I have read many tens of books and hundreds of articles on leadership and business. I have attended many tens of workshops, lectures, conferences and watched hundreds of videos on the topic. I have spoken with hundreds of people on this topic, spent thousands of hours thinking about the topic and three years working in a leadership position.
Most of the information and opinions I have received had some things in common.
- They are focused on the HOW (to do something) rather than WHAT or WHY.
- They try do optimize some reasonable objective(s) while it is usually easy to see the possible (probable) negative consequences in other reasonable objectives.
Just two out of many examples I have seen done by other leaders or I have done myself.
- Focusing too much on the encouragement, support, and well-being of employees. First-order negative consequences include toleration of bad employees, inattention to results or avoidance of conflict. Second-order negative consequences include that many employees, those motivated more by giving great results rather than a friendly atmosphere, got slowly frustrated.
- Focusing too much on giving excellent results. Some leaders having this as a priority often go into micromanagement, become the team’s bottleneck, decide about almost everything and steal many growth opportunities from their employees. Other leaders having this as a priority go into producing heavy processes and policies which should increase productivity and quality, but in the long-term, they also often block the needed innovation or take away joy from work.
I want to be a leader who optimizes ALL reasonable objectives.
I did some analysis and using methods like ‘Start with the Why’, ‘Five Ws and How’ or Stakeholder analysis, I came to a prototype of a definition. The “reasonable objectives” are based on the When, Why and Who questions.
The excellent organization must:
- When: Be excellent today, tomorrow and anytime in the future. It must survive (short-term criterion) and sustain (long-term criterion).
- Who: Be excellent for every stakeholder (groups of stakeholders are employees, customers, shareholders and ‘wider public’ which can include countries, communities, partners, nature, suppliers and other stakeholders). Cooperation with stakeholders where there is too hard or impossible to find win-win solutions between the organization and the stakeholder should end soon (e.g., not hiring or soon firing of employees not matching organization’s needs, but in some nice way considering needs of the person).
- Why: Meet needs and exceed expectations (of all the stakeholders).
After some additional verification research, I have found out that many other people are already working with the term “Organizational Excellence” or “Excellent Organizations” and that some of them even have semantically the same definition: Excellent Organizations achieve and sustain outstanding levels of performance that meet or exceed the expectations of all their stakeholders (source: EFQM Excellence Model 2013). Another term based on very similar thinking is “Triple Bottom Line”.
Even without going deeper into what are the needs and expectations of the stakeholders (will be discussed in other articles), having this definition in mind sooner, I am sure I would have done some things differently than I did them. I am also sure many other leaders reading this article should now realize that their leadership style cares too little about the needs of some stakeholders or even whole stakeholder groups.
Moreover, I strongly believe that in most situations, trying to fulfill needs and meet expectations of some/any stakeholder group is best in the long-term if trying to fulfill needs and meet expectations of all stakeholder groups by making appropriate balance and finding synergies. There are many reasons why this doesn’t have to be true (e.g. we will all easily find companies with great financial results and happy customers and low employee satisfaction), but there are many reasons why this can be true (e.g. early Ford, early Hewlett-Packard, spreading Agile philosophy and its frameworks, …).
Interested in your thoughts. Have you realized something you have been doing sub-optimally as a leader? Do you agree that meeting expectations of all the stakeholder groups are important? Would you suggest a different definition of an excellent organization?