In a May 7, 2010 New York Times Corner Office interview with Sharon Napier, CEO Partners + Napier, Sharon explains how athletics, specifically basketball, is her source for principles to manage/lead by. A key principle for Sharon is that every person on the team has a role to play. While most would agree with this, at the same time most also likely focus on ‘the stars’ or those with ‘potential star power’, while investing little in the rest. Who does the company send to training programs, everyone or just the one’s with promise? In most organizations, experience will show that ‘it’s the brightest and the best’ who are chosen. Sharon contends that it is not about the starting five rather it is about the strength of the entire bench—every person has a role. Sharon adds, “…we don’t have the starting team and the not-starting team. We have a bench, and everybody has to be strong.”
What’s the hidden lesson here? Because an organization is a system, each person influences the performance of the system—both directly and through a multitude of interaction with others. In short the performance of the system is an emergent property and not the sum of the capabilities of each constituent member. So pay attention to the system! Consequently, it is imperative that each person understands how his/her work contributes to the success of the system. It is a manager/leader’s responsibility to develop this understanding. Moreover, this understanding becomes the basis for meaningful work, which is inextricably connected to intrinsic motivation. As Frederick Hertzberg noted people at base care about the deeper issue of fulfillment in life, therefore give people something motivating to do!
Sharon continues with her basketball analogy stating “if you’re not worried about your own success, and you’re worried about the success of the team, you go a lot further.” Here lies another hidden leadership lesson. Not only because an organization is a system, but because each individual is a whole person and a part of the system (i.e. a whole-part), each has a simultaneous responsibility to their ‘whole-partness’ or ‘I-We-ness’. Each person has the joint responsibility of developing his/her individual capabilities as well as the capabilities of the collective–the organization, the system. As Sharon recalled her father saying “Be prepared, be overly prepared”, and as she herself asserts, “it takes hours and hours of practice to be good.” We must all be unceasing learners, especially those in positions of authority since they model the behavior others often imitate. That is we each have the responsibility to actualize our potential capabilities. But we must realize it is not for the benefit of ‘Me’, rather it is for the benefit of ‘We’—the ‘We’ of which we each are an integral part.
A very critical factor toward developing a high performing ‘We’ is the attention to hiring the right people. If you wish to develop your organization with people likely to provide the leadership experience then you must avoid hiring the corporate climbers. Yes these people have ambition but it is blind ambition; blind to the impact they have on others and the system. The attitude of What’s in it for ‘Me’ is inevitably destructive to ‘We’. To this end, Sharon asks recruits ‘what they think they’re going to get out of the first two years and what they want.” It is through questions like this that people reveal whether they are ‘Me’ focused or “I-We” focused. If the former then all effort will be on looking good, but if the latter then all effort will reflect a commitment to improving the performance of the organization, the system.
We all have an important contribution to make, but we all aren’t afforded the opportunity to make it. Thus the role of a leader/manager of people is to bring to light the importance of everyone’s ‘I-We-ness’ as well as to facilitate the development of both in each and every person. This seems so simple, yet it is so rare. Why?