Why the best lead­ers are ir­ra­tional

Lesotho Times - - Jobs -

IN his book Jeffrey Hay­zlett shares core lessons you need to tie vi­sions to ac­tions, get ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion, and achieve your busi­ness goals. In this edited ex­cerpt, the au­thor ex­plains why be­ing pig­headed and push­ing your team to the edge are both hall­marks of suc­cess­ful lead­ers.

I’ve been called “pig­headed” a num­ber of times, and I’ve never taken of­fense. But un­til re­cently, I never looked up the ac­tual def­i­ni­tion of pig­headed, which ac­cord­ing to Merriam-web­ster means “re­fus­ing to do what other peo­ple want or to change your opin­ion or the way you do some­thing: very stub­born.” Syn­onyms for pig­headed in­clude ev­ery­thing from “head­strong” to “opin­ion­ated” to “will­ful.”

I’m good with be­ing those things when nec­es­sary, es­pe­cially when con­sid­er­ing the op­po­sites of pig­headed: “ac­qui­es­cent, com­pli­ant, pli­able, re­lent­ing, and yield­ing.”

My only re­grets in my busi­ness ca­reer come from when I wasn’t pig­headed enough. I think back to sit­u­a­tions where I went in think­ing ev­ery­one was smarter than I was, so I di­aled it back a bit in­stead of push­ing harder.

At Ko­dak, for in­stance, I should’ve fought tooth and nail to take the com­pany pri­vate. I’m not sure other peo­ple were ready to do that or the other things needed to turn around the com­pany, but hon­estly, I wasn’t pig­headed enough to do the things I needed to do.

Af­ter that, I pushed . . a lot. I pushed hard to have a busi­ness book best­seller as a first­time au­thor. I pushed hard to land my TV show. I pushed hard to cre­ate my C-suite Net­work, which I would now like to be the big­gest busi­ness net­work in the world.

Call me stupidly ob­sti­nate, but shoot­ing for the pos­si­ble is easy.

For­get about be­ing proud of pick­ing the low-hang­ing fruit. I want to know what I have to do to make my com­pany and me big­ger, be­cause it isn’t only about me. It’s about my fam­ily and the peo­ple who count on me in busi­ness and be­yond.

I need my team to be a lit­tle pig­headed, too, not only to push them­selves but also to stand up to me when they think things are off. Oth­er­wise I’ll keep mov­ing in too many di­rec­tions, spend­ing my time try­ing to per­suade them to do my bid­ding or forc­ing my will on them with no checks and bal­ances.

Wouldn’t it be great to be part of a com­pany with peo­ple mak­ing things hap­pen and hav­ing fun do­ing it? Of course it would. Are you will­ing to push peo­ple to do what it takes to think and act that way?

I’m al­ways try­ing to move peo­ple one way or another. Love me or hate me, just get off the fence and move. When things start to move, I ex­pect my peo­ple to push back and push me harder. Af­ter all, I’m not right all the time. I be­lieve I am, but if my peo­ple can push and ques­tion me and help me find the an­swers, then we can do it big­ger and bet­ter or pur­sue new di­rec­tions that we align around as a team.

So why do lead­ers need to be so pig­headed? Why push so hard?

The sad truth is some­times peo­ple just want to do what they’re do­ing and don’t want to work as hard as they need to get the job done.

The rea­son it’s called work is that it’s hard — re­ally hard. I serve on a lot of boards and work with a lot of com­pa­nies. With­out fail, those that are re­ally mov­ing are do­ing the work that needs to be done to­gether in the mo­ment, 80 to 100 hours a week, barely sleep­ing.

Yet be­ing pig­headed is of­ten not enough on its own to move a team.

Push far­ther Peter Fried­man, chair­man and CEO of LiveWorld, a so­cial media so­lu­tions com­pany, started and ran Ap­ple’s first in­ter­net ser­vic- es di­vi­sion — cre­at­ing and man­ag­ing what to­day we call so­cial net­works. Ap­ple used that com­mu­nity for mar­ket­ing, cus­tomer sup­port, and re­search mar­ket learn­ing online, and it spawned com­pa­nies like AOL and Sa­lon. Of course, Ap­ple em­braced such for­ward think­ing out of the gate, as it al­ways sees the fu­ture be­fore oth­ers, right? Wrong.

In 1994, when Fried­man pre­sented his idea to the ex­ec­u­tive staff at Ap­ple, he said, “For now, this will be used by some Mac and PC own­ers, but even­tu­ally online com­mu­ni­ties will be much, much big­ger than per­sonal com­put­ers.

They will be in phones, TVS, cars, and de­vices we haven’t thought of yet. Ev­ery­one will use them in all as­pects of their lives.” As Fried­man ex­plains, “The room was quiet ex­cept for some grunt­ing. I turned around to see they were cov­er­ing their mouths be­cause they were laugh­ing at me. They’re not laugh­ing now.”

Fried­man’s story is a per­fect il­lus­tra­tion of why lead­ers con­stantly need to find ways to push things to the edge of (but not off) the ta­ble. Even the most ground­break­ing com­pa­nies can get stuck and fail to see pos­si­bil­i­ties in the pre­pos­ter­ous, be­cause suc­cess is com­fort­able and of­ten too con­nected to the past. As a re­sult, it can be blind­ing.

Fried­man pushed Ap­ple to see fu­ture pos­si­bil­i­ties in an ex­per­i­men­tal pro­ject wrapped around com­mu­nity web­sites and kept push­ing to cre­ate that in­ter­net ser­vices di­vi­sion in the nascent days of the web. Big thinkers know that’s ex­actly when you must push harder and far­ther.

We know the edge of the ta­ble is far­ther along than any­one else in the room. Like Fried­man, we keep push­ing through the laugh­ter be­hind our backs. Per­son­ally, I pre­fer peo­ple to laugh in my face.

That way I can see ev­ery­one I need to wave at as I pass them by do­ing what Fried­man did: em­ploy­ing a lit­tle “ir­ra­tional lead­er­ship,” swing­ing the pen­du­lum way out there, stress­ing the sys­tem in such a way your peo­ple move faster and harder than they have be­fore.

Greg Lucier, CEO of Life Tech­nolo­gies, in­tro­duced me to the term “ir­ra­tional lead­er­ship” at a talk I at­tended, and I re­mem­ber think­ing at the time, “What do you mean ir­ra­tional?

If any­thing, you want to be sane and ra­tio­nal in the C-suite.” Then I re­al­ized, of course you don’t. As Lucier noted, you have to be so far out there some­times to pull peo­ple along to where you want them to go. You know they’ll never be as ir­ra­tional as you or as adamant about where you’re go­ing, so you put the goal way out there, even though peo­ple may see you as ir­ra­tional. I’d said for years that lead­ers needed to cre­ate ten­sion and re­sults by push­ing far­ther and far­ther to move the rest of their team in that di­rec­tion. Now I had a name for it.

— En­tre­pre­neur

Pig­headed lead­ers like the late ap­ple CEO Steve Jobs achieve suc­cess in the long run.

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