Developing-Leaders-issue-27-2017

Viewpoint 16 | Developing Leaders Issue 27: 2017 So the question is how big are the chances that a company picked the next Steve Jobs? And even Steve Jobs had a strong team behind him. Many successful founders of start- ups are acutely aware of their own weaknesses. While the outside world assumes that they are charismatic superstars many of them are strong team-players. Instead of looking for charisma, companies are well advised to search for great listeners. In the mid-1990s Shell’s Cor Herkstroeter was well aware that Shell’s performance lagged behind the more efficient Exxon. He and his colleagues also knew that the highly decentralized structure was at fault. The country chairmen only required the centre to get an approval for their annual budget. Not surprisingly, that leads to duplications and high coordination costs. The obvious solution would have been structural changes. But the management team were keen listeners and as such well aware that this would be impossible to pull off in Shell. In addition, the strong connection to host countries is not without advantages in an industry where many of the most lucrative deals are directly awarded by governments. So instead of any drastic measures an annual gathering of country managers and a team of change agents running training courses was installed. Other than this the top management team simply waited. When in 1999 the oil price dropped below 10 dollars a barrel and the industry was in crisis, Mark Moody-Stuart, the successor of Cor Herkstroeter, seized the opportunity to finally introduce structural changes. Not a complete centralization but for example a European wide downstream business. And Shell continues to be one of the most successful oil companies today. Leaders with lesser listening qualities might have thrown the company into a dramatic transformation exercise that would have been a costly failure. The world of start-ups and established players is obviously different but comparing them, allowed me to see some commonalities. They are bound to be more robust than recipes of success that hold only for one of them. Great companies excel in innovation and execution, they hate bureaucracy and they don’t need a charismatic superstar at the helm but a great listener. Christian Stadler is a professor of strategic management at Warwick Business School. His book “Enduring Success: What We Can Learn from the History of Outstanding Corporations” is the first one with a non-U.S. perspective on long-range success. Many successful founders of startups are acutely aware of their own weaknesses. While the outside world assumes that they are charismatic superstars many of them are strong team-players

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