Friday, May 13, 2011

Colin Powell's Lessons in Leadership - 3

"Don't be buffaloed by experts and elites.  Experts often
possess more data than judgment.  Elites can become so
inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death
as soon as they are nicked by the real world."

This statement is really about maintaining vigilance, largely in what happens in large organizations. When you are small and young, everybody pitches in. There is no sense of entitlement. There is no sense of "I earned this, it's his turn to earn his." Most small and young organizations cannot afford that mentality. It would kill the group before it even got up to speed.

But over time groups grow experts and elites. The larger they become, the more you hear the phrases "We've always done it this way" or "We tried it before and it failed" when new suggestions are brought forward. If you want to see the end result is of a company full of experts and elites, look at Nokia. Nokia was one of the largest cell phone companies in the world. They were on top of their game, until Apple changed the game on them. Now they are struggling to catch up. Why? Because the experts said "this is how we've always built cell phones" and the elites wanted everything to stay the same. Then the real world (Apple) came out with a genuine smart phone that the customers responded to... in droves.

Another angle on this concept is when you are the leader of a group performing an implementation. A lot of the time your team will consist of inside and outside experts, as well as elites trying to influence your decisions. However, at the end of the project, it was your role/judgement that will be evaluated; not theirs. In the long run, as a leader, you need to be cautious that the elites and experts are expressing what is best for your objective, and not theirs. As a leader, this is possibly one of the hardest things to do, because elites and experts get where they are with knowledge, and who doesn't want that? The best advice here is to use your judgement, and make sure you aren't blindly following recommendations.

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