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Are you just being a leader?

The turnover in the Fortune 500 list is well known.

One specific data which I remember was that only 13% of the companies which were there in the list in 1955 were still there in the list in 2011. I don't know whether that 13% has shrunk further in 2014.

What make organizations last? Is it sheer luck that they happened to be in the hands of very capable leaders? End of the day, an organization is just a concept - it exists in records and in the assets it owns and produces - what gives them life is the people. So, it's actually quite surprising that they usually outlive and outlast the people who set them up in the first place. They almost develop a soul of their own - a collective consciousness which is more than the sum total of the people working in them. 90% of the people working in IBM today were not even born in 1955. It's almost as if IBM, the organization, attracted them and hired them to grow and sustain itself.
We need institutions and organizations which last. We need them to withstand the test of time. We need them to outlast and outlive many times over the people who set them up in the first place. We need them so that they provide the eco-system for people to constructively contribute, compete, collaborate and grow - for their own and collective good.

If you delve deeper you'll realize that nations and states are also similar entities. Most of them outlive the people who establish them. What keeps them going?

While multiple books have been written on successful and great companies, the most comprehensive and authoritative being Jim Collins' 'Built to Last', the question I have for myself and for you is - what actions does it translate into, at an individual level?

These are 2 fundamentally different asks.

One is to lead a group of people towards a goal.

Other is to set up an organization which does exactly that - not once but forever, literally. The goal will change, people will change but the outcome will still be met.

In your own capacity today - ask yourself this question - which one of the above two are you doing?

They are very different things.

When we're leading, the focus is on the goal which is well defined and has a finite target date. The focus is on how to utilize whatever resources we have to achieve that goal. Attention is paid to ensure that communication is crisp and clear, to ensure that the different players collaborate effectively and efficiently. Once the goal is achieved, your mission is complete.

However, in the same context, what will you do if you're asked to build a team which drives successful initiatives? In other words you have to build a 'initiatives factory', which takes a project charter at one end and delivers the project successfully at the other end. Every initiative will have a different goal, different resources at disposal, different challenges and yet, you want the same outcome - successful initatives.

As we grow in our jobs and careers, we gradually move to positions where we're expected to do more than just lead people or accomplish outcomes. We need to establish institutional capabilities. If you're heading a department or running a large program - ask yourself the question - will that department or program be able to sustain without you? Will you be leaving it stronger and more institutionally capable to accomplish its outcomes than what it was before you took over? Will you, in your own small humble way, add another brick in its foundation so that it can withstand that one more storm?

In my view, lasting organizations have somehow inculcated this institutional capability building skill in its people. People are somehow incentivized just not to lead but to also prepare the led to lead others. And they do that in multiple ways - first and foremost by sharing, by codifying their knowledge and experience, by institutionalizing the successful meta processes, by empowering teams to take decisions, by providing space for analyzable failures and most importantly, by being very brutal about feedback and facts.

So, the question - are you just leading or also preparing the led to lead? 

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More Stories By Sujoy Sen

Sujoy is a TOGAF Certified Enterprise Architect, a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt and Manager of Organizational Excellence from American Society for Quality, a PMP, a CISA, an Agile Coach, a Devops Evangelist and lately, a Digital enthusiast. With over 20 years of professional experience now, he has led multiple consulting engagements with Fortune 500 customers across the globe. He has a Masters Degree in Quality Management and a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering. He is based out of New Jersey.

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