How To Build An A-Team? - Klubify

How To Build An A-Team?

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more . . . Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry “God for Harry, England, and Saint George!” —William Shakespeare The Life of King Henry V

 What is it that makes us go riding unto the breach—following even those leaders who don’t have Will Shakespeare writing their speeches? Some would argue that the answer is charisma, and either you have it or you don’t. I don’t think it’s that simple. In the course of my study, I met many leaders who couldn’t be described as charismatic by any sort of rhetorical stretch, but they nevertheless managed to inspire an enviable trust and loyalty in their co-workers. And through their abilities to get people on their side, they were able to effect necessary changes in the culture of their organizations and make real their guiding visions. 

When I first met him, the  complaint was only that he had no people skills. Ultimately, of course, Ed’s problem was much deeper than that, but people skills deserve more attention than they often receive in dis cussions of leadership. Some of them can be taught; I’m not certain that all of them can. Empathy, for example—like charisma—may be something that people either have or don’t have. Not all leaders have it, but many do—and as Marty Kaplan said, “I’ve known leaders who have had none of it and nevertheless were leaders, but those who have had that quality have moved and inspired me more.” Gloria Steinem added, “There are a lot of excellent people who can’t empathize very well.” As a CBS executive Barbara Corday worked through empathy, which she sees as particularly female: “I think women generally see power in a different way from men. I don’t have any need for personal power, especially over people. I want to have the kind of power that is my company working well, my staff working well. . . . As moms and wives and daughters we’ve been caretakers, and a lot of the caretakers in our lives were women, and we continue in caretaking roles even as we get successful in business. And that feels natural to us. I have always been very pleased and happy and proud of the fact that I not only know all the people who work for me, but I know their husbands’ and wives’ names, and I know their children’s names, and I know who’s been sick, and I know what to ask. That’s what’s special to me in a work atmosphere. I think that’s what people appreciate, and that’s why they want to be there, and that’s why they’re loyal, and that’s why they care about what they’re doing. And I think that is peculiarly female.” The men I spoke with also talked of empathy, however.

Herb Alpert said, “One of the keys to dealing with artists is to be sen- sitive to their feelings and their needs, to give them their day in court so they can air their grievances or their brilliant ideas.” Empathy isn’t simply the province of artists. Former Lucky Stores CEO Don Ritchey said, “I think one of the biggest turn-ons is for people to know that their peers and particularly their bosses not only know they’re there but know pretty intimately what they’re doing and are involved with them on almost a daily basis, that it’s a partnership, that you’re really trying to run this thing well together, that if something goes wrong our goal is to fix it, not see who we can nail.” And, of course, empathy isn’t the only factor in getting people on your side. Roger Gould explained how he took charge without taking control: “I’ve always been kind of a lone wolf, but when I was head of outpatient services at UCLA, I developed a kind of consensus leadership, based on getting the group to formulate the problems. If we had a problem or complaint, we dealt with it openly and immediately. The fact that I was the boss didn’t mean that I would or could take sole responsibility. Everyone was living with the same complexity, so we had to deal with it as a group.” Sydney Pollack described the leader’s need to have people on his side this way: “Up to a point, I think you can lead out of fear, intimidation, as awful as that sounds. You can make people follow you by scaring them, and you can make people follow by having them feel obligated. You can lead by creating guilt. There is a lot of leadership that comes out of fear, dependence, and guilt. The marine boot camp is famous for it. But the problem is that you’re creating obedience with a residue of resent ment. If you want to make a physics analogy, you’d be moving through the medium, but you’d be creating a lot of drag, a lot of backwash. There’re two other qualities that I think are more positive reasons to follow someone. One is an honest belief in the person you’re following. The other is selfish. The person following has to believe that following is the best thing to do at the time. I mean it has to be apparent to them that they are getting something better by following you than they ever would by not following you. You don’t want people to follow you just because that’s what they’re paid for. 

