Take Me to Your Leader

In my (dubious) career, I have come to realize that there are four types of people that tend to surface. Not one to generalize or "bucket" people into defining piles for the most part, in this case, the categories are way too inclusive with very few outlying datapoints.

Leaders
Leaders are those folks (not necessarily in an HR defined management jobcode) who not only believe in something, but have the ability to carry others along with them toward a goal. Evangelism, skill in logic and linguistics, enthusiasm, and an extremely high tolerance for obstacles and a talent for hurdling them are key indicators of a Leader. A Leader with visionary qualities is can have an amazing effect on business, technology, or society. Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Douglas Macarthur were leaders, as are Nelson Mandela, Colin Powell, Scott Mcnealy, Steve Jobs, and Lou Gerstner in our generation (IMHO).

Mangers
Managers are those with organizational skills to juggle resources, timelines, interrupts, distractions, budgets, and detours in reaching a goal. A Manager who is also a good Leader is an incredible find. Too often, focusing on one role overshadows the other role. As an example of this, managing a set of obstacles in the path is often contradictory to finding a way to eliminate them altogether. I would say that Carly Fiorina, Ed Zander, Alan Greenspan, and Lee Iacocca are great Managers, with some good Leadership qualities thrown in (again, IMHO). Pure Managers rarely achieve notoriety without significant Leadership skills, unless that notoriety is negative, for example, when a company needs a Leader, and gets a Manager instead. This premise is easy enough to demonstrate with Enron, WordPerfect, Packard Bell, and DEC. All of these companies were "managed" into oblivion, and lost their innovation at some point. Another great example is Apple. It seems so long ago when Apple was floundering for years following the loss of Steve Jobs. What happened when Jobs came back? Seems their numbers look alot better, and their industry buzz is much cooler now.

Heroes
Heroes are the folks that take impossible (or highly improbable) situations and keep them from becoming CNN moments. They aren't just the geeks who fly in on a moment's notice and work 24 hour caffeine enhanced days until a customer is happy (or at least non-homicidal), but are also folks in leadership and management roles who step up to the plate when the sky is falling (to mix some metaphors). Heroes are a key to success, regardless of their leadership and management skills (or sometimes their ability to communicate with Leaders and Managers).

I always find "Sigma" based process improvements interesting, especially when they start to get tunnel-vision on their statistical results. One key example, say that process improvement leads to a 10 minute successful resolution for 99.999 percent of the calls to a helpdesk. If that callcenter processes 100,000 calls per week, what happened to that one customer whose ticket was not closed in 10 minutes? Some statistics folks would call that an "outlying datapoint", or an anomaly. To me, that is one PO'd customer per week ready to wring the first available company-badged neck that comes along (probably mine).

Leaders are the ones who have a vision of what the customers want, and can figure out a way to deliver on that vision, driving it to completion.

Managers are the ones who execute on the vision, juggling resources, keeping statistics, playing with spreadsheets of numbers, and tracking the goals.

Heroes are the ones looking out for the .001 % of the customers that don't fall neatly into the bell curve. Managers often greatly undervalue Heroes. A good Leader recognizes that a Hero is a valuable asset to be leveraged, protected, and sometimes coddled.

Oops, that's just three types, what is the fourth? I call that type "Other". We all know who they are, we all deal with them on a daily basis. Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) calls them "inDUHviduals". They are the speedbumps on the road to success. The people who do what is correct instead of what is right. The people who want a paycheck instead of a challenge, or even a career. One of the reasons that I really love working at Sun is the extremely low percentage of "Other" working here. Admittedly, there are always a few in every company (a statistical certainty), but at least the "Other" in Sun stay out of the way of Leadership, Management, and Heroes for the most part, or are summarily run over by the "non-Others" doing what's right for the customers.

Enough ranting and raving for now.

bill.

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