Recent posts about the management training “movement” of the late 20th century got me thinking about why those efforts — no matter how well thought out or executed — seemed to fall short of expectations. I experienced the phenomenon at three very different companies, with at least three different programs, and the results were all short-term improvements with no long-lasting changes to the culture or profitability.
In my view the failures were not for lack of effort, top management buy-in, or professional presentation. Employees and staff attended the meetings, read the books, and participated in the exercises. Company presidents, general managers, supervisors and supervised said the right things and supported the programs. Shocking amounts of money were spent on course materials, text books, and employee compensation. And yet, things didn’t change.
I have also worked at companies that did change and those changes were the result of changes in leadership. Not all those changes were for the better, but they confirm something I have come to firmly believe: You manage things — but you lead people.
Our educational system directs lots of students into supply chain management, business administration, and other programs that promise to help them run growing and profitable businesses. Precious little time is devoted to teaching people to lead once you transition out of Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. We agonize over how to measure the “intangibles” that affect a business, because our best laid plans often come up short.
The common denominator in all these failures is people. You can have great equipment, top-of-the-line tools, adequate supervision and a great design, yet produce nothing but flops. An underfunded competitor with obsolete equipment but charismatic leadership can pull off some amazing projects simply because that leadership is able to extract the utmost performance when needed.
If I knew how to develop high-quality leaders, I probably wouldn’t have time to write these blog posts. Future posts will speculate on what makes a good leader.