Is a Leader a Solo Act?

alone

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published an article on Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP. The article profiled McDermott’s rise within SAP and the fact that this German company will now be at the hands of an American CEO for the first time in its history.

McDermott has placed his beliefs front and center, stating that SAP must move quickly and innovate. “There is no speed limit on innovation” McDermott told a crowd at a recent event. But herein lies a fundamental problem that challenges  the “believability” of that statement. Can innovation happen through the efforts of one person alone or does innovation require a team?

Today’s most admired companies are those that innovate. Companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, and ExxonMobil are all at the forefront of their respective industries due to constant innovation. Additionally, their ability to innovate is often credited to their employees and the teams they have assembled to drive some of the best innovations and inventions of our times. Yet McDermott seems to have chosen a “go it alone” strategy having terminated most of SAP’s previous leaders of innovation.

SAP’s advisory board seems to be in full support of Mr. McDermott and has done nothing less than support him in his me, myself, and I strategy. But will it work? Here are 3 areas where McDermott’s strategy may go awry:

1. Collaboration breeds innovation – even the late, great, Steve Jobs saw the benefits of team collaboration when launching the first iPod as referenced in the book Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney. Teams were assembled to take a raw idea and bring it to life. Contrary to popular belief, Apple’s success wasn’t Steve Jobs alone.
2. Checks and balance. Not having a #1 or #2 on your team can lead to beliefs of invincibility and disillusionment. Every leader needs a strong next-in-line. Believing that only you have all the answers or ideas is very risky. Beyond the benefit to the business, having the right #2 will stretch and challenge the leader to explore options he or she might have otherwise dismissed.
3. Competitive Intelligence. Much like the reasons for #2 above, it’s highly unlikely for one person to be “in-the-know” on all things at all times. I rely on my team as a unit to keep us all up to speed on current and trending market conditions. Having multiple inputs from different folks minimizes bias and assumptions.

So will SAP’s strategy work? Time will tell.

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