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Why great leaders beat super managers every time

Consider Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and Semco's Ricardo Semler

Chuck Blakeman //January 11, 2016//

Why great leaders beat super managers every time

Consider Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and Semco's Ricardo Semler

Chuck Blakeman //January 11, 2016//

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer created shock waves throughout the tech world when she dictated that "work from home" was no longer permitted. She summarily herded everyone back into the Office Day Care Center to be closely supervised like children. A few years earlier, a large multi-national company headquartered in Brazil named Semco threw a party for their leader, Ricardo Semler, to commemorate his 10th anniversary of not making a decision.

Managing to the Worst vs. Expecting the Best

LCD management (lowest common denominator) asks, "What's the most incompetent or laziest thing somebody could do?", and then creates an environment to make it hard to get away with it. In contrast, HCD Leadership asks, "If given a clear vision, what is the best possible thing people could do without being managed?" HCD leaders then create the kind of environment that will attract self-motivated, self-managed achievers. Both of them are self-fulfilling prophecies.

LCD managers create an environment where people will live down to our worst expectations of them. HCD leaders understand that the art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader should make.

Ricardo Semler is perhaps the best, low-profile CEO leader in business today. Mayer is a high-profile CEO manager, using personal superpowers to hold everything together–for now. As a result, the futures of Yahoo and Semco are going in dramatically different directions.

Centralized Decision-making vs. Everyone is Capable

LCD managers assume they are the most motivated, qualified, committed, invested and experienced. With all those superstar qualities, it would be foolish to have others making decisions. That's why they are paid the big bucks. Mayer is infamous for regularly having a few dozen people waiting outside her office for hours, as she solves problems and makes decisions for them one at a time.

HCD leadership believes most people are inherently motivated, qualified, committed and invested, and that they make better decisions than someone in a hierarchy. Semler doesn't make decisions anymore because decisions are made where they will be lived out. Stakeholders throughout the company are responsible for Semco entering a variety of industries and growing dramatically year after year, from $4 million 29 years ago to more than $1billion today. As an HCD leader, instead of making decisions others can make, Semler is free to ask questions, cast vision, and work with others to build the future of the company.

Superpowers vs. Delegation

Mayer is a super-manager–which allows her to get away with a lot in the short-term. But it is not sustainable. When she goes, the energy goes. She has entrenched herself in decision-making, making her nearly indispensable. While at Google, Mayer pulled 250 all-nighters in five years and held up to 70 meetings a week. She sleeps four hours a night. In contrast, Semler trained others to make decisions. There are now six co-CEOs who rotate leadership every