Consensus & The Marine Corps

8 May

Commenting on a great Forbes Blog from a couple of weeks ago “Consensus – Team Building’s Silent Killer”; then another from Vistage that I dredged up from January comparing business to the Marine Corps.  Connecting the dots….

I remember being surprised by a quote from William H. Cosby, EdD, not because it didn’t resonate with me (it did), but because it didn’t sound like something ‘comedian Bill Cosby’ would say:

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.

This rings true (like a bell clapper upside the head) for this ‘middle child’.  I was the third child of six in a loud and boisterous Italian-American family.  I learned early on that getting along sometimes meant keeping my thoughts to myself (you’ll notice I didn’t say “keeping my mouth shut”, not much danger of that).   However, with everyone talking at once, even if I HADN’T kept my thoughts to myself, no one might have noticed.

As I joined the work force and moved into management, I had two choices.  Be the loud, table-pounding type of leader (and risk alienation) or be a ‘consensus’ guy (and risk looking weak and indecisive).  Well I chose the later, and wound up with a reputation of ‘going with the flow’.  But that’s a good thing, right?  Nobody gets hurt, right?  So, it was interesting to read:

Teambuilding is not about equality at all – it has nothing to do with consensus. Rather team building is about alignment of vision with expectations, ensuring team members clearly understand their roles, and making sure they have the right resources to perform said duties with exacting precision.

Wow, us consensus guys missed the boat!   It’s not all about getting along, singing Kumbaya around the campfire and all that.  It’s about Shared Purpose, Roles, Responsibilities and Accountability.  Leadership is not a popularity contest, it’s much more difficult than that.  It’s a fine line tight rope walk between authority and popularity, where the answer can’t be the parental fallback “Because I SAID so”, but neither can it be “Whatever YOU think”….

The second connection was a Vistage blog entitled, “This is NOT the Marine Corps! In Business, It IS Okay to Leave Someone Behind”. It got me to thinking about a tumultuous time I lived through, the CAD/CAM contraction of the 1990s.

In about 1988, Prime Computer acquired the company I was working for, Computervision Corporation.  Regardless of how anyone on either side of the Prime/CV divide felt, looking back, I believe one of the reasons that the combination ultimately failed was that management was loath to lay people off.  The savings from the elimination of redundant functions never really materialized.  I know this sounds cold hearted, but there is NO ONE of the group laid off from Prime/CV that did not move on to other gainful employment.

Are there people in your organization that are ‘OK’, that you have decided to ‘accept as is’?  Of course there are!  I’ve never seen an organization of solid superstars, top to bottom.  The Vistage blog talks of three distinct groups:

In most companies, employees fall into three groups.  Core Employees, comprising about 20 percent of the workforce, are dedicated to giving everything to do their jobs well.  … . Temporary Employees—people who haven’t figured out yet whether they want to be a Core Employee or not—account for about 60 percent of the workforce. … The Others—the remaining 20 percent of the workforce—who have made a career out of mediocrity by doing just enough to not get fired but not nearly enough to help move your business forward.

A leaders job is to help transition as many ‘Temporary’ into ‘Core’ as possible, and ease out the ‘Others’.  So, how do you differentiate between a ‘Temporary’ and an ‘Other?  This brings me to my other favorite quote; author unknown:

If this was easy, ANYONE could do it…

– RTR

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