What leadership then looks like now: Resourcefulness

So the challenge we’re considering: how could a mission organization identify potential C-suite leaders 15 years before it needs them?

I covered the first part of the challenge in my previous post. The second challenge is to figure out what competencies to look for, and what the early version of those competencies might look like. How do you spot this kind of talent? The mission leader who proposed this challenge had a theory that you look for evidence of megacompetencies. These are broad competencies that are themselves a collection of competencies. He believes that makes it easier to watch for and cultivate early indicators. 

I want to propose three over my next three posts.

1. Resourcefulness

In the book, Topgrading, Brad Smart explores the ruthless leadership theory deployed by Jack Welch at GE: grade your executives each year and cut the bottom performers. I am not a fan of that ultra-competitive approach, and Simon Sinek offers a blistering critique of such finite thinking in The Infinite Game. However, I find Smart’s exploration of the competencies of “A players” to be helpful. Number one on his list:

Resourcefulness refers to your ability to passionately figure things out, like how to surmount barriers… It is a composite of many [competencies]: Intelligence, Analysis Skills, Creativity, Pragmatism, Risk Taking, Initiative, Organization/Planning, Independence, Adaptability, Change Leadership, Energy, Passion, and Tenacity.

So, if you need resourceful leaders in the future, how do you spot these competencies now? They can be seen in the way kids play, in the way students juggle competing responsibilities, in the way young leaders approach challenges. As a matter of fact, resourcefulness can show up very early in life. For instance, consider Rex Davis. While his mother was showering, this 2-year-old grabbed the car keys, left their locked motel room, got into the car and started it up. Unfortunately for him, it was a manual transmission car parked in first gear, so when Rex started the car without stepping on the clutch, the car lurched forward—through the front wall and into the motel room. While police were investigating the accident, this “precocious” 2-year-old found the keys again and climbed back into the car. I suspect Rex Davis will be one to watch for the future.

But here’s the rub: early demonstrations of resourcefulness may look to managers like disobedience; not accepting a firm “no” and making an end run around the bureaucracy. Some of these unskilled expressions will be intensely frustrating to a manager who simply needs the job done. In those cases, it’s up to the senior leader to intervene and create appropriate expressions for those characteristics.


Megacompetency Series

When WHY and HOW get together

I want to look at two more partnerships where one leader clearly eclipsed the other, but couldn’t have been successful without the other guy. In both cases, one had the clear ability to originate vision but didn’t have the ability to make it happen without his older brother.

The spokesman

In the third and fourth chapters of Exodus, when God appeared to Moses to tell him that “I have seen” the oppression of Israel and “I have come down to rescue them,” Moses prepared to watch the fireworks. But he didn’t like God’s conclusion: “Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.” Nice twist at the end. Total set up.

Moses reacted badly. He argued for an entire chapter before closing with his speech impediment and begging God to send someone else. But God didn’t relent, instead pairing him with his brother Aaron as his mouthpiece. “You will stand in the place of God for him, telling him what to say.” As Moses whispered the WHY in his ear, Aaron spent the next 16 chapters making the public speeches. Eventually, Moses appears to have gathered the courage to make the speeches himself, but the partnership was cemented by that point. Moses became CEO and judge while his brother became high priest, together leading the people through 40 years of preparation for getting their own land. Moses gets the credit, but clearly wouldn’t have had the confidence if he hadn’t had a confidante working shoulder to shoulder with him.

The older Disney

“If it hadn’t been for my big brother, I’d have been in jail several times for checks bouncing,” Walt Disney said in 1957. Roy was a banker, eight years older than Walt but in awe of Walt’s talent and imagination. He quit his job to follow Walt’s WHY, because he knew someone needed to guard against Walt’s tendency toward risk and neglecting business affairs. As one biographer put it, “Walt Disney dreamed, drew and imagined. Roy stayed in the shadow, forming an empire.” While Walt created Mickey Mouse, Roy started the distribution company and the merchandising business that made him so widely loved.

After recounting this powerful Disney collaboration in Start with Why, Simon Sinek concludes:

In nearly every case of a person or an organization that has gone on to inspire people and do great things, there exists this special partnership between WHY and HOW.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Herb Kelleher and Rollin King. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, who would follow up King’s inspiring speeches with the line, “let me tell you what that means for tomorrow morning.” So, let’s hear it for the HOW guy. WHY guys would be nothing without them.

What’s your WHY?

Six months ago, goosemedia suggested I read Start with Why, by Simon Sinek. It’s a book that analyzes the success of companies like Southwest Airlines and Apple and the success of leaders like Martin Luther King. All of them started with their WHY — the cause or reason for their existence — before figuring out their HOW or WHAT.

Let me use one of Sinek’s examples to illustrate his point. In the early parts of the 20th century, a small handful of companies dominated the railroad industry. They seemed invincible. But they defined themselves by WHAT they did rather than WHY. If they had defined themselves as being in the mass transportation business, Sinek says, those big railroad companies might own all the airlines today. Instead, someone else stole the opportunity while they became irrelevant. I was just reading last week that both United Airlines and Continental Airlines had their roots in postal transportation. I suspect that those early aviation companies articulated their WHY in terms of fast and reliable delivery, so they were able to easily make the jump to flying people instead of packages. I would argue that those two companies have now defined themselves by their WHAT, but I’m watching their potential merger with interest.

In contrast, take this statement from Colleen Barrett, former CEO of Southwest Airlines: “We’re a customer service company that just happens to fly airplanes.” The way Sinek puts it is: “Southwest was not built to be an airline. It was built to champion a cause. They just happened to use an airline to do it.”

I recently heard Wycliffe USA’s president observe with amusement that our partners view SIL, Wycliffe and The Seed Company as leaders in orality. Remarkable considering where we were only a few years ago. Our WHAT has long been printed Bibles. That’s what people picture when they hear “Bible translation.” But Wycliffe has a clear WHY: to give this generation access to God’s Word, and to do it because we desire God to be glorified among the nations and because the last, the lost and the least deserve just as much as we do to know the God who created them speaks their language. We’re also about the transformation that happens as a result of God’s Word. As long as we’re about WHY, then we’ll embrace new media and new methods quickly and effectively in our hunger to accomplish that purpose.

Do you know your WHY? Do you know it on an organizational level? Do you know it on a personal level?