Why What most peo­ple think is right, is wrong: The Lead­er­ship Strat­egy Legacy Test

Zambian Business Times - - LIFESTYLE -

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.

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