By Scott Robbin
George O’Meara, the former Senior Vice President of Cisco Services for US & Canada, who grew the Services business from $800M to $6B in less than 10 years, discusses his new book and the importance of leadership.
[Scott Robbin] You have recently written a new book, Collaborative Leadership: Lessons from the Street to the Boardroom. What was your inspiration behind writing this book?
[George O’Meara] I have over 40 year of sales, business and leadership experience and wish I had a book like this when I first started my career. I wrote this book for leaders, especially sales leaders, who wanted to make a difference in their organizations. Those who want to leave a legacy of reshaping a company, of transforming an organization and moving it to a better place through bold leadership actions but don’t know where to start. The book is also for those leaders who have lost their way in the jungle of short-term tactics or who are steeped in the mire of control and command cultures. My ultimate goal for this book is to show leaders how to bridge the leadership gap through collaborative leadership transformation.
“Soft skills are not taught in a book, they need to be role modeled, role played and reinforced.”
In Collaborative Leadership, you argue that the biggest challenge businesses face today is the leadership gap. Can you elaborate on why you believe this is the biggest challenge for today’s businesses?
Many leaders fail to exercise key soft skills such as building trust, emotional intelligence, influence management and executive presence. When these skills fall into disuse they deteriorate and cease to function; they atrophy. As new leaders get promoted in organizations, they learn that these skills don’t matter because of the focus on short term results not leadership. Since they don’t see them modeled, they never learn them and, in turn, they fail to pass them on . . . hence the leadership gap. This is a massive challenge because business today now has multiple generations of leaders who have never been taught these soft skills. Soft skills are not taught in a book, they need to be role modeled, role played and reinforced, which for most of our leaders, will never be able to do.
You describe yourself as a salesperson by trade and a leader by calling. Why do you believe this is a powerful combination that leads to building a successful business?
In small and large business, just being a great leader is not enough. As my father used to say, “Life is one big sales call” and I firmly believe that you need the key skills taught within “the art and science of selling” in order to create, communicate and collaborate. It all boils down to establishing rapport, asking great questions and presenting solutions to match the needs and wants of your prospects and customers. This is especially true for CEO’s and Founders of start-up’s as they not only have to have a vision of the future, they need to be able to sell it to investors, employees and their customers / partners.
Can you further discuss why Command and Control (C&C) works in a relatively simple business environment, but is not sufficient as a business grows?
Many companies start out with a culture that rewards C&C. That’s because in a relatively simple business environment, C&C works very well. When there is just one person running a business, there is little need for communication or ensuring understanding. This person has a clear view of what they want to do, and there’s no reason to communicate it to anyone else. But as soon as we move up the complexity ladder to two people, communication and understanding becomes a necessity. This is where the two roads of corporate culture first diverge. On the one hand, there is a boss who tells the other person what to do. On the other, you can have partnering, where both have an equal say. Both can be equally successful at this level. But, again as we move upward on the complexity scale we reach a “tipping point”. To borrow for a moment from quantum physics theory, all systems tend toward chaos and it takes energy to maintain structure. Simply put, as the business environment increases in complexity it becomes increasingly difficult for the leader to create an end-to-end plan in every part for every organization. Thus, it is impossible for the leader to ensure everyone understands the plan and executes to the plan. And sheer force of personality, call it leadership charisma or whatever, is not enough to sustain the same level of success in the face of increasing business complexity.
You discuss from personal experience that you built an $800M business into a $6B business. What would you attribute to your success?
Three key factors have attributed to my success. I am a proud mid-westerner which as anyone from the Midwest knows means that you have a strong work ethic. Also I have been lucky to have been mentored and coached by some great leaders. Lastly, I hire the best people and then invest and develop them to be the best they can be. I have always believed that players can win the ball game—and coaches can lose them.
George O’Meara grew up on the north side of Chicago in the late 60’s. The lessons he learned about leadership started there and continued throughout his colorful career. A salesperson by trade and a leader by calling, George’s experience spans a broad range of technologies and solution services. George is a former Senior Vice President of Cisco Services for US & Canada where he grew the Services business from $800M to $6B in less than 10 years. He holds a B.S. degree in marketing from Northern Illinois University, where he played middle linebacker in Division 1 football. (Go Huskies!)
George believes the lessons of leadership are applicable both in the workplace and in the home. He counts as his greatest treasures in life his lovely wife, Barbara, his daughter, two sons, and his grandchildren.