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…But Not Too Boring November 18, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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A while back, I wrote a short response to an article about leadership – one that went out on a limb to say that “boring” leaders may be more successful than the high-profile, charismatic types that we might otherwise envision as fitting that role.

More recently, however, Seth Godin wrote, “As an organization grows and succeeds, it sows the seeds of its own demise by getting boring.” So, what’s going on here?  How is it that “successful” leaders – those with “attention to detail, persistence, efficiency, analytic thoroughness, and the ability to work long hours” – appear to be heading down exactly the wrong path?

I suspect that these two assessments are dealing with two fundamentally different types of organizations.  In the first case, the subjects were CEO’s, and there were only 316 of them in the original study to boot.  They were selected based on the corporations they ran, and the intent was to identify differences in management of leveraged buyout, venture capital, and private equity companies.  In short, these are leaders of large organizations.  Much like the proverbial ship’s captain, they must have a clear focus if for no other reason than it is very difficult to turn a big ship – stability can be a benefit or a detriment.

On the other hand, Seth deals with small, agile businesses.  These ventures thrive on rapid innovation, technological change, creativity, and constant entrepreneurial approaches to new markets.  It is a very different environment that depends on different sorts of people.  If the “boring” CEO is the successful battleship commander, Seth envisions a beach full of jet skis and para-sailers.  They are not the same, nor will the one evolve into the other.

People will seek out the environment in which they are the most comfortable.  But if you depend on innovation and speed, don’t look with envy on the captain’s success.  He’s fighting a different battle.

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