"The best leaders hire over their head every time...they sit in a group at a team meeting and everybody in every position on that team is better than them. And they relish that moment where they look across the table an they say, 'Everyone at this table is so much better than me. I'm pumped; I'm a helluva leader.'" That's SAP's iconic leader and co-CEO Bill McDermott waxing on leadership at World Business Forum 2010 in New York City. Watch the video below; you can't help but get pumped yourself and want to work for the guy, or someone like him or, if you are a leader, to mimic his enthusiasm.
McDermott says his philosophy of leadership is premised on two foundations:
- You need a compelling vision for your business--what is the purpose of your business? Why do you matter in this world, and why should people care?
- Put people first and build great teams.
The leader who can't answer the first questions probably can't execute on team building and, well, then why be there? Understanding the business is more than simply knowing what it does and how it works--it's the understanding of why the business matters in the world, to your customers, to society and to you. The questions can be answered for Fortune 500 companies and mom and pop stores alike.
Anyone who has worked with a leader who doesn't understand fundamentally the purpose of the business knows that there is generally also a people problem. And managers know how disheartening it is to have leader who doesn't understand the business because they generally cannot revel in the brilliance of their teams. These are the leaders who would, for some reason, prefer to show up their managers and rank and file for the sake of their own egos. No matter how good managers and staff are, under that regime, they will eventually lose focus and move on or, worse, end up just going through the motions, marking time until they are pushed out. That leadership style reveals a fundamental insecurity in a leader, and as McDermott says, "Show me a leader that's insecure, and I'll show you a bad leader."
If you consider the great business leaders of any era, you know that they understand why the business they are in exists, and believe in it passionately. And because of that, they revel in their people. The one follows from the other like night and day. If something seems missing in your business, start with McDermott's first questions--you might find the answers make all the difference in leading you to be inspired by your people, who will no doubt reward you in turn with their best.