Why What most people think is right, is wrong: The Leadership Strategy Legacy Test
By Mutisunge Zulu
ITS 15th OCTOBER 2013, I am at Jommo Kenyatta airport dubbed ‘the Dubai of Africa’ about to connect to Uganda in 2 hours’ time. Sitted in the lounge, I’m reading a business magazine which steals my attention to a very intriguing article: - ‘what most people think is right is wrong’. The President of a large corporation, had a year to retirement and was grappling with who would be taking over as leader. He had under him, two Vice Presidents -VPs- that attended the best business schools in the world and had a track record for delivering intended results for 7 years. It is exactly why they reported into him. The President got into deep thought in trying to formulate a succession plan by giving these subordinate leaders a very simple litmus test for possible succession. The results would then serve as goodness of fit test for succession. He then called for a board meeting were they were asked to deliver super normal sales in a turbulent environment given similar targets but with different product lines.
The first Vice President agreed to this requirement and immediately engaged his division to propel sales higher. They actually had an offsite strategic session with well-crafted strategy and brilliant tactics to execute the main call. One thing about this Vice President was that he drove performance harder and pushed his team to delivery. They liked him very much because he commensurately rewarded them at yearend. One very striking feature was that he liked to work independently and only touched base with the President/Chairman then to provide final results. At the end of the one year his team delivered sales a remarkable 65% in revue targets above budget. This the Chairman found exemplary in a turbulent environment.
The second Vice President adopted an identical tactic to achieve the overall strategic goal. In fact, he attained a narrower by a whisker result compared to the first VP, pushing sales up by 58% above budget. He exceeded the company’s targets and he too remunerated his team well. The difference between him and the first VP was that, he always went back to the President/Chairman to provide updates on alignment and progress to the strategic objective which allowed him to seek guidance at every stage of strategy execution. Much as he was independent, this VP looped the overall boss on how the implored strategy his team was working on.
At the end of this presentation given by a visiting Professor at Harvard Business a striking question was asked;
“At the end of the 1yr after delivering such exemplary results, who do you think succeeded the President when he retired?” The Professor Asked.
The (43/50) accounting for 86% in the business class lifted their hands to choose the first VP that worked in isolation and delivered 65% above budget sales. They chose him because he was not in the Presidents way so much and was according to them, a litmus test of a man that could drive performance harder without bothering others with frequent consultations. The remaining (4/50) accounting for 8% chose the second VP while (3/50) or 6% were unsure saying either could have succeeded since they were both exceptional leaders.
“Well the answer is, the second VP ascended to the Presidency,” the Professor said. It was because of the concept of legacy in execution of strategy. The whole class was silent in shock.
Most individuals in corporations wonder why others who they deem, not better than them, get elevated in promotion quicker. Leadership doesn’t need one to be technical or a geek of some sort but is all about having the right soft skills, teams, consultation and leverages to succeed. Because the second VP had the humility to walk into the Presidents/Chairman’s office to consult and acquire guidance on strategy execution, the President allowed for his ideas and suggestions to help guide the VP on improving sales. The President allowed for his legacy to be intertwined in the simple task he asked of the two VPs. The very fact that this VP consulted and updated the President, the outgoing, began to realize who had the ability to take on his legacy after he retired. Any leader wants two things; either you adopt their way of doing things or if you have a different opinion still consult them. That way they feel, they are still your leaders. One doesn’t lose anything by consulting. Most leaders at the top do not have the most technical of acumen but have people management skills to craft the right teams and therefore the right strategy. Legacy forms a key part of strategy execution.
By the time I finished reading this article, it was time to board for Kampala. Hope you learnt something.