run this di­vi­sion to­gether. They want to make me the pres­i­dent. How do I in­sure that Steve is treated fairly in this ac­qui­si­tion?”

We had a dis­cus­sion about the dual-deputy sys­tem and I val­i­dated, to the best of my abil­ity, their lead­er­ship struc­ture. The ac­qui­si­tion went well and their lead­er­ship style has so far sur­vived the tran­si­tion to tra­di­tional cor­po­rate Amer­ica.

Although there are many suc­cess­ful ‘emo­tional part­ner­ships’, I have heard many sto­ries about un­suc­cess­ful part­ner­ships and the re­sult­ing messy di­vorces. I be­lieve that the more we un­der­stand the spe­cific na­ture of suc­cess­ful part­ner­ships, the less likely th­ese ar­range­ments will end in di­vorce. ■

Com­pa­nies that have the po­ten­tial to grow quickly need the ‘syn­er­gis­tic in­te­gra­tion’ power of true emo­tional part­ners or they will stall out be­cause of top man­age­ment com­pet­ing agen­das.

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