On December 15th 2011 George O’Meara, Cisco Systems senior vice president of customer advocacy for the United States and Canada, spoke to the Chief Information Officer Leadership Forum in New York. The purpose of this talk was to address three mistake behaviors common to business leaders, which are symptomatic of the larger problem of leadership gaps. According to O’Meara, these gaps are being created due to burning platforms that are not receiving due attention.
O’Meara described the first of these behaviors, which he referred to as “trying to mold the future based on the past.” To illustrate why this behavior is problematic, O’Meara drew inspiration from the CEO of Cisco Systems, John Chambers. O’Meara described Chambers as something of a visionary: “He was predicting that we had a data network and a voice network that you could run both on one conversion network.” Working off of this prediction, Chambers bought up companies and did well until the Dotcom bubble burst in 2001, which led to 4,000 layoffs within the company. After this, Chambers wanted to proceed with the model which led to success before, only to find that it was no longer effective. This example was meant to illustrate that, in order to be successful, one must not build a future based on the past, but build a future based on the future.
From this, O’Meara detailed what he considers to be the second troublesome behavior he sees in business leaders, which he referred to as “trying to execute against a vision of the future”. In attempting to expose the flaw in this line of thinking, O’Meara quoted from “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu: “Tactics without strategy is the sound you hear before defeat.” According to O’Meara, strategy provides the focus necessary to execute a vision. This is something that O’Meara learned from John Chambers, who required a structure of vision, strategy, and execution for each presentation given.
The final behavior which O’Meara believes to be troublesome is the tendency for business leaders to opt for a command and control approach to management. Though this sort of managerial style has proved successful in the past, it is O’Meara’s view that the command and control approach is not appropriate in all situations, and that teamwork is sometimes necessary in order to be successful. He also believes that command and control tends to lack the sense of structure he spoke of earlier, as under this managerial style, employees tend to know only the “how” and not the “why” of a given situation.
Having detailed the three main problems affecting business leaders, O’Meara went on to discuss the leadership gap, and how it may be closed. O’Meara stated that in order to make the change necessary in your organization to accomplish this, it is the business leader that must change. “If it doesn’t start with you first, it’s not going to happen in the organization. It’s do as I do, not as I say.”
Ironically, O’Meara went on to say that that one of the ways to fill a leadership gap is to create one. The true leaders in your organization, he believes, will be the ones to change in order to fill the gap. This leads into O’Meara’s personal definition of leadership, which he stated as simply “making yourself and everyone around you better.”