Sometimes you can teach them something. ‘You’re going to learn more by doing this movie than you would by doing another movie,’ let’s say. You try to make everyone feel they have a stake in it.” Barbara Corday used some of the same words: “Getting people on your side has a lot to do with spirit, a lot to do with team atmosphere. I think it has a lot to do with not putting people in direct competition with each other, something that is not a universally held philosophy. I don’t believe in personal competition in the workplace. I have always, in any place I’ve worked, worked very hard to rid the company or the show or the staff of internal politics. I’ve never worked well under the intimidation theory.” Former CEO Don Ritchey agreed. “A real essential for effective leadership is that you can’t force people to do very much. They have to want to, and most times I think they want to if they respect the individual who is out front, if they have confidence that the person has some sort of vision for the company. . . . I don’t have any flashes of brilliance of how you teach somebody to be a leader, but I know you can’t lead unless somebody’s willing to follow.” Gloria Steinem saw getting people on your side as the difference between “movement” leadership and “corporate” leadership— although she admitted that this might not be fair to the better kind of corporate leadership, such as Ritchey’s surely was. “Movement leadership requires persuasion, not giving orders. There is no position to lead from. It doesn’t exist. What makes you successful is that you can phrase things in a way that is inspirational, that makes coalitions possible. The movement has to be owned by a variety of people, not one group. For example, before we popularized the phrase ‘reproductive freedom,’ people talked about ‘population control.’ And that was divisive, because some poor people and some racial groups felt that this was directed at them. The problem was the phrase, which said that someone else was going to make the decision, not you. ‘Reproductive freedom’ tells you that the center of authority is in the individual. And that made coalitions possible. . . . There is no human being who’s going to do what I say. None. Not even my assistant, who is too smart.

The only power I have is the power of persuasion, or inspiration.” Betty Friedan also discussed the idea of leading through voice rather than position. “I have never fought for organizational power. I can have a great deal of influence just by my voice. I don’t have to be president. I recently gave a speech at a university where only 2 percent of the faculty is women. I had a big crowd. I said, ‘I must be in a place that is for some reason an anachronism.’ I read the figures to them. I said, ‘I’m surprised that you have not had a major class action suit.’ You could see the tension in the room. I said, ‘Of course, we have had eight years of Reagan, and the laws that affect discrimination haven’t been enforced, but now we’ve got the Civil Rights Restoration Act. And you are really in a vulnerable position, since over 50 percent of your financing is federal funding. Just as a warning. Watch it.’ Then I went on with the rest of my lecture. And something happened in that room. So the last ten years, I haven’t been the head of any organization, but I don’t need to be.” The underlying issue in leading from voice is trust—in fact, I believe that trust is the underlying issue in not only getting people on your side, but having them stay there. There are four ingredients leaders have that generate and sustain trust: 

1. Constancy. Whatever surprises leaders themselves may face, they don’t create any for the group. Leaders are all of a piece; they stay the course. 

2. Congruity. Leaders walk their talk. In true leaders, there is no gap between the theories they espouse and the life they practice. 

3. Reliability. Leaders are there when it counts; they are ready to support their co-workers in the moments that matter. 

4. Integrity. Leaders honor their commitments and promises. When these four factors are in place, people will be on your side. Again, these are the kinds of things that can’t be taught. They can only be learned. Someone like Ed never understands their importance. Frances Hesselbein said of her work with the Girl Scouts, “I think I’ve kept my promises. I’ve been able to communicate a vision, a future for the organization, and respect for people. Personal and organizational integrity is key. But I have a passion for doing everything better and better, and a striving for excellence in everything we do. We’re not managing for the sake of being great managers, we’re managing for the mission. I don’t believe in a star system. I believe in helping people identify what they can do well and releasing them to do it. Our whole focus is on membership, the delivery of services to the membership, and the opportunity that gives this organization and its six hundred thousand volunteers. It’s a very exciting time. We’re shifting the whole ecology of learning away from a specific class or place into problem areas and issues so that the so-called problems become opportunities to serve in new ways.” As president of the Red Cross in the late 1980s, Richard Schubert used his voice to seek nothing less than a revolution in an old American institution. “It’s harder to run the Red Cross than Bethlehem Steel because, first, you do everything in a fishbowl here, and second, you’re working for the most part with volunteers, and third, the nature of the organization demands full-time leadership. You can’t ever just manage, you have to lead. I spend a lot of time in the trenches. It’s important to me to understand the people we serve and their views of us. And I always keep in mind the global nature of the organization. There are really only two services that every chapter of the Red Cross must provide: disaster and support services to military families during crises. But we’ve created a new focus. We’re not going to try to be all things to all people. We’re going to be an emergency organization, and we basically let our chapters determine their community’s needs in this area. Hence, anything you can think of in health and welfare is done by some Red Cross chapter.” Like Steinem and Friedan, Hesselbein and Schubert must lead with their voices. They understand the lesson of taking charge without taking control, that they must inspire their volunteers, not order them. Leading from voice is a necessary condition for movement leadership, or for any situation in which the leader is dealing with volunteers. But the same ability to inspire and persuade through empathy and trust can be and should be present in all organizations. In his book, Leadership Is an Art, Max De Pree, CEO of Herman Miller, argues that’s the best way to treat everyone: “The best people working for organizations are like volunteers. Since they could probably find good jobs in any number of groups, they choose to work somewhere for reasons less tangible than salary or position. Volunteers do not need contracts, they need covenants. . . . Covenantal relationships induce freedom, not paralysis. A covenantal relationship rests on a shared commitment to ideas, issues, values, goals, and the management process. Words such as love, warmth, personal chemistry, are certainly pertinent. Covenantal relationships . . . fill deep needs and they enable work to have meaning and to be fulfilling.” British philosopher Isaiah Berlin said, “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows but one.” Leaders are both fox and hedgehog.

