Jim Collins, in his book ‘Good to Great’ says that it is important to get the right people on the bus, put them on the right seats, then decide where to take it. Simon Sinek shared with us that great leaders inspired everyone to take action by asking the ‘Why’ question.

What bus are we talking about? What does it mean to have the right people? Does the ‘where’ or the ‘why’ come first?

What makes leaders ‘great’?

Let me try to make the complex simple.

The bus is your organization, in any form.

The right people are employees who synergize with a set of shared values that guides them on doing the right things and on doing things right.

The right seat is the sweet spot where an employee’s personality, skills, and motivation overlap.

The driver of the bus is the CEO, who I believe is the most critical hire and his/her team of senior leaders. They take guidance from the board of directors who provides oversight on governance in compliance and performance.

The ‘where’ is the direction that the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), consisting of board and senior leaders, steers the organization towards, some call it Vision, others call it Mission.

But if leaders don’t ask the fundamental question of ‘Why they do what they do,’ they will not be able to articulate their ‘Purpose’ clearly.

Great leaders enable their employees to realize their purposes through their contribution to the organization’s Purpose.

Factors external and internal to the organization influence SLT’s aspirations. Depending on where their innate

Purpose is, there their decisions will point. Profits are an essential measure for commercial firms, while societal impact for Non-profits. These two objectives are coming together in a world that has to be more humane and progressively moving towards recognizing societal wellbeing as important for economic success. SLTs who can sustain their businesses in the light of ‘Doing Good Well’ are game-changers

After the ‘why and where’ are established, the ‘how’ must be defined. It is the Strategy of the organization or the long-term work plan. The saying ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ suggest that strategies are just plans, and cannot happen without the right people on board behaving according to a set of shared values.

SLT sets the culture of the organization. The starting point for culture is well-crafted values and behavioural statements that take place during the Purposing conversations. Your company may already have values inherited from the founding owners. Or they may need to be revised to reflect the values of the new owners. Perhaps you don’t have an existing set of corporate values, it is a good time to craft them.

One can conclude from here that Boards must align closely with Senior Leaders to collectively define and review organizational Purpose, Vision, Mission, Strategy and shared values.

How about execution? Who does the heavy lifting and real work? It is often that middle managers are left out of the alignment and assumed that things would happen. It usually does not. When middle managers derail, so will line managers and the rest of the workforce.

It is pertinent for SLT to intentionally communicate the directions and strategies to middle managers and work with them to define clear goals that cascade down to others. The goals must include not only economic measures but also stakeholders, critical processes, and people wellbeing. It is also prudent for SLTs to conduct ‘skip level’ activities to ensure proper understanding of alignment.

Steve Jobs once commented that middle managers are those inserted between the people running the company and the people doing the work. They no longer have a passion for the products, yet they become bureaucracy for the creative people who wants to advance the work.

With good alignment between SLT and Middle Management, this will be minimized.

Blogs by Theresa Goh …. April 2021