VIEWPOINT: “Making the numbers” is the top priority for every business – collaborative leadership can help, says Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, in this second in a series of articles for IEDP:
The other day I talked to a real business leader; one of those people who has won countless awards for their vision and ability to steer their corporate ship safely – and seemingly effortlessly – forwards no matter the prevailing economic weather conditions. “What,” I asked him, “was THE secret to staying on top for so long?”
“There’s only one thing that counts,” he replied, “make sure you make the numbers.” Then he added, “do that – consistently – and everything else is jam on the cake. You make the numbers; then you can do whatever else you want.”
I had heard that before, of course, mostly from heads of businesses that I didn’t admire all that much: the cost cutters, the mass lay-off artists, the hostile bidders of our business world. The ones that don’t get a good press and seem to survive by a combination of fear and the kind of ethical behavior that would put Blackbeard the pirate to shame.
Sure I knew that staying profitable was a good thing – who in private enterprise doesn’t believe that But as Ella Fitzgerald once sang, “Is that all there is?”
When I hear and read that the length of tenure of our business leaders is getting shorter (down to less than three years in some industries) and that managing for those quarterly results is still the major visible measure of success, I wonder whether we really are getting it right – or ever able to change.
What it showed was that “making the numbers” is seen today as – just as that business leader told me – by far the most important aspect of the reward/recognition criteria. It, literally, overshadows every other aspect of a leader’s role. But is there some other way? I think that many of us in the development business see a growing emphasis on teamwork and much less on solo performance, suggesting that it is these collaborative traits that need to be rewarded in the organization of tomorrow.
So, are we going to see the end of the strong, lone, visionary leading from the front? Are we to expect a new era where rewards are given for teamwork, innovation and meeting long-term objectives? Conversely, will this be looked at as a nice idea that just couldn’t work in day-to-day reality?
Having given this a lot of thought, my view is that both of these success models will prevail. While I still see a future where organizations comfortably embrace a culture of the leader, I think we will see that the leaders who rise to the top are those that offer a more open, inclusive approach than those of today. There is little doubt that managing and leading are a great deal more complicated in this global world we have created for ourselves. Equally, there is little doubt that few businesses can be effectively run – for very long – by one charismatic captain at the helm: it is just too complex.
Therefore, it stands to basic reason and logic that the business leader that can build a real team around them is probably going to be creating tomorrow’s business success model.
And “making the numbers”? Frankly, I don’t see it changing all that much. It may be nice to celebrate these softer skills, but I do think that my business leader was right when he said, “do that and everything else is jam on the cake. You make the numbers; then you can do whatever you want.”
When I look at the business leaders I admire, they have all got a lot of jam on their cake – but every one of them consistently “made the numbers.” I also suspect (despite the public image that may be portrayed) that none of them did that all alone. Numbers may be the basis of everything, but I think – as great leaders as they are – they knew all along that collaboration, teamwork and setting long-term objectives (call that vision if you like) were all part of that numbers game.
There’s more than one way to “make the numbers”, the best knew that – still do.
This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage direct with Rudi Plettinx here