They have mastered their vocation or profession, do whatever they do as well as it can be done, but they are also masters of the more fundamental, human skills. They’re able to establish and maintain positive relationships with their subordinates inside the organization and their peers outside the organization. They have not only the ability to understand the organization’s dimensions and purposes but to articulate their understanding and make it manifest. They have the ability to inspire trust, but not abuse it. Don Ritchey said, “They [your co-workers] have to believe that you know what you’re doing. You have to believe that they know what they’re doing, too, and let them know that you trust them. I always took a little more time, told people more than they needed to know. . . . You have to be absolutely straight with people, not clever or cute, and you can’t think that you can manipulate them. That doesn’t mean you have to think they’re all stars or that you have to agree with everything they do, but the relationship, I think, ought to be for real.” Ultimately, a leader’s ability to galvanize his or her co-workers resides both in self-understanding and in understanding the coworkers’ needs and wants, along with the understanding of what Hesselbein has called their mission. In such leaders, competence, vision, and virtue exist in nearly perfect balance.

Competence, or knowledge, without vision and virtue, breeds technocrats. Virtue, without vision and knowledge, breeds ideologues. Vision, without virtue and knowledge, breeds demagogues. As Peter Drucker has pointed out, the chief object of leadership is the creation of a human community held together by the work bond for a common purpose. Organizations and their leaders inevitably deal with human nature, which is why values, commitments, convictions, even passions are basic elements in any organization. Since leaders deal with people, not things, leadership without values, commitment, and conviction can only be inhumane and harmful. Especially today, in the current volatile climate, it is vital that leaders steer a clear and consistent course. They must acknowledge uncertainties and deal effectively with the present, while simultaneously anticipating and responding to the future. This means endlessly expressing, explaining, extending, expanding, and when necessary revising the organization’s mission. The goals are not ends, but ideal processes by which the future can be created. 


A major challenge that all leaders are now facing is an epidemic of institutional malfeasance, as we read nearly every day in the news. And if there is anything that undermines trust, it is the feeling that the people at the top lack integrity, are without a solid sense of ethics. The characteristics of empathy and trust are reflected not just in codes of ethics, but in organizational cultures that support ethical conduct. Long before Enron became synonymous with corporate corruption, scholarly studies linked a lack of professional ethics to a business climate that not only condones greed, but rewards it. One classic study, done in the late 1980s by William Frederick at the University of Pittsburgh, found that, ironically, corporations with codes of ethics are more frequently cited by federal agencies than those without such standards, because the codes usually emphasize improving company balance sheets. Marilyn Cash Mathews, the author of a Washington State University study, noted that three-fourths of all such codes do not address such things as environmental and product safety. Mathews’ conclusion is as valid as it ever was: “The codes are really dealing with infractions against the corporation, rather than illegalities on behalf of the corporation.” Frederick, who surveyed personal values in more than 200 Pittsburgh area managers, found that “people’s personal values are getting blocked by the needs of the company.” He mentioned an earlier study that included interviews with 6,000 executives and found that 70 percent of those surveyed felt pressure to conform to corporate standards and often compromised their own ethics on behalf of their employer. If executives didn’t continue to feel pressure to conform to dubious corporate ethics, the subprime mortgage debacle would have never happened. This corporate ethical decline is a direct result of the bottom-line mentality. Norman Lear condemns this kind of thinking: “I think that where the greatest impact on the culture might have been, in other times, the church, education, the family, the greatest impact now is business. Everywhere one looks, it seems to me that short-term thinking in business is the greatest impact on our culture. And that’s leadership because it’s certainly educating kids to believe there’s nothing between winning and losing. . . . Short-term thinking is the societal disease of our time.” Other leaders agreed with Lear, noting that if companies devoted as much time and attention to product quality as they do to trying to skirt laws and buy officials, their bottom lines would probably improve. While studies of the relationship between corporate ethics and corporate bottom lines have been inconclusive (most show there is no relationship), Jim Burke pointed out that ethical corporations can be consistently profitable, as Johnson & Johnson was on his watch. He said, “It’s possible to create a culture that attracts the qualities that you value in people. You can call that leadership, or you can call it creating a positive culture and articulating a vision.” Former Lucky Stores CEO Don Ritchey agreed.

