If leaders cannot encourage and support open debate—
even when it questions the direction of the bus—maybe they should get off the bus.
In his best seller, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, Jim Collins put forth a metaphor that constantly pops up in the literature, business meetings, and management circles. Unfortunately, it seems to be misrepresented at best or manipulated at worst.
Collins found that great companies did not start with a grand new vision and strategy.
We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus…
Every time I have heard someone use this bus reference, it has been in the context that the “right people” dutifully sit in their seats and go where the bus takes them. In corporate speak it is a nice way to tell people to be a “team player” and “stay on point.” To do otherwise would be non-collaborative and violate the interests of the “stakeholders.”
There are, however, two more elements to this bus formula that seem to be conveniently ignored:
…and the right people in the right seats—and then they figured out where to drive it. (13)
This does not square with the wrong-headed approach of weak managers who say “get on my bus, sit in the seat I tell you to, and stay put while I drive the bus. Stay behind the yellow line. And whatever you do, please do not talk to the driver!” If you got talented people on the bus, why in God’s name are you not listening to them?
Video recommendation for the week:
Jim Collins speaks about getting the right people on the bus and the right people off the bus.
The weak managers live by the clipboard. They do little more than what is needed to check off their bureaucratic to-do lists. They make a career of saying “No!” or “Let’s wait and see.” The poor managers do little more than kick issues down the road; they fear making a decision that might “not work.” And most of all they would never think of telling their supervisors (or their own egos) that the bus is going in the wrong direction. To do so, in their minds, would get them thrown under the bus.
And the bus keeps picking up speed as it makes one wrong turn after another. No one says anything; there is no regrouping. Feedback is considered ill-advised—and any criticism gets that thinker labeled as a non-team player who has failed to stay on point. He/she needs to be silenced. And everyone stays quietly in their seats, watching the bus gather speed and heading for the cliff.
Does that sound like leadership to you?
Please, if you are on one of those buses, speak up or get off. The consequences of not speaking up can be disastrous for you, the bus, and its other riders. Collins quoted a leader who inherited such a corporate culture. “I came away quite distressed from my first couple of management meetings. Not only couldn’t I get conflict, I couldn’t even get comment. They were all waiting to see which way the wind blew.” (43)
The great leaders want a non-scripted conversation—even if it might change the direction of the bus. They don’t shut down debate—they encourage it. If they truly believe they have “A” team members on the bus, then the leaders want to hear what they have to say. If you shut these valuable assets down and ignore their input over and over, don’t be surprised when they push back or head for the door to work for a competitor.
So, a message to the leaders who find comfort (and manipulation) in the bus metaphor: If you cannot encourage and support open debate—even when it questions the direction of the bus—then maybe, at the least, you are in the wrong seat on that bus. Or maybe you should just pull the cord and get off the bus so it can have a more productive journey.
Choose well. Live well. Be well—and H.T.R.B. as needed!
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. Please share it (and any of the archived posts on this site) with friends and colleagues. You also can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. If you get a chance, visit my Facebook page and join in–or start–a conversation (www.facebook.com/stevepiscitelli). If you have suggestions for future posts, leave a comment.
Make it a wonderful week!
(c) 2013. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.