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Why the leader needs (to influence) others

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People follow a leader. Community of followers.

This may seem a silly question, as surely it is self-evident? The leader needs to influence others to engage them so that they will follow. They need others because they cannot achieve their vision alone (or it’s highly unlikely they can). However, in the business world I have observed it is very common indeed for ‘leaders’ to forget about the human element and by doing so cause their project or vision to fail.

I am reminded of examples of senior executives planning change and communicating it without proper consultation and engagement, and then being surprised when employees either pushed back or, more difficult to manage even, sabotaged things in a quiet way. This can often tie in to personality types. If you remember from course one the Myers-Briggs type indicator model, where you might be Extrovert or Introvert, Intuitive or Sensate, Thinker or Feeler, or Judger or Perceiver, here we are talking about Thinker vs Feeler. Many top business people are Thinkers, and if combined with Intuitive they will be able to come up with excellent visions for the future which are well thought out. However, if they don’t collaborate with a Feeler and go by their own instincts, then they are likely to reach a sub-optimal state which does not represent their true vision, because they did not take into account other people.

CEO Magazine published an article in July 2018 which listed out some famous failures in leadership. You may well have heard of them, including the two I’d like to quote here, re Kodak and HP.

Kay Whitmore, Eastman Kodak

“This story is one of complacency and lack of vision. In 1990, Kay Whitmore’s first year as CEO of Kodak, he famously fell asleep in a meeting with Bill Gates at which integrating the company’s products with Windows was being discussed. Indeed, despite the fact that Eastman Kodak had actually developed the digital camera in 1975, Whitmore refused to take the technology seriously and failed to invest. As digital started to take over the world, the company fell into decline. Whitmore was fired after three years, mainly for failing to cut costs enough. Lesson: Whitmore’s background was squarely in film, and he failed completely to see the opportunities in the digital world.”

This example shows that Whitmore did not listen like a leader, and was unwilling to engage with the detail of digital transformation, at a high cost.

Carly Fiorina, HP

“When Carly Fiorina became CEO of HP in 1999, she described herself as a ‘change agent’ – and change the company she certainly did. By the time she left six years later, HP had lost half its value and thousands of staff, although Fiorina still paid herself plenty.

Poor decisions included trying to buy PricewaterhouseCoopers for US$14 billion; after she was dissuaded, it went to IBM for less than US$4 billion. Meanwhile, a merger with Compaq was widely seen as a disaster. The day Fiorina was fired, HP’s market value increased by US$3 billion.

Lesson: Fiorina antagonised workers and investors alike while apparently never doubting her own rightness. Listen to those around you.”

Again, a lesson in the importance of listening and not being arrogant, and understanding your stakeholders (and respecting them).

These two case studies also emphasise the importance of others, and the leader’s interaction with them. If this is doubted and/or ignored, then it is likely to not end well.

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