Harness extra energy through a sense of mission

D. MURALI | Updated on: Jun 24, 2011


Chapter 13 in ‘ The Corner Office: How top CEOs made it and how you can too ' by Adam Bryant ( ) begins by asking what the difference is between management and leadership. Management is about results, answers the author. “You're given certain assets – people, money, equipment – and you're expected to make the most of them to deliver an expected outcome. Management is quantifiable, measurable, almost a science. Companies can gain a significant edge by being adept practitioners of the discipline.”

In contrast, leadership is an art, and it is the secret ingredient that makes workers commit more of themselves to their work, to make the extra effort, to make the work personal and not just a job, so that they identify themselves with it, he distinguishes. “People report to managers, but they follow leaders.”

Instil urgency

Leaders who can create a sense of mission are far more likely to succeed than their competitors, because they will have harnessed that extra energy, explains Bryant. He quotes Tachi Yamada, president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Global Health Program, to explain the ‘how,' thus: “One thing that I really do is to spend a lot of time focusing on why we're here… The mantra has to be about nine million babies dying, and to get people to have a visceral sense of what that is – a city the size of New York filled with babies disappearing every year. The magnitude of it is hard to comprehend. And so I try to work with a sense of urgency and try to instil that urgency in the people around me.”

If you think that creating a sense of mission is apt only for big companies like Apple or Google which speak of making the world a better place, Guy Kawasaki of Alltop and Garage Technology Ventures has a different view. Every entrepreneur can do it, he urges, because it is about how you look at it. An example of his, cited in the book, is to imagine yourself as a street-food vendor. You can look at it like you go to Price Club and you buy hot dogs cheap and you buy buns cheap and then you grill them and you sell them and you make your buck or two or whatever you do on each of them, describes Kawasaki.

Come to a shared view

To Alan R. Mulally, formerly of Boeing and now the CEO of Ford, the most important thing is coming to a shared view about what we're trying to accomplish, whether you are a non-profit or a for-profit organisation. Airplanes are some of the most sophisticated designs in the world, four million parts flying in formation, and it involves hundreds of thousands of people all around the world, reasons Mulally. He tosses simple questions such as, ‘Is the airplane really about an airplane or is it about getting people together around the world so they can find out how more alike they are than different? And is a car just a driving experience or is it about safe and efficient transportation, and your family, and freedom?Another way to marshal the collective energy of a workforce is to establish a clear scoreboard to measure performance against competitors, and then reward the team when it wins, the author observes. As example, he makes a reference to Gordon Bethune, the former Continental Airlines CEO, who had to rally 40,000 workers to help turn around the long-troubled carrier.

Define success

Bethune underlines that it is necessary to be clear about how you measure success of the employees, because how do they care if the CEO is successful or the company is successful. He elaborates that there have to be measurable goals which everybody understands, and then you start strategising on how to get there, and figure out how everybody wins.

In this case, the measures were simple – getting people to their destination safely, on time. When this happened reliably day after day after day, the airline started pulling the better customers away from the competitors and the employees began to recognise there is value in what they were doing. “So next thing you know, we're getting a pay rise because we've made some money. We're on time. We've got an on-time bonus. And we have profit sharing for employees – 15 per cent of pre-tax income got distributed to employees.”

To investors, winning is defined as making money; and to customers, it is about getting to their destinations on time, notes Bethune. He highlights, therefore, that we all win together, or nobody wins. “It works in all team sports. So all the infighting starts going away. All the competing for scarce budget resources goes away.”

Build cohesiveness

Complementing the above ‘competition' example is a subtler case of creating a sense of teamwork; this is from Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University, who plans a session of Michael E. Porter at the first deans' retreat of her presidency. Faust's goal, as captured in a quote in the book, is to build more cohesiveness and integration across Harvard to make it really one university.

How Porter led the session can be an eye-opener. “He said to the deans of the individual schools, ‘How does being part of Harvard University give you an unfair advantage?' What he meant by that is, if you're Harvard Law School or Harvard Medical School, how are you able to be a better medical school or better law school – in other words, to do your job as a dean better, to meet your own aspirations as dean of your school better – because you're part of this larger organisation.”

Bryant learns from Faust that the question was just the right one she wanted to accomplish, because it allocated to the deans both a self-interest in buying into the larger university purposes, but also the aspiration of thinking about how everyone could be better together, through making schools more integrated.

Tell a story

To CEOs who think only paycheques can win employees over, it can be enlightening to read the section titled ‘voters and volunteers,' where the author reminds that today people are far more willing to move around, rather than expect to work their entire careers at a single corporation.

The book has a pertinent thought of Anne Mulcahy, the former Xerox CEO, that your employees are volunteers and it can be very damaging for the company if they choose to wait things out when they do not believe in the same. Create ‘followership,' she exhorts. But how? It is fundamental communications, in terms of your ability to get out there and be with your people, and tell a story, advises Anne. “People really have to begin to believe in a story to get passionate about the direction the company is going in. There's nothing quite as powerful as people feeling they can have impact and make a difference…”

A book that can create unease among many current incumbents of the top seat.

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Published on June 22, 2011
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