Leadership is not a one man job

“…There is no such thing as the perfect leader… In any great leadership team you find at least four personalities, and you never find all four in a single person… You need a strategist or visionary, who sets the goals for where the organization needs to go… You have to have the classic manager – somebody who takes care of the organization, making sure that everybody knows what they need to do, that tasks are broken up into manageable action… You need a champion for the customer to translate your product into something that customers are going to pay for, who empathizes with and understands how customers will see it. … Lastly, you need the enforcer, who says “We’ve stared at this issue enough. We’re going to make a decision and deal with whatever conflict we have. … You very rarely find more than two of those personalities in one person.”
– Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware interviewed in the NY Times, Sun. 10/03/10 (Copied From Under The Buzz)

I received this quote in an article sent by one of our investors. It really resonated with me for two reasons. First, it articulates four core strengths that are needed to lead organizations. I think the distinctions are insightful and are critical functions of leadership. Second, it makes explicit mention that these are never found in one person. This is the point I would like to dwell on.

Too often we want our leaders to be perfect — to be the sum of all the wisdom captured about leadership. This is not only unrealistic, it leads to mediocrity. A leader without clear strengths and weaknesses tends to just be average in everything. We certainly don’t need any more mediocre leaders. We need leaders that have edges because it enables them to have incredible strengths, even if it reveals blinds spots.

Because of this we must look to leadership as coming from a core team and not from one person; a team whose strengths can complement one another. This requires that the team have a shared vision and shared goals. They rely on the strengths of one another to lead the company in the direction they should go.

This does not mean that there is no hierarchy of authority; there needs to be one person who bears the responsibility of making the final decision. It does mean, however, that they need to surround themselves with others whose strengths differ from their own. Certainly not an easy thing to do, but the only way to succeed.

After all, leadership is not about the one but the many.






3 responses to “Leadership is not a one man job”

  1. David Avatar

    Oh wise one, I wonder which roles resonate with your personal experience. Could you unpack this a bit? What are your strengths (sure), and what have you witnessed in others. Stories baby, stories. At WebTV we were way too heavy on the Strategist/Visionary, and too light on the Classic Manager, and completely lacking the Enforcer. Personally, I lean toward the Customer Advocate when it comes to my clients, and for my own project I lead with a Vision and yearn for an avid Enforcer.

    This reminds me of a lecture by the Art Historian Larry Bakke, who stated that all successful families portrayed in the media contained four roles: The Father Visionary, The Mother Caretaker, The Quiet Technical Son, and the Comic. His examples were Star Trek (Kirk, Bones, Spock, and Chekov), Bonanza (Pa, Hoss, Adam, and Little Joe), and most spectacularly The Beetles (John, Paul, George and Ringo) respectively. I wonder if Paul Maritz’s model fits, albeit loosely.

    Father = Visionary
    Mother = Classic Manager
    Technical Son = Enforcer
    Champion for the Customer = (Marginalized) Comic

    Yes! At least in Silicon Valley, that’s been my experience.

  2. Gary Delp Avatar
    Gary Delp

    I shared this with a friend who replied that she saw something similar a couple years ago that actually used 12 separate skills and supported this with the skills of the 12 disciples Jesus chose. It was based on the skills a ministry needs and also emphasized that someone like John, the “love” disciple had very few of what we would call “leadership” skills but was absolutely imperative to helping the others remember to be compassionate. Without that, Jesus would not have had the same ministry.


  3. Marcelo ponpon Avatar
    Marcelo ponpon

    Yes, indeed! We need leaders that have the vision and goal to achieve, for the organization to develop and grow!

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