“I start out with the presumption that most people want to be ethical. It’s sort of a Golden Rule philosophy. So if you set up a climate where you not only say it, but where people see that you mean it, and it works, then nobody has to make expedient choices because somebody was leaning on him, telling him, on the one hand, to be ethical and on the other hand to make the number even if he has to be cute about it. The fact that you are very hard-nosed about weeding out unethical behavior helps. If we caught somebody cheating on the gross profit, for instance, we’d tell him to get there the right way, or we’d rather he was short. And the next time it happens, he’s out. . . . Ethics is not Pollyanna stuff. It works better. . . . I was particularly fortunate, working for this company. I never had to choose in daily decisions between what was the right thing to do and what was good business.” But according to the Korn/Ferry International CEO Richard Ferry, Burke, Ritchey, and the others concerned with more than the short-term bottom line are still exceptions. He said, “There are some brilliant CEOs running American companies, executives who clearly understand what it’ll take to be competitive in the future, but they’re caught in a bind. The only way they can protect themselves against hostile takeovers is to get the stock price up.

Anyone who’s really thinking about the future is putting the company—and his or her career—at risk, because investing a fair amount of money in areas such as research and development and new products has no immediate payoff. . . . Companies may write a fancy job description. There’ll be a lot of discussion about long-term strategy, but, in the end, they want an executive who is going to deliver earnings.” Burke, for one, was committed to fighting this social disease. And Norman Lear’s description of how Burke raised the consciousness of his fellow CEOs is still relevant today. Lear said: “Jim Burke has put together some lunches where he has invited other CEOs, and at the beginning, they are all interested in how the image of the business can be improved. They aren’t willing to admit readily the enormous contribution business is making to its own poor image. And as time passes and people relax, you find them all aware that they need help. That business needs help. They’re not villains—they didn’t start the obsession with short-term thinking. They know it’s wrong, but they’re in traps that they can’t find their way out of. They need somebody to put a spotlight on it so that what’s wrong will be seen by everybody. They can contribute quietly, but they can’t say, ‘I’m not going to be involved in short-term thinking.’ Their obligation is to shareholders, and the shareholders are represented by Wall Street, and that’s a vise they can’t get out of. But if they can find a way to focus on it, the climate can change, and then they can change with it.” 


 Leading through voice, inspiring through trust and empathy, does more than get people on your side. It can change the climate enough to give people the elbow room to do the right things. When they use their voices among their peers, leaders like Burke improve the general climate as well as reshape their own organizations to deal more effectively with the world. The leader may discover that the culture of his or her own organization is an obstacle to positive change because as currently constituted, it is more devoted to preserving itself than to meeting new challenges. While at Apple, John Sculley talked about the need for organizations to change: “If you look at the post-World War II era, when we were at the center of the world’s economy during the industrial age, the emphasis was on self-sufficiency in every sort of enterprise—in education, business, or government. Organizations were very hierarchical. That model is no longer appropriate. The new model is global in scale, an interdependent network. So the new leader faces new tests, such as how does he lead people who don’t report to him—people in other companies, in Japan or Europe, even competitors. How do you lead in this idea-intensive, independent-network environment? It requires a wholly different set of skills, based on ideas, people skills, and values. The things I’m talking about aren’t really new but are now in a new context.

What used to be peripheral is now mainstream. A shift in orientation has occurred in just the last ten years. Traditional leaders are having a hard time explaining what’s going on in the world, because they’re basing their explanations on their experience with the old paradigm, and if you place the same set of events or facts in a different paradigm, you may not be able to explain them.” Sculley continued: “My former boss at Pepsico and the current head of IBM were both World War II fighter pilots. The World War II fighter pilot is no longer going to be our principal paradigm for leaders.

