Friday, April 17, 2009

Leadership Success is Measured When You Leave

I had the opportunity to have a networking lunch with the retiring CEO of a very successful technology company. He was one of the original ten employees, grew the company to over 500 teammates and took the company public on NASDAQ. While he was in the middle of the transition to the new CEO, he moved out of his office, encouraged the team to go to his replacement with issues and focused on mentoring the new CEO.

What struck me was the importance he placed on the success of the organization as he exits. He told me the he was measuring his leadership success based on how well the team does without him. If the team struggles, then he did not achieve the level of team development he had hoped. While we have talked about “exiting with grace” on LiaV, this takes it to another level. While there may have been a time when it was about him, now it is completely about the team.

Have you had the opportunity to see a role model leadership exit? What did it look like?


Nancy Mikkelsen said...

I find this personally interesting as I have recently been rightsized myself.

I believe I created a team of people who could exist and function without me. I believed then and still maintain that that was my job as a leader. It may not have served me well personally but I feel that I did my job as a leader and mentor to others.

I will be eager to see how this discussion develops and what other perspectives folks will have.

Alex Kersha said...

Interesting topic thanks for posting. Though in general I would agree that a leader might be able to measure some success by how well their team performs without them, you have to be careful about your steady state first. What I mean by this is you must first have an accepted amount of productivity and progress. Call this your "control". If your team does well WITH you as a part of it, then and only then can you use it's achievements WITHOUT you as a gauge for success.

I was involved in an executive exit that for all intents and purposes was a gift from God because the team was paralyzed with her around. Only after she left were we able to make any headway on anything that was scoped. The details are irrelevant but I feel this is a good reason to be wary of how much focus you put on this measure.

Alex Kersha

Alex said...

Ronald, very good point on considering the financial aspects in realtion to fulfilling our thirst for challenge. Well said.


Tommy Dionisio said...

Amen, this guy gets it.

Rolf M. Landaas said...

Great posting and I totally agree with him.

However, it takes self confidence to achieve such goals. I would actually say that if the goal is not achieve by any leader, than the leader has not done his job properly.

Rolf M.

Marilyn Jess, DTM said...

This guy definitely gets it.It is the seeds you plant while there, that later bloom, that are the true measure of leadership. It is also the success of those you've led.

I can think of numerous times as a manager that I proposed something the company wasn't ready for. Later on, they were, and they did it. I have also mentored others who grew into new and more challenging positions.

David Engle said...

I totally agree that this is the ultimate test of the success of a leader - can the team function without him/her. Alex' comment is equally valid - this only counts if the leader has been successful at leading the team to reach the goals set and then some.

My conviction is that if I do well as a leader and that I lead my team to success and create a team that can function without me, then something new will open up for me. This is the ultimate success and somebody is going to notice it and find a new and interesting challenge for me - unless it's time to retire and hit the golf course. I've experienced this twice in my career and look forward to a couple more times before it's golf course time... :-)

Good luck to everybody to create such great teams that we can find new and exciting challenges!


Marian Thier said...

Very good story and learning. I had the opposite experience with a coaching client whom I urged to retire because the organization had surpassed his skills and energy. It took very little time past his departure for the entire organization to come to life and flourish. The executive team did well without him, actually, much better, partially because they had learned to function without him in the previous year or two. He wasn't a bad leader and he did leave with grace. Maybe I wouldn't call him a role model at the final point of his career. However, he did teach those coming up behind how to perform well enough to succeed without him. I think it's unusual to be a role model at every phase of one's career or the organization's growth, and legacy building starts long before retirement.
Marian Thier

Barry Zweibel, MBA, Master Certified Coach said...

I'm reminded of the story about the "three envelopes".

New guy starts new job and is told that there are Three Envelopes in his desk drawer, numbered One, Two and Three, to be used -- in order -- if he gets in trouble.

In a few week's time, he's getting called on the carpet for something, so he opens Envelope One. It says, "Say you're new."

He does and his boss says, "Oh that's right," or something like that, and the crisis is over.

Several weeks pass and, again, guy is in trouble. He pulls out Envelope Two. It says, "Blame the last guy."

So he does and again, phew, he's off the hook.

A few more weeks pass and, yet again, our dauntless hero is in hot water. So he goes to his desk, pulls out Envelope Three, opens it and reads:

"Make out three envelopes."

Part of "leaving with grace" is knowing -- and not minding -- that when Envelope Two ultimately gets opened, your name will be spoken!

Maria Alizondo, RHIT, BBA, MAOL said...

This is an intriguing topic and question. It forces me to recall a time when I was the leader leaving and a time now when I am an interim-leader as the current leader exits.

