This Sunday’s NY Times had a couple of columns in its Business section that caught my attention on management issues. One of the Sunday paper’s regular features is the “Corner Office” in which business executives reflect on leadership issues. In this past weekend’s column, Adam Bryant interviewed Paul Maritz of VMware. Among Maritz’s observations are the following on how to get the best out of others:
It’s very hard to talk about these things without becoming trite or corny, but the best leaders are those who get the best out of other people.I’ve learned that you only really get the best out of other people when you do things in a positive way. There are negative styles of leadership, where you do things by critiquing and criticizing and terrifying other people. But in the final analysis, it doesn’t get the best out of people and it doesn’t breed loyalty. Because no matter how much we think we’ve got things figured out, we haven’t got things figured out. Inevitably, we’re going to go down blind alleys. We’re going to run into problems. We’re going to make mistakes. And when that happens, you have to ask people to help you and to overlook the fact that you’ve messed something up.
Great leaders, in my view, are those who have built up that reservoir of loyalty, so that when the time comes to say to folks, “We have to change direction,” people are willing to make an extraordinary effort. If you’re the kind of leader who cuts people down and humiliates them, you leave scars on people that can eventually come back to haunt you.
Across the aisle, so to speak, was an article by Randall Stross about the lessons learned by Steve Jobs during his time in the “wilderness”, the dozen or so years after 1985 when he was forced from operational involvement in Apple. He took advantage of that time to learn some hard lessons at NeXT computer, which, while it ultimately failed, is credited with providing Jobs with the grounded perspective he needed to successfully return to Apple and lead it to yet greater things. The idea of a person needing to go off into the wilderness to learn important life lessons is one that is seen across numerous cultures outside the business context. Another reason why business’ most valuable training ground is often found at the altar of business “failure”.