The new generation of leaders is going to be more intellectually aware. What does it mean to go from an industrial age to an information age? Beyond the ways we have to change as leaders and managers within the context of our enterprise, the world itself is changing, becoming more idea-intensive, more information-intensive, so the people who’re going to surface, to rise to the top, are going to be people who are comfortable with and excited by ideas and information. “I used to go on corporate boards so I could learn, but since coming to Apple, I’ve resigned from all of them.” Robert Dockson had to change a negative climate when he arrived at CalFed: “When I came here, no one ever tried to teach me the business. It was a divided company, and it had factions with walls around them. They refused to speak to each other. I wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake. There were eleven senior vice presidents, and they all wanted my job. I decided that I wasn’t going to clean house, that I was going to win all of them over, make them work with me instead of against me, and that’s what I did. “I think the first thing one has to do [in setting out to change a culture] is to get people on one’s side and show them where you want to take the company. Trust is vital. People trust you when you don’t play games with them when you put everything on the table and speak honestly to them. Even if you aren’t very articulate, your intellectual honesty comes through, and people recognize that and respond positively. “I think you have trust in a man who has the vision and can make you see that his vision is the right thing to do. I believe that this company can be one of the dominant financial institutions in the Pacific basin, and I want my successor, whoever he is, to have that vision. I don’t want him to manage, I want him to lead.” Jim Burke found much that was good at Johnson & Johnson, but he found some gaps, too. “I had a real vision. I thought I saw what the future was going to be, and I understood what we needed in order to achieve that future. I began to see what was here in terms of a value system, and what wasn’t here in terms of understanding sophisticated marketing principles. There was a kind of vacuum. “The environment at Johnson & Johnson helps people learn to lead because we have a high degree of decentralization. 

General Johnson utilized a system of product managers because he saw that as institutions became larger and larger, it was more and more important to set up smaller entities within the whole in order to get things done. He wanted to find that unit within the whole that would liberate creative energy by permitting decision making. “I’ve always operated on the assumption that creates confusion and conflict are healthy. Sometimes I take the opposite side simply to stir up controversy because I think better that way, and the system works better that way. “The freer the organization is, the more heterogeneity there is in the system, the more leaders will emerge. One of the problems with American business is its habit of marching to the style of one leader, and his style becomes enmeshed in the organization.

This leads to vertical, hierarchical organizations, and I think that’s the wrong way to get things done. Here we’re decentralized and open, and people get things done in very different ways.” All of the leaders I talked with belief in change—in both people and organizations. They equate it with growth—tangible and intangible—and progress. Indeed, it might be said that their real life’s work has been changed. But the change in the world at large can be an obstacle, too. “Circumstances beyond our control” is an organizational reality all too often. Change, of course, isn’t new. As Adam and Eve left Eden, Adam might have said, “We’re now entering a period of transition.” I’ve written more than thirty books, and in one sense or another, every single one of them has had to do with change and coping with change. Still, the world has never been more volatile, more turbulent, and more spastic than it is now. Uncertainty is rampant. What’s worse, in too many cases we can’t even identify the causes or sources of this turbulence. Leaders not only manage change, they must be comfortable with it in their own lives. Barbara Corday, as noted above, said, “I’ve had at least four completely different careers, and may very well have a fifth.” Since then, she has done just that, becoming a professor of media and an administrator at the University of Southern California.

 Marty Kaplan went from the Aspen Institute to Washington, D.C., to Walt Disney Pictures, and, most recently, to USC. When I interviewed him at Disney, he said, “One of the nice things about this industry is that you can be in it in a lot of quite different capacities. I’m not all that interested in slithering up a greasy pole, and I’ve pretty much decided that sometime within the next year I’ll change my capacity in the business and go to a world in which it’s time to start learning again. My guess is that I’ll be a screenwriter and producer.” Alfred Gottschalk insisted that an escape clause be inserted in his contract with Hebrew Union: “I can stay basically until retirement. That’s what they would like. I insisted they put it in, in case one or the other of us becomes disaffected, at which point we have to talk. I don’t intend to stay one day longer than I’m happy with what I’m doing, and they don’t have to keep me for one day longer than they’re happy with what I’m doing, and for the last seventeen years it’s worked. . . . They know what the core issues are for which I stand, and if it comes to a showdown on those, they know I have my resignation in my pocket.” Don Ritchey, too, said, “You should preserve the ability to say, ‘Shove it,’ and go your own way. That really frees you.” 

These leaders have dealt with and continue to deal with this mercurial world by anticipating, looking not just down the road, but around the corner; by seeing change as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle; and by accepting it, rather than resisting it. One of the hardest lessons any novice skier has to learn is to lean away from the hill and not into it. The natural inclination is to stay as close to the slope as possible because it feels safer and more secure. But only when the skier leans out can he or she begin to move and gain control, rather than being controlled by the slope. The organizational novice does the same thing: leans close to the company’s slope, submerging his or her own identity in that of the corporation. The leader stands tall and leans out, taking charge of his or her own course, with a clear view of where the course is going—at least until the snow starts to fall. Resisting change is as futile as resisting weather, and change—relentless change—is our weather now. It is that constant and that unpredictable. Leaders live in it, and so do organizations. And there is much organizations can do to make the process easier.