You call that leadership?


Booz & Co’s recent article on strategy and leadership misses the point of, well, real leadership. What You Should Accomplish in Your First 10 Days argues that in our “exponentially faster” business world new CEOs must take meaningful action in their first 10 days on the job. Only through rapid, dramatic action can a new leader reinvigorate a struggling company. Nonsense.

The author proposes that the ten-day plan should involve

three significant decisions. Granted, three is an arbitrary number but it is one that will allow the incoming CEO to demonstrate knowledge of the business, surety of direction, and bias for action—without coming across as reckless. These decisions could include a declaration of general strategic direction, moves among senior personnel, or the launch of a new initiative. . . . The goal is to blast through legacy roadblocks, set the organization in a firm direction, and energize activity from top to bottom.

This proposal surely feeds into the egos of those CEOs who want to put their personal brand on the organization, but I doubt that the employees would respect anyone who makes dramatic changes so quickly, before they really know the company.

“Go and see” is one of the core principles of lean thinking. You can’t make good decisions if you don’t understand a situation deeply, and you can’t understand a situation deeply without actually seeing first-hand what the reality is. “Go and see” is also a fundamental way to demonstrate respect for people. Making sweeping changes that effect hundreds or thousands of people in the first ten days—without having a deep understanding—is fundamentally disrespectful.

In rare cases—say, Steve Jobs on his return to Apple—that kind of fast action might be appropriate, but it’s hard to think of any other successful leadership change that involved major changes in the first ten days. Allan Mulally at Ford? Sam Palmisano at IBM? Anne Mulcahy at Xerox? No, no, and no. If you want action that fast, you’re more likely to end up with “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap than with Andy Grove.

Real leadership requires listening and understanding. And that takes longer than ten days.

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