First, let me say that the idea that leaders' success is measured when they leave seems to me a very basic, human experience. Everything we did well as leaders is remembered fondly, and of course those ideas, projects and processes that were not successful will have the world's biggest spotlight shown upon them. The true test is the people themselves. Are they better for having been led by us? In small ways integral leadership makes itself known and hangs on even after our departure.

In the past, I have left a team in the hands of someone that I knew did not have the leadership skills or desire to continue the work I had begun. It was a painful departure for me and yet looking back I see why it had to be. Some things are simply out of our control - however there are learning opportunities if we take the time to dig a little deeper.

I am currently working with an organization in an interim-leadership role to ensure that the team and the organization are supported as we look to maintain and push forward the initiatives started by the previous leader. My goal is maintain the positives and address areas of opportunity within the constraints of the organization's mission. It's a challenge and a learning opportunity as well.

Perhaps I will have an opportunity to make a small impact on the team while I am there as the organization searches for a permanent replacement? I hope so ... I would like to leave this team having my leadership success measured well when I depart.

Monica Diaz said...

I do agree that if your leadership was any good, the team should do well without you, at least for a while and if the team stays the same! Developing your team is a vital part of being an inspiring leader.

That, to me, is the importance of mentoring. I wrote about it in my blog:

krishna koney said...

Till the time a Leader/Manager empowers his team, team will always depend on him. Some Leaders/Managers are proud of team's excessive dependency on them. It makes them feel more powerful in the organization.

Till the time Organization culture changes and this kind of behavior is not encouraged, the same scenario continues ...

Eduardo Slepetys said...

Totally agree with the topic.
I am sure that one of the most important duties of the leadership is team capacitation. The team must follow the path you gave them and must know how to open a new path.
If you did a great job your team knows everything they need to do the work. On that case you was a great teacher. But if your team, have you as a mentor, as a master and insist to contact you even if you are not there working side by side, in that case you was a leader and still is.


Sachin Shah said...

Hi Guys, My question is, how do we avoid this. I have a friend of mine who manages a team of 5 and this is since more than 2 years. The team is still depending on him almost all the time to help them in replying to emails, to make some decisions, to handle situations with their customers?

Eduardo Slepetys said...

Hi Sachin, the error was done and now there is no return.
This is a typicall situation in a team that have a manager and not a leader. It's seems that the team don't know how to decide, or are afraid to decide. Maybe (and I can only say maybe) your friend was a kind of "I do everything", "I decide", "I deal", "I will handle everything".
I think the team did not have "Empowerment" and the team needs someone to guide them. The problem was, your friend did not prepare the team to make decisions, to solve problems withouth permission of one manager.
He made dependent employees not followers. If they still asking him for help, he is still doing the wrong thing.
What he can do? He may stop answer the questions, or better, start answer the questions with questions... Example... what do you think about that? He have to allow them make the decision.


Sachin Shah said...

Thanks Eduardo, this is exactly what I told him and he did the same. He stopped interfering with the team. His team has been able to mange certain things, however there are many other decisions they depend on him. And most if the time they are silly. One major problem my friend has is that he wants everything to be done fast and correctly. His team takes 3-4 hours to do a job which he can do in 30-45 min.

If he stops answering to the team's question, they will do mistakes and the management will come back to him and questions him. He wants to be outstanding in all his tasks and to be recognized as the best. Initially he wanted to be the center of attraction, now he is repenting and trying to amend but is not successful.

Any suggestion how he can get things done?

Wei LUO [罗伟] said...

Hello John,

I agreed with Eduardo "Totally agree with the topic."

I am thrilled to read your story. The retiring CEO is my role model. Thanks for sharing John.

The retiring CEO has successfully developed and cultivated an "ECO-System" of leadership - A true leadership success.


Marian said...

I will go to the website you suggest. Also, I'm developing a self-scoring 10-20 question assessment tool. Each question will have 4 choices to rank order. I'd like software that will tabulate the order of the choices and show the assessment-takers style(s) in order of preference. Do you know of any software that does that? I'm stymied on the scoring and displaying of the results.

Wei said...

It reminds me what Lao Tzu says (老子 - the Founder of Taoism, born in app. 500 BC in southern China)...

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him....But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, "We did it ourselves."

( )

Wei LUO [罗伟] said...

It reminds me what Lao Tzu says (老子 - the Founder of Taoism, born in app. 500 BC in southern China)...

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him....But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, "We did it ourselves."

( )

Lynda Roy said...

Inspiring lunch you had John. The CEO felt his legacy was the continued success of the corporation, not just what he had accomplished during his tenure. I wonder, did this company have succession planning? Generally organizations do, but to do it well, and to do it through the ranks, shows not just foresight but a commitment to the talent onboard.

Wei LUO [罗伟] said...

It must be "trade secrets" Lynda. Hopefully the CEO can write a book about it.

IMHO: I am determined to develop such an ECO-System of leadership...

Steven Burda said...

Very true!

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