Friday, 30 January 2009

Great leaders have great teams- Stefan Stern, FT

Leaders cannot do everything on their own. Leadership has to be “distributed” around the organisation, through delegation and the development of future leaders.

We thought this was very interesting, on leadership...reproducing it here with permission. (Published: January 12 2009 20:33 | Last updated: January 12 2009 20:33
"Copyright the Financial Times Limited 2009".

“The history of the world is but the biography of great men,” said Thomas Carlyle, the 19th century writer. The business world feels much the same way about the supreme importance of the leader. Chief executives are scrutinised endlessly, the work done by their colleagues much less so. Big mistake.

Steve Jobs is unwell. This fact has created great anxiety for Apple’s customers and shareholders. Could the company survive his departure? The question is being asked in all seriousness.

Mr Jobs attempted to calm nerves by issuing a statement ahead of last week’s Macworld conference in San Francisco, giving an explanation for his non-attendance this year. He was suffering, he explained in a brief open letter, from a hormonal imbalance that was causing him to lose weight rather dramatically. He had been successfully diagnosed and would be better soon. Unfortunately, this statement, while it may have cleared up the medical uncertainty, did nothing to puncture the cult of personality that surrounds the Apple boss. If anything, it gave it another boost.

“I’ve decided to share something very personal with the Apple community,” Mr Jobs wrote in his letter. Then came the medical bulletin. But the best was saved till the end. “I have given more than my all to Apple for the past 11 years now,” Mr Jobs said, in an unconscious reference to the Financial Times’ own “Mr 165 per cent” Martin Lukes. “I hope the Apple community will support me in my recovery and know that I will always put what is best for Apple first.”

Finally, there was a Greta Garbo-style sign-off: “So now I’ve said more than I wanted to say, and all that I am going to say, about this.” With a puff of smoke he was gone. (I’m a PC, by the way, not a Mac. Could you tell?)

I am delighted that Mr Jobs is not seriously ill and is receiving the correct treatment. It is the health of his company that concerns me more – indeed, the health of any company that hangs on the latest words, thoughts or actions of a single great man. The newspapers are full of the names of formerly great men who have now fallen to earth. Bernard Madoff was an investment hero, a one-time chairman of the Nasdaq exchange, favoured by distinguished clients such as HSBC and Banco Santander, as well as by charitable foundations supported by the newspaper proprietor Mort Zuckerman, the film-maker Steven Spielberg and the humanitarian campaigner Elie Wiesel.

B. Ramalinga Raju, founder and former chairman of Satyam Computer Services, India’s fourth-largest software company, was until last week one of the world’s most highly regarded businessmen. He won Ernst & Young’s India “entrepreneur of the year” award in 2007. He has now confessed to falsifying his company’s accounts over an extended period.

The Royal Bank of Scotland had been seen during the past few years as an all-conquering giant, and its former chief executive, Sir Fred “the shred” Goodwin, as a minor genius. Nothing criminal has gone on here, of course. But the €71bn acquisition in 2007 of ABN Amro has now been exposed as Sir Fred’s final folly.
Journalists, who have provided much of the running commentary on these and other stories, are not innocent bystanders. We have helped to build the reputations of those we now seek to destroy. But “news is people”, as the great newspaperman Sir Harold Evans has said. We are bound to describe complicated businesses through the personality of their leaders. We can overdo it a bit, though.

It should go without saying – but it doesn’t, quite – that leaders cannot do everything on their own. Leadership has to be “distributed” around the organisation, through delegation and the development of future leaders. No one should ever be truly indispensable.
Teams matter as well as brilliant individuals, as the England and Wales cricket board has just been reminded. Its superstar former captain, Kevin Pietersen, lasted only five months in the job before an unhappy dressing room forced him out last week.
Of course we need great leaders. Perhaps we are about to get one. Expectations could not be any higher for US president-elect Barack Obama, who will be sworn in to office a week from today. But it might not be a bad idea if, at the inauguration, someone were to read out these lines from Bertolt Brecht, the German poet, in which he questions how great some of the great men of history really were:

The young Alexander conquered India.
On his own?

Caesar defeated the Gauls.
Did he not even have a cook with him?

Philip of Spain wept when his Armada
Went down. Did no-one else weep?

Frederick the Great won the Seven Years’ War.
Who else won it?

On every page a victory.
Who cooked the celebratory feast?

Every ten years a great man.
Who paid for him?

So many stories.
So many questions.

Our thanks to Stefan for allowing us to reproduce his note.

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