Leadership: Too Big to Do Right?

As a business writer it is just waaaayyy too easy to take a swipe at United Airlines right now. I’ll let the other writers do more of that. The situation we have all watched unfold at United is indicative of a host of leadership issues and the colossus that is a company the size of United.

Courtesy 123rf.com

During the financial crisis of 2008, we learned the phrase “too big to fail”. That reference included the big banks like Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. It also included the likes of Ford and General Motors. The notion of too big to fail implied that the demise of one of those companies would have detrimental ripple effect on the whole economy of the U.S. and perhaps parts of the world.

It didn’t happen so we still don’t really know if the theory would be true. Too big to fail begs another question. Is there such a thing as too big to do right? With this I mean doing the right things on a consistent basis, day after day, regardless of schedules, circumstances, or prevailing winds of change.

A Clear Fail

United clearly failed. Others have done so too without the same level of scrutiny. I won’t bore you with that list; you can fill in your own names. You likely know some.

Too big to do right is a present force because, as a company grows, the span of control that can be exerted by a core team of leaders expands exponentially. When you grow beyond a single facility under one roof where a company team meeting can be held, you begin losing control.

As the leader, you have to rely upon layers of other managers who have been selected presumably for their alignment with the company’s vision and principles. Then you add the workforce. Not to be insensitive, but the idea of needing to put butts in the seats can often degrade your precious value system. Depending on the geography where your facility gets placed, you may not have the abundance of available workers to meet your definition of mission.

The “Good to Great” (courtesy of Jim Collins) references to getting the right people on the bus breaks down because there just aren’t enough of those people to be found. Deadlines approach, projects need to be completed, production schedules dictate warm bodies to finish the work, so compromises are made. Pretty soon, the workforce is not in step with leadership.

Legacy Creep

Then there is a legacy creep factor. Assuming a legacy of good performance, doing the right thing even exists for a company (as it once did with legacy Continental before the United merger), the long run impacts of continuing growth and expansion or merger can introduce wholesale influencers that derail the legacy success. The legacy by itself is just not strong enough to overcome the new circumstances.

Do the right things

I happen to know that there was a prevailing concern after the Continental United merger that the non-union teams from Texas were met with severe push back from the unionized crews in Chicago. I’m not making a statement one way or the other about unions, I am just saying it was a beast of a conflict that undermined all the things that Continental leadership tried to do at the time. Again, recall that Continental, a rising entity, bought United, a failing entity.

Company Culture

This brings me to my final point. Building a company culture is critical to the creation of a ‘do things right’ mantra. It is now, and will always be about the people. Not the process, not the procedures, and not even about the regulations. When we as leaders have to dumb down the execution of the purposes for which the company was founded, we risk the evolution into cases like United’s embarrassment.

The people we select to represent the company are the first and last frontier for successful execution of a company’s mission. It is a daunting task. The cultural differences that walk through our doors impact the ability to blend those cultures into a cohesive matrix for delivery of goods and services.

Look at recent articles emerging about work conditions at Amazon and even expressed concerns about the culture at Google. Big can get out of control.

Managing and coaching the workforce for accomplishment of common goals is no easy feat. One can argue it takes immensely strong leadership to do that.

At what point does a company get too big to do right? The mix and swirl of the people issues caused by the vast diversion of geography and socio-economic factors makes the possible combinations of factors working against you far greater than the things working for you. It’s a whale of a job.

Do I give United CEO a pass on this? Absolutely not. At this point, there are only two choices: new leadership or dispersion of the entity, to slim it back for effective control. I’m guessing shareholders will vote for new leadership, still hoping bigger is better. Or is it?

How Do I Find Personal Growth?

Personal Growth

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Every year, people spend a lot of time and money learning how to work their goals; setting goals, making goals stick, and achieving their goals. I think there’s a different, more meaningful question. What about setting your sights on growth?

When was the last time the question you asked yourself was not about setting goals to do more, but being more.

Personal Growth
Personal Growth

 

Have you maximized your full potential? Are you capped out? Guess what? Even if you genuinely believe you are performing at the max, I guarantee you there is another level out there. Whether the metric has to do with career, family, finances, business, faith, or any other domain we live in, there is always room for growth.

Whatever your habit and process may be for goal setting each year, try changing the context. Set sights for growth. You can still get a lot done in respect to the things that normally make the goals list, but change the focus on why you are doing these things.

Set your mind for growth. You can decide to grow personally, professionally, financially, spiritually, or most any other dimension of human existence. But please think about growth.

The first most common hindrance for growing is the fear of failure. What if I can’t do it? What if it doesn’t work out? What if I miss the mark?

Here’s the real truth. There are two kinds of fail.

TYPE A:You try. You fail. You learn from it. You try again. This isn’t really failure. This is Learning and Growing.

TYPE B:You try. You fail. You don’t learn from it. Or you learn the wrong lessons. THIS is Failure: Trying to make the unworkable work.

Cycle to reach Growth
Cycle to reach Growth

The hard part is this:When you’re in the thick of it, with muddy boots, a scratched up face and torn coat, it can be hard to tell if you’re Learning or Failing.

Here are some observations from my own experiences both Learning and Failing to help you do more of the former and less of the latter.

When you pride yourself based on who you associate with, you’re Failing.
When your pride flows from an Inner Knowing that you’re doing what you should do when you should do it, you’re Growing.

When you try to be the person other people expect you to be, you’re probably Failing.
When you slow down and figure out what you really want first, you’re Growing.

When you look for the Right Way to Succeed, you’re probably Failing.
When you study the principles to understand why things work when they do and don’t when they don’t, you’re Learning.

When you flit from one info product or teacher to another, and never really mastering what any of them can teach you, you’re Failing.
When you read, listen, and apply what you learned from one teacher before going on to another, you’re Growing.

When you worry that you are inadequate in some important way, you are Failing.
When you know that the mind game is to see how far you’ve come – and not how far you still need to go – then you’re Learning.

When you try to do it all yourself, you’re probably Failing.
When you surround yourself with people who are on the same path as you and you learn from each other and hold each other to a higher standard, you’re Growing.

When you believe the talking heads on TV, you’re probably Failing.
When you ignore them and believe those who have done what you want to be doing, you’re Learning.

When you think the problem is your spouse, you’re Failing.
When you realize you’re probably guilty of the same actions and more, you’re Learning.

When you take responsibility for things you can not control, you’re probably Failing.
When you take full responsibility for the things you can control, you’re Growing.

When you fear man and forget God, you’re Failing.
When you remember that you are here to serve God by helping your fellow man, you’re Growing.

When you hold others to a higher standard than you hold yourself you’re Failing.
When you hold yourself to a higher standard than you hold others, you’re Learning.

When you’re busy, busy, busy and not making time to think deeply about what you really, really want… you’re Failing.
When you regularly make time to reflect. To think. To ponder. To question…. you’re Learning.

I’ve made all these mistakes and more.

And the greatest gift is to become aware of them, so we can learn the lessons and keep on moving. Set your sights on ways to grow. Growth as a person, a mentor, a leader. We all have untapped capacity that can only be realized by stretching outside of our normal day-to-day habits and beliefs.

Go for it!

[reminder]Share ways you have recently pursued growth in your own life.[/reminder]

If you’d like to talk about this idea, just let me know some times that work for you. Click HERE

Disclaimer & Attribution: Portions of this text are attributed to Dov Gordon. Dov is a friend and fellow coach/teacher. Check out his blog too.

 
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