Hiring a new leader is one of the riskiest gambles we take in business - particularly if said organisation has grown stale and is in need of a shake-up. Given what’s at stake when things go wrong, choosing the right personality to champion change and give direction is essential. A leader will make or break an organisation; and take the fall when it fails (just ask Martin Winterkorn from VW).
This is a hot issue on the political circuit right now. We’re creatures of habit, so when change is essential, an ‘outsider’ is often the best choice: bringing fresh eyes, fresh blood and a willingness to take greater risks in order to pursue strategic objectives.
The danger lies in hiring a personality aligned exclusively to company vision, rather than company culture: someone who might have big ideas, but alienates those immediately around them. Let’s not forget, those supporting individuals are the ones driving the tactical and operational processes necessary to realise top-end goals. Someone who loses support of half the c-suite immediately is going to face some serious difficulties without those personalities on side.
A great leader is one who fosters, maintains and increases followers on the road to change. They communicate their vision and explain how and why change is set to occur. They inspire. Yes, controversial decisions may be necessary - I’ve yet to meet a great business leader who opted for crowd-pleasing as their sole winning philosophy - but they must still seek buy-in from middle management and filter that vision down. Starting with a negative poll score makes things tough.
When hiring the next leader for your business, consider: will they be a leader of people, or policy? Which is more important? I’d argue it’s a balancing act between the two. Strong champions of change are essential for challenging the status quo and achieving success. However, those with strong ideals may need to soften their approach if it helps bring the swing voters on side. It’s a case of picking the right battles and, dare I say it, agreeing to sing the company anthem once in a while.
Those with the big ideas aren’t necessarily the best leaders. But perhaps, in a time of flux, they are the ones needed to get the ball rolling. Whether they finish the race or not - well, that depends on the route they take.