Leader Volume 8, Number 9
the Teaching Organization
Tichy is Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resource
Management and director of the Global Leadership Program at the
University of Michigan Business School.
He is author of several books including The Leadership Engine: How Winning Companies Build Leaders at Every
Level (Harper Business Publications, New York, 1997) and Every
Business is a Growth Business (Random House, New York, 1998).
Ms. Ricci is a Research Associate at the University of
Michigan Business School.
In the early
1990’s, companies across the globe were fumbling all over
themselves to find the right tools to deal with globalization,
technological change, and consumers’ increasing demands.
Many of these failed miserably; the poor financial results
caused the removal of senior leaders at major corporations,
including IBM, GM, American Express, Kodak, and AT&T.
In contrast, several companies thrived during the same time
frame. The winning firms had steady revenue growth and rapid stock
price appreciation. But to get to this point, to be able to lead, the winning
companies separated themselves from the also-rans by concentrating
on the task of building leaders at all levels of the organization.
We examined some
of those failures and compared them with such successes as General
Electric, Intel, and Compaq.
We concluded that the capital markets were only partly
right; leadership was the problem, but the markets were wrong to
focus on only top management.
In the companies we studied, sustained success was a
function of leadership throughout.
Winning companies win because they have solid leaders not
only at the top, but also at all organizational levels.
It is no accident
that Jack Welch of GE has over a half dozen viable candidates for
his CEO job, which he will relinquish in the year 2000. He began
revamping the leadership development practices at GE over 15 years
ago. He teaches
several times a month at GE’s leadership development center. He
grades his people all the time and writes developmental coaching
letters to his senior people. He is obsessive about leadership
development. Contrast this with no succession plans at IBM, AT&T, or
Kodak. Andy Grove at
Intel spent years developing his successor Craig Barrett and has a
similar focus to be a developmental teacher and leader.
There is no
blueprint for an ideal teaching organization.
Companies have different values, different goals, and
therefore leaders at organizations must personally involve
themselves in the process to insure the correct message is being
spread. As a leader
begins to teach, he or she will realize that leadership is
in a person’s life culminate to form a personal view of the
world, political opinions, and religious beliefs.
Similarly, a leader formulates a teachable point of view on
experiences, whether it be captaining a high school volleyball
team or heading a multinational division, build beliefs about
leadership, organization, and management.
A leader may not be an academic genius, but rather is a
person who can extrapolate important learnings and skills from
of a leader and lessons learned come together in a teachable point
of view on leadership. This
encompasses the most important aspects of leadership and enables
the leader to preach what he or she has learned, continuing to
develop the future leaders through all levels of the organization.
A leader holds strong view on values, inventive ideas,
demonstrates a high level of emotional energy and edge.
These factor together to form the teachable point of view.
Business is built
on ideas that make money in the market place.
These are marketable ideas: improved products, services,
distribution channels and customer service.
It is the leader’s responsibility to insure that there
are ideas and that everyone is taught them.
Values of an
organization are more than a list hanging on the wall in the form
of a mission statement. Values
are deeply rooted in the organization, guiding employees to
fulfill the goals of the organization with integrity.
When a leader is confident in the value system, employees
will be trusted to “elicit decisions and actions desired by the
from the top of the organization.
The actions of leaders will provide guidance as to how
employees should act in certain situations.
Furthermore, these values must be supportive of and
explicitly linked to the business ideas.
while similar to physical energy, requires more of a leader.
Leaders with emotional energy believe in their ability to make a
difference and have the ability to energize those around them.
The high-energy levels exerted by leaders inspires creative
energy; spurring new ideas and driving performance.
A leader must
also demonstrate an ability to abandon the old and grow the new.
Avoiding the reality of changing markets and continue to
focus on old ideas and goals is the biggest mistake a leader can
make. Almost as bad,
some companies accomplish one goal and get too caught up
celebrating to develop new patterns for growth.
Emotional energy allows a leader rejuvenate the
organization by creating new opportunities.
