That moment when all of what you’ve put into your leadership comes to fruition.
It’s when a teammate engages with a customer.
All that vision, all that inspiration, all that process, all that teaching, all that alignment, all that mission statement – all that everything – comes into play right then and there.
Because that’s where a business wins or loses.
The funny thing is, for a leader to really maximize the benefit of that moment, he or she needs to work though a couple of interesting, and very important, contradictions.
These contradictions were highlighted very well recently in a recent “Corner Office” column in the NY Times by Adam Bryant, where he interviewed Yammer CEO David Sacks.
Here they are, in a nutshell:
There must be clarity so there can be dissent
There must be centralization to deliver decentralization
Yes, it sounds like a Seinfeld “Bizarro World” , but let’s dig into this further.
When Sacks, in his interview, talks about “clarity”, he refers to being crystal clear about roles and responsibilities. As he notes, “one thing we try to do is define everybody’s role in the company so that, in a sense, they have a territory. They have a sphere within which they can make decisions as opposed to a committee-based or team-based approach where there’s a bunch of people who kind of share the decision. So the first step is to have clearer lines of responsibility”
Now what does this have to do with dissent? Plenty. Because everyone is aware of, and more importantly, comfortable with their respective roles, it’s much easier to be able to solicit, and get, dissenting opinions. As Sacks puts it, “there’s no sense that, O.K., I am an engineer, therefore I can’t voice my opinion about what’s happening in customer service or sales or vice versa”.
And think about how valuable that kind of feedback is, when it comes to really getting the maximum out of that moment of truth. EVERYONE has their eyes wide open.
Then there is the really “bizarro” contradiction of centralization/decentralization.
Sacks puts his finger on this absolutely perfectly: “You have to be centralized with respect to direction, decentralized with respect to execution”
I look at it like the beakers you see in a laboratory – direction and policy must be “funneled” very tightly from the top, and then get more diffused at the bottom.
I’ll give you an example – let’s go back to that moment of truth.
If the centralization/decentralization contradiction is “working”, then that teammate has adapted the directions and policy to properly reflect the situation – for example, perhaps bending a policy or rule to keep a customer, but not going against the company direction (i.e. we all know what a customer is worth, and keeping them is a very high priority).
For leader at or near the top of any organization, it’s really coming to grips with the fact that while decentralization (aka “flat organizations”) seems to be in vogue these days, it just HAS to be balanced with some very “centralized” actions.
David Sacks has managed these two contradictions very effectively, and as we think once again of that moment of truth, we can now in our mind’s eye “see” the results of that management- a confident, open-minded, flexible, and trusted individual who can easily and comfortably maximize the benefit of that always-critical customer interaction.
Not very bizarro after all!