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"Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work." While there are many key elements that define a great company, such as hierarchy and setting defined goals, leadership is also an important installment in the things that set the foundation of a successful business. Like many things in life, there are great companies, and there are many more not so great companies. Opinions vary on what the key elements of building and maintaining a great corporate culture are. The truth is that there are thousands upon thousands of contributing factors to the achievement of a strong institution. Many of these are both technical and subject to the time and demographic they are part of. The following key elements are more than just mechanical or subjective. They are the timeless and classic aspects to a great company. True success is the realization of all of them, as no one particular aspect can overwhelm the collective process achieved through these things that define a great company.
"Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership."
Strong and weak are the only types of leadership. There is no middle ground. A leader is either moving the company forward or backward. Stagnation is only a brief pause before a reversal or continued momentum. A leader’s success is often relative to the amount of time given to execute his or her strategy.
During the above quoted tour in Vietnam, Colin Powell was injured in a helicopter crash. Despite his injury, he managed to rescue his comrades from the burning helicopter, for which he was awarded the Soldier's Medal. In all, Powell has received 11 military decorations, including the Legion of Merit.
"An organization, no matter how well designed, is only as good as the people who live and work in it."
Strong hierarchies and transparent reporting lines are essentials for a company to execute a scalable strategy. The key individuals that make up the hierarchical structure are essential to communicating, messaging, and implementing. This second tier of management is mandated to do what ever is needed to protect the interests of the company. There is always a risk that this structure leads to political ambition and misinformation, often manifested in telling leaders what they think they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. While hierarchy may not always inspire creativity, it allows it to cultivate in a scalable environment.
"Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment."
Ambiguity destroys communication and decays the very foundation of a company. The direction of a company must be clearly defined and unbiased. A company must not only define where it is going, but how each individual will help it achieve their goals.
Ambiguity complicates decision making. Ambiguity creates uncertainty and stress. However, to be successful in business today you need to be good at dealing with ambiguity. It is a disease that infects corporate culture and is cured through discipline, consistency, and clear communication.
Reward and Punishment
"You get a culture of entrepreneurship after you have successfully changed the accountability system so that people can use a better process. Process drives culture, not the other way around, so you can't just change the culture, you have to change the system."
Often referred to as accountability, a reward and punishment system is both incentive and deterrent. The reward part is relatively simple as primarily there are three types of reward:
- Moral support or verbal praise
The punishment is more complex, as it must serve as a deterrent and simultaneously function as a form of tuition to strengthen the individual.
Having experienced success and failure in multiple high-tech startups, business guru Eric Ries began to develop a methodology based on select management principles to help startups succeed. His lean startup philosophy originated from a Japanese concept of lean manufacturing, which increases value-creating practices and eliminate wasteful practices. Since production costs and speeds are markedly reduced when producing and distributing digital goods as compared with their physical counterparts, Ries applied the lean manufacturing methodology and accountability strategy to web-based technology.
"Ninety percent of selling is conviction, and 10 per cent is persuasion."
More than having faith, a successful organization must believe together. They must believe in a defined victory, what it looks like and what it feels like. This belief must be unwavering. The defined goal must be clear and unambiguous such as a market position, stock price, or revenue totals. Employees and partners must believe that together victory is achievable.
"It's always been a great survival value for people to believe they belong to a superior tribe."
Not quite family and not quite friends, but uniquely bound together, a successful company may feel something like a tribe. In a real family, parents can’t fire their children. Try to imagine disowning your child for poor performance. In contrast to a family, a tribe has a specific mission, survival and prosperity. Its members come together to accomplish that mission. While members of a tribe may share familial qualities, it is as much a utilitarian relationship as it is an emotional one that connects them.
E. O. Wilson used sociobiology and evolutionary principles to explain the behavior of the social insects and then to understand the social behavior of other animals, including humans, thus established sociobiology as a new scientific field. He argued that all animal behavior, including that of humans, is the product of heredity, environmental stimuli, and past experiences. In a great company these experiences and real time stimuli are exponential.
Open Office Environment
"Really, the only thing that makes sense is to strive for greater collective enlightenment."
The cubicle, like cable TV, is obsolete. Undefined space in an essential part of collective intelligence. The collaboration, collective efforts, and competition of many individuals is amplified in the right setting. The study of collective intelligence by the sociobiology community has revolutionized corporate culture in many of the greatest companies in the world, including Google, Apple, and Amazon.
Elon Musk said, "The unfortunate reality is electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn't burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales,." Collective intelligence and collaboration in the electric car space is a cornerstone of Musk’s company.
"These people, whose origins lay in the salaried middle class and the upper grades of the working class, had been shaped and brought together by the barren world of monopoly industry and centralized government."
The three essential qualities of a successful employee are
- Abstract thinking
- Work ethic
Rapid elimination of individuals deemed to be disruptive, unproductive, or significantly deficient in any of the three essential qualities is a key element of a great company. Clarity on potential responsibility and compensation for key employees is generally an organic process in a corporate meritocracy.
Modernism dislikes all types of elitism, except for meritocracy. When elite status is merited, according to this view, it is a good thing. In such a society, our elites are: “…made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians.” This was written by George Orwell in his description of Big Brother’s society in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."
As noted by Forbes Magazine, “The Best companies are firing with live ammo.” There is no reward without risk, and the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Great companies are nor marred in the past, but rather test the boundaries of the future. The stakes need to make the journey worth it for the next generation of ambitious entrepreneurs. The key individuals in the company must be motivated and have the confidence to take risks and bring out the best in the organization.
In essence, the above quote by T. S. Elliot echoes the "carpe diem" sentiment found in other great idioms and expressions from literature. Risk is inherent to gain, to put this another way. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," another saying goes, and Eliot's quote says the same thing more eloquently. Like other great poets, Eliot is encouraging readers to test limits and boundaries. Today business leaders must inspire that same sentiment to employees.
"Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver."
This is not the money you want but the money you need to make the money you want. The money is important to light the fires and maybe fan the flames of a motivated company, but it should always be viewed as a means to an end, and not the end itself. Money may mean strength but the journey defines the success.
Ayn Rand founded a new philosophy through her books and essays called Objectivism. It is a philosophy that celebrates the power and potential of the individual, and reveals the principles necessary for developing a flourishing as one. She supported rational and ethical egoism, and rejected altruism. She supported laissez-faire capitalism, which she defined as the system based on recognizing individual rights. Love her or hate her, she clearly understood, perhaps more than any other contemporary philosopher that money.