My last post mentioned the big changes in the gear industry during my 47 year tenure, and the importance of visionary leadership. I have come to understand that leadership is more important to company survival than management. Lots of “fads” have come and gone; who remembers Management by Objective, which later morphed into Management by Exception after people got bored with constantly revising objectives. Then there was The Goal period and the still popular Toyota Method and many other “programs” that were touted to make our organizations more profitable, more reliable, more something.
I will not say that these efforts were not without some merit, and as the years have gone on the class handouts have definitely gotten more professional. But I’ll argue that none of them has the same lasting effect on a company or its employees as a strong leader with a clear vision of what needs to be done.
You manage “things”; you lead people. We have gone through a time when some experts believed that as long as you could measure something and the “metrics” were headed in the right direction, everything would work out great. This is a fine theory until it doesn’t work. You may be on track to produce widgets at the lowest labor input or scrap rate or on-time delivery ever. But what if the market no longer cares for your particular type of widget? You are doomed to a never-ending cycle of downsizing.
Business journals are full of reports on the demise of brick-and-mortar retail because of online purchasing of everything. Among the potential victims are Sears and J.C. Penney — firms that once enjoyed huge mail order sales. Could different leadership have transformed those highly successful catalog operations into online retailing? A hundred years ago Sears even sold house kits; an entire house was delivered to your building site based upon a mail order! Even Amazon doesn’t try that today.
While inspiring leadership cannot overcome terrible management of day-to-day operations, even the best scientific management won’t save your job if the objective is no longer viable.