By establishing a constant cycle of improving ideas, a
leader will enable the company to continue healthy growth and
injection of energy by a leader creates an environment in which
people constantly thrive to find the better way.
Edge is the
ability to see reality and act on it; it is more than having
strong values and ideas, but edge gives a leader the strength to
uphold them when they are challenged.
At crucial moments, a leader needs edge, not consultants or
task forces, to make difficult decisions.
Leaders are rarely the most popular people in the
organization, especially during times of crisis, but they can
mobilize the appropriate response.
With clear ideas and values, rough decisions can be made
and responses will be properly engendered.
success requires more leaders at more levels than exist in the
competitors’ ranks. Teaching,
coaching, and cultivating others therefore becomes a strategic
imperative for executives. The
components of leadership--ideas, values, emotional energy and
edge--are part of the package presented to the next generation of
leaders at large firms and energetic start-ups demonstrate similar
Two examples of
tremendous leadership capability represent one of America’s
oldest firms and one of the newest: Jacques Nasser of Ford and Joe
Liemandt of Trilogy Development Group.
industry is highly susceptible to the rapidly changing global
industry. When Nasser took over Ford in January 1999, he readily
admits to Ford’s vulnerability.
He realizes Ford needs a way to combat global competition;
to be able to “leverage technology and efficiencies around the
world” while at the same time, executing plans a local level.
Concerned with the inevitable levels of resistance he
faces, Nasser did the only logical thing: he began to teach.
To insure all
350,000 employees on six continents fully understand his message,
Nasser undertook the major task of developing leaders in at all
levels, all over the world. And
instead of hiring a consulting firm to develop improvement
programs, Nasser encourages managers to teach throughout the
Business Leadership Initiative began at Ford two years ago with
the intention of creating leader-teachers throughout the
problems within Ford during 100-day projects aimed at lowering
costs or improving products.
One group, for example, discovered a way to wash Kevlar
gloves used in factories and saved the company over $100,000 per
year. Another project
team found a way to save almost $500,000 on extended travel
assignments by renting apartments and using cell phones.
projects may seem almost inconsequential when compared to Ford’s
overall cost structure, but when added together, the benefits are
invaluable. 55,000 managers across the world are being trained in
business skills and, more importantly, on leadership skills. The teachers who come out of the BLI program will be able to
develop new leaders. These
leaders will then continue the process until all 350,000 employees
are working towards redefining Ford.
The same degree
of personal involvement in the development of leaders is necessary
for a CEO of a multinational, multibillion dollar business as from
a CEO of a rapidly growing software design firm.
Trilogy is led by the 30-year-old entrepreneur, Joe
Liemandt. His passion
for growing the front-office software design firm is as great as
his vigor for developing his employees.
out of Stanford during his senior year to pursue his idea; the
intensely competitive industry would not wait the nine months
necessary to graduate, so Liemandt pushed his books aside and
created Trilogy. Now
with estimated revenues of $200 million, the firm pursues the
hottest talent graduating from Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and
Michigan to continue the phenomenal growth trends.
As Nasser has
learned to do, Liemandt injects thousands of dollars recruiting
and training the hotshot graduates.
And to insure that the money is well spent, he personally
involves himself in the intense training program dubbed Trilogy
“unorthodox orientation program,” as Fast
Company describes it, acclimates the newest Trilogians to the
intense culture and the fast-paced software industry.
It offers a crash course in programming, marketing, and
product development. There
are no books, only hands-on experience.
The only professor is Liemandt.
course, Liemandt’s exuberance spreads around the company like
recruits arrive at 8 a.m. and do not leave until past midnight,
and rarely complain. In order to inspire creative energy and risk-taking,
characteristics vital to growing Trilogy, Liemandt assigns groups
the task of developing or improving upon a product.
With little instruction, groups are on their way.
No student of TU could possibly misunderstand his message.
Company size and
company scope aside, a leader must personally involve himself or
herself in the development of the people.
Leaders teaching values and ideas with emotional energy and
edge are imperative to a successful, growing firm.
The ultimate legacy of a leader is the leaders he or she