Why Selecting Leaders is So Difficult in Practice – Reason #2: Companies Reflexively Seek Balm for the Immediate Pain

Home Depot, the GAP, and Starbucks are all examples of companies founded by visionary entrepreneurs who built iconic global brands. Innovation and fearless expansion fueled years of spectacular growth. Over time however the need for ever-more sophisticated coordination, supply chains systems and processes gained importance and concerns gradually grew as to whether these founders were best equipped to be at the helm of highly complex multinational businesses.

In each instance the founders were eventually replaced with ‘professional’ CEOs, executives experienced in leading large distributed businesses. In at least one instance the person hired was a noted efficiency expert with a reputation for managing with the precision of a Swiss clock. The founder subsequently returned in at least one instance.

Unfortunately, the science of management must always find a balance with the art of leadership, innovation and entrepreneurialism. While the founders of these businesses may have been less skilled on matters of managing global supply chains and KPIs, it was their vision and highly tuned intuition around retail and customer tastes that made them possible. Losing that, as Apple and Starbucks found after replacing their founders, is sure to exact a cost.

If boards of directors focus solely on a leader’s deficiencies without considering their strengths, they risk creating more problems than they solve. For example, while replacing the knowledgeable and pleasant retired handymen who inhabited each aisle of every Home Depot with a much smaller contingent of energetic forty- year-old former military officers may have been efficient and cost effective it did little for the experience of shopping at the stores. As Home Depot soon learned, efficient stores did not necessarily translate into full stores.

Organizations regularly respond to whatever is not working today by hiring an expert in ameliorating that pain. Or, equally commonly, they hire the opposite of the person with whom they wish to part company. Unfortunately, focusing on symptoms or the immediate pain can obscure what is needed for overall organizational health. This can lead to mistakes.

About the Author

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.

Contact Robert by email at [email protected] or call (1) 416-365-9494 EXT 777

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