So You want to be a Star

kinnon —  April 16, 2005 — Leave a comment

Barry Oshry at Seeing System Blog triggered this post.

We live in a culture that worships stars. Check-out lines are filled with dead tree spam on the latest exploits of Brad, Jen, Julia, Michael, Angelina and the rest of the Hollywood Interrupted crew. There is good money to be made in feeding the hunger of the idol-crazed.

Too many organizations are infected by the same disease. It’s easier to rely on the short term exploits of the star player/manager/leader than it is to build a healthy and functioning organization that can survive and even thrive when that player/manager/leader is gone.

Oshry sites the example of Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers. Shaq leaves the three times successive championship team – and the Lakers are toast. Ask your self this question, if you are a leader – What would happen to my organization if I left? And if you’re part of an organization, ask this question – What would happen if our leader (or star manager) left?

If the answer to either question is that the organization would falter or even fail, then your organization is not (to use Jim Collins again), Built to Last. Collins makes this statement from his book Good to Great;

There is perhaps no more corrosive trend to the health of our organizations than the rise of the celebrity CEO, the rock-star leader whose deepest ambition is first and foremost self-centric.

He uses the terminology of the best leaders being Level 5 leaders and explains thus;

The term “Level 5” refers to a five-level hierarchy. Level 1 relates to individual capability, Level 2 to team skills, Level 3 to managerial competence, and Level 4 to leadership as traditionally conceived. Level 5 leaders possess the skills of levels 1 to 4 but also have an “extra dimension”: a paradoxical blend of personal humility (“I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job”) and professional will (“sell the mills”). They are somewhat self-effacing individuals who deflect adulation, yet who have an almost stoic resolve to do absolutely whatever it takes to make the company great, channeling their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and its greatness, not for themselves.

If you’re involved with an organization that relies on a star leader, then take a good look around. Are there men and women who have been properly prepared to step into the leadership role – if the leader steps down or becomes incapacitated? Will the organization continue to grow under their leadership?

In most star-driven organizations, this will not be the case. When the star leaves, those left behind will frantically search for another star to shine upon them from the "firmament." And these organizations will suffer the fate of the Shaq-less Lakers.




A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

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