Generally speaking, the best run companies are likely to be those whose bosses you’ve never heard of. Certainly, that can be difficult to achieve for the heads of large firms beset by news-hungry journalists and financial analysts. Moreover, there are notable exceptions, such as GE under Jack Welch, who never lost his focus. But the generalization is nevertheless valid that most CEOs who are widely known by the public are so precisely because they have lost focus (and perspective).
But things may be changing – albeit slowly. As we have noted here before, private equity is attracting managers away from the apparent headaches of running publicly-held companies, with their growing numbers of increasingly strident and incoherent “constituencies” of investor- and ideologically-oriented activists, erratic boards, and, always lurking around the corner, populist government actors. Alan Murray observes, in a must-read excerpt from his new book, “Revolt in the Boardroom,” in Saturday’s WSJ:
Behind all the hand-wringing is this fear: that the public corporation, which was the great wealth-generating machine of the 20th century, may be dying a slow death in the 21st.
What’s really happening, though, may be its revitalization. Boards are gradually beginning to fill the vacuum that Peter Drucker noted decades ago, and they are starting to hold managers’ feet to the fire. Indeed, in an exquisite example of a part of what is meant by the tag line of this blog, top managers are finding that strategic success is not found in grand theorizing and conspicuous boldness and daring, but in execution. Execution isn’t delegated – it is shouldered by all top managers with a discipline and focus that reaches deep down throughout the organization, recreating it around its purpose.
This is less glamorous than the high-energy nerve centers we have come to imagine as arising around the persons of the imperial “leaders” of our organizations. It’s a lot quieter, too. After all, the most efficient engines aren’t the ones that make a great deal of explosive noise and dramatic eruptions – they are the ones that hum, smoothly integrating every detail of their functioning with their purpose for being.
As Murray quotes a consultant for a major firm:
. . . boards are now looking for boring CEOs.
Let’s hope they find them. But to do so they need to look for them, and the momentum seems to be building for exactly that.
The article, “Lessons from the school of hard knocks,” inspired by David Prouhet at Business Advice Daily, has proven to be one of the most popular ever posted here, and, better yet, has generated a good bit of some really excellent responses. I’ve provided links to several of them, below (I hope, as well, that these authors will keep things going by encouraging others to join in!). I highly recommend you click through to compare your own thinking with these terrific, eye-opening contributions – and please be sure to let me know what you come up with:
- Ten Life Lessons from Business, by Steve Roesler at All Things Workplace – see also Peter Vajda’s comment to this post, in which he offers his own excellent list.
- A few things that I’ve learned, by Luiz de Paiva, who authors Manager Thoughts, from Brazil.
- My Business and Life Lessons, from Jennifer Britton at Business Toolkit.
- Life Lessons, by David Anderson at Agile Management.
- Simply Successful Secrets/Business Lessons, from The Organic Leadership Blog.
- Top 10 things I’ve learned in Sales/Management, by The Specialist
There are others on the way, and I’ll be sure to let you know when they appear. In the meanwhile, I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this increasingly popular set of posts.
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