January 18, 2005

Excerpts: Contagious Success - Part III

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 1:26 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

2. The Leader Protects the Group from Company Interference
The Hudson Highland Center for High Performance research found that one of the biggest differentiators between high-performing and nonperforming workgroups is that the leaders of high-performing groups protect the group from the larger company so that we can do our work. The research implies that, in too many companies, protection is a necessary condition of high performance. The leader is forced to put time and energy into combating the interference, often in highly imaginative and resourceful ways. One leader I met recently who spends a great deal of time protecting his group calls his behavior intelligent disobedience. Imagine if this intelligence, ingenuity, and energy were put into positive pursuits!
When I teach executive education classes at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France, I begin my classes with the research results. The students in these classes are handpicked by their companies as high performers. Most are leaders of essential workgroups in their companies. When I talk about how the leader is a buffer between the company and his workgroup, many heads nod in agreement. Inevitably, people come up to me after class to say, No wonder I am so exhausted, since I spend so much time and energy combating interference.
Typically, a month or two after class ends, I get a call or an e-mail from one of these students saying he or she has decided to move on. The student usually says something like, I couldnt take it anymore. I quit my job and I never felt better. Recently, I got a call from one of my executive MBA students. She had left the company where she worked for twenty years to start her own business. She saw her former company as shortsighted and risk averse. Management tried to convince her to stay, but more money and a better title didnt solve her problem. She wanted an environment that fully utilized her brain, and decided to create it on her own.
More often than not, these students dont quit their jobs because they have another position. They just want out. These are the risk takersthose willing to challenge the status quo to find a better way to do things. They are the leaders most likely to drive high performance. They are exactly the kind of people that companies should develop and nurture, yet the companies are inadvertently driving them out. No senior leadership team deliberately sets out to decrease the performance of its best workgroups. However, that is exactly what is happening. Its time for top managers to start removing barriers that are forcing leaders to spend more time protecting their high-performing workgroups than making money for the company.