S+B: Great storytellers are often thought of as charismatic. But charisma is out of fashion these days. Both Jim Collins, in Good to Great, and Rakesh Khurana, in his new book, Searching for a Corporate Savior, say that companies have gone wrong by placing too much emphasis on finding charismatic CEOs. Their research indicates that humility may be a more valuable character trait.
TICHY: I think we’ve held up charisma as a stereotype, and we’ve kind of loaded on it the notion that it means arrogant, out of touch. We need to be more sophisticated about this. Gandhi was charismatic. Too many people are confusing charisma with autocrat, fat cat. So I think we have to be a little more sophisticated when we hold up or tear down these stereotypes. Whether we call it charisma or not, a leader cannot be self-effacing to the point of being wimpy. You’ve got to take “humble” with a grain of salt. Effective leaders are willing to use power and authority, but they’re doing it in the service of the collective good, as opposed to self-aggrandizement.
S+B: In their book Geeks and Geezers, Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas say that good leaders are really shaped by a transformative event, a fundamental part of their personal narrative, which they call “the crucible.” That made me wonder whether baby boom managers aren’t fundamentally disadvantaged relative to older ones because our crucibles haven’t been that serious.
TICHY: When compared with World War II.
S+B: Compared with World War II and the Depression.
TICHY: Generationally, we had a little bit with Vietnam and the civil rights movement. But Vietnam was so funky — to this day I don’t know how to sort it out. It’s a good point. I don’t know. Warren and I are doing a book together that may allow us to address some of this. It’s on leadership judgment calls, making the gut calls. I want to interview politicians, military leaders, and business leaders.
S+B: Taken together, all these principles — creating a teachable point of view, learning how to communicate, building interactive teaching into major corporate processes — create, in your words, a “virtuous teaching cycle pipeline.”
TICHY: The VTC pipeline means identifying the key developmental stages people go through in your organization, and understanding what you can do to maximize the learning/teaching, with high-impact virtuous teaching opportunities, at each level. The best practice I could find was Trilogy Software.
S+B: The story you tell in the book about Trilogy Software’s leadership “boot camp” for new hires concerned me a bit. There seemed to be “drinking the Kool-Aid” elements working there. For example, you tell one story about new recruits essentially being goaded into risking $2,000 on a roulette wheel bet that only one of them would win. I saw that as mindless risk taking — a pure gamble, with nothing that seemed relevant to team building.
TICHY: It sits right on the edge. CEO Joe Liemandt’s point of view on that would be, look, logically these recruits have been trained as computer engineers, so they know damn well what the odds are. It really psychologically forces them to face into it. And, by the way, the winner can give the money back to his or her colleagues, and some of them do. It leads to all kinds of interesting self-reflection.
S+B: Has Trilogy done well?
TICHY: Yes. Some of it is serendipity. The advice Liemandt got from Bill Gates 12 years ago when he was starting the company was, “If you want to build a great company, get the hell out of Silicon Valley.” And secondly, Gates said, “I went public too soon. Stay private as long as you can.” So Liemandt went to Austin, and he delayed going public, and good for him — because had he gone public, he’d be struggling like a lot of the others. He’s actually doing quite well. He’s changed the business model to make it more customer-centric. He’s measuring it. And he’ll do okay.