Forget Strategy, Build Mechanisms Instead
Almost by definition, an enduring great company has to be built
not to depend on an individual leader, because individuals
die or retire or move on. What's more, when a company's identity
can't be separated from the identity of its leader, it can't be
known for what it stands for. Which means it sacrifices the potency
of being guided by its core purpose.
So the charismatic-leader model has to die. What do you replace
it with? The task that the CEO is uniquely positioned to do: designing
the mechanisms that reinforce and give life to the company's core
purpose and stimulate the company to change.
Building mechanisms is one of the CEO's most powerful but least
understood and most rarely employed tools. Along with figuring
out what the company stands for and pushing it to understand what
it's really good at, building mechanisms is the CEO's rolethe
leader as architect.
The old role is still seductive, though. Past models have glorified
the individual leader, especially when he or she was an entrepreneur.
And charismatic-style CEOs understandably find it hard to let
go of the buzz that comes from having an intense, direct personal
influence. But a charismatic leader is not an asset; it's a liability
companies have to recover from. A company's long-term health requires
a leader who can infuse the company with its own sense of purpose
instead of his or hers, and who can translate that purpose into
action through mechanisms, not force of personality.
However hard the transition to architect might be, there are three
issues affecting every CEO, that encourage it - and eventually
may even force it. One: time for creativity. Two: time span. And
First, let's discuss creativity. As personally energized as it
is to have an effect on an employee and to touch his or her life,
it's so energy absorbing that you're never left with enough time
or spirit for real creative reflection or real creative work.
Which is what mechanism building should be. The absence of that
time is one great source of burnout.
The second concern is time span. Clearly, building a mechanism
will have a much longer-lasting effect than leading by virtue
of your presence. A mechanism doesn't depend upon you. If a truck
hits you tomorrow, the mechanism will still be there.
The last concern, scale, is the most crucial. You can't build
something really big just on charisma alone. At some point the
scale is too great; you can't reach that many people. If you want
something to really grow over time, you've got to build mechanisms
that can touch everybody every day. What you get in the end is
more reach, more power, the ability to affect more people. It's
a leverage game.
Copyright © 1997 Jim Collins, All rights reserved.