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The leader who didn't play well with others

Stephen Balzac | June 3, 2014
If a leader doesn't let anyone else shine, no one will engage.

Once upon a time, for that is how these stories always begin, there was a brilliant engineer. He could come up with all sorts of creative ideas in a flash. Because of this, he decided to start a company. His company did reasonably well, although it did have some problems. One of the big problems was that this brilliant engineer, now a brilliant CEO, was not always all that skilled at playing well with others. He always had the best answers to all the technical challenges the company was facing.

Now, to be fair, his answers really were the best, at least according to some standards. On a technical level, he understood the technology of his business extremely well. His solutions were always technically brilliant. And that is where the problem arose.

One day, an engineer in the company was charged with developing a solution to a particularly vexing problem. This engineer went off and studied the problem. He worked hard at the problem. On the appointed day and hour, he presented his solution. Everyone loved the solution except, sadly, for the brilliant CEO. He knew the technology like no one else, and he immediately saw A Better Way. The CEO proceeded to demolish the engineer's solution. Indeed, he reduced it to metaphorical rubble. If the engineer's idea had been a village in Eastern Europe, it would have looked as if the Golden Horde had just swept through, leaving no stone standing upon another stone nor any blade of grass unplucked.

And then the brilliant CEO explained how it could have been done better. Truly, it is said by some, he waxed poetic in his analysis of what to do and how to do it. And all (or at least all those who understood what he was talking about) agreed his analysis was brilliant.

There was but one tiny problem: When it came time to implement the brilliant CEO's brilliant idea, there was no enthusiasm, no engagement. None felt they had a stake in the outcome. Not a soul among them dared to make suggestions, even though the most brilliant ideas invariably need modification as they are implemented. The engineer who had been eviscerated by the brilliant CEO never again volunteered to lead a project and never offered another idea for consideration. Others, who had witnessed the evisceration though they had not personally felt its bitter sting, developed a similar attitude.

In the end, the brilliant CEO's brilliant plan languished. With no one on the implementation team to champion it, the idea remained mostly just that, an idea. The company was left with nothing. Rather than a functional idea and a staff of loyal engineers motivated and enthusiastic about carrying it out, the company was left with no plan at all. An imperfect plan — well, that can always be improved. But no plan at all? That can be a bit of a problem.


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