Every Leader needs a Marty
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25 March 2015 - 22:26, by , in Leadership, People Issues, No comments

During my years at Johnson & Johnson, I had the opportunity to attend several board meetings. I noticed at most meetings, VP of Marketing Marty would often be the only board member to challenge proposals from our business unit president, Mr. Taylor.

I asked my boss, the CFO, “Why does Marty always seem to question Mr. Taylor? Is Marty not a team player?”

John replied “That’s what Taylor wants Marty to do. Taylor does not want everyone to immediately agree with everything he proposes. He wants to make sure he and everyone on the leadership team understand the pros and cons of every issue or idea before implementing change.”

The Dangers of Autonomy

It is common for leaders to yearn for autonomy. Autonomy is defined as having the independence and freedom to do what you want. Our president wanted autonomy BUT not too much.

In “The Dangers of Autonomy” podcast, Andy Stanley discusses the dangers of autonomy.

  • Autonomy leads to isolation. Too much autonomy leads to being a Lone Ranger without a Tonto.
  • Autonomy, power and wealth are intoxicating.
  • Isolated people, like intoxicated people, make bad decisions.
  • Autonomous leaders use relationships as a means to an end. Autonomous people have hundreds of LinkedIn connections but no close friends.

Autonomy is Prevalent in Family-Owned Business

While autonomy can be found in the CEO’s office of any size and type of organization, including churches, autonomous leaders are prevalent in family-owned businesses. Why? Because the 1st generation founder often started the business alone and became used to making decisions in isolation. I know. I was one.

Also, a family-owned business leader is commonly surrounded by people who get a paycheck from him/her. Some are family members. Not wanting to offend the hand that pays them, the leader may be farther down the road to autonomy than they may realize. A road without guardrails is often dangerous.

In larger businesses a leader’s autonomy and power becomes intoxicating to the people around them. If people need you for a paycheck, they more often than not tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear.

Case in point: Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, March 2015. Shultz likely came up with the idea to put #RaceTogether on cups to initiate conversations with customers about race relations in America. It is likely that no one reporting to Shultz felt comfortable telling him “That’s not a good idea”. Instead, Starbuck’s customers told him it was not a good idea. Shultz yanked the promotion a couple of days after inception.

Do you have a trusted someone who questions your autonomy?

Every emperor needs someone who is willing to say “You’re not wearing clothes!”

If you don’t have at least one person who will question your autonomy, here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Ask your spouse his/her opinion. I value my wife’s intuition and common sense more than gold. She often asked me questions about an issue that I had never considered.
  2. Hire confident, strong-willed people. It’s counter-intuitive, but leads to good decision-making. Two of my best hires at president of ICMS, Inc. were Christine Nola and Julie Sahm. Both challenged my ideas, my plans and my writing at all the appropriate times.
  3. Use a family business advisor as a mentor. Choose someone that asks insightful questions. Submit your financial statements … the blood test of a business … to your mentor for review and questioning.
  4. Form a small advisory board of people whom you value and respect their opinion. Advisory boards typically meet 2-4 times per year to answer and ask questions of the business owner. Joining The Alternative Board (TAB) or CEO Institute is another option for controlling autonomy.
  5. Ask employees, your banker or your mentor “What DON’T you like about my plan?” This question opens the door for them to say something negative. If you simply ask “Do you like my idea?” they’ll likely say “yes” because they believe you are seeking adulation, not consultation.
  6. Seek out and meet quarterly with a business school dean or college professor. They are adept at asking questions. They can also be a valuable resource of research and future employees.
  7. Hire Marty.

The doctor who has himself as his doctor … has a lousy doctor.

The truth is … we all do better when we are watched. If we know someone is observing us, checking on us, and noting our progress, we tend to perform better.

Wise King Solomon said “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Autonomy is a desired trait for business leaders but not in excess.

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Tom Pryor
TomPryor@ICMS.net
(817) 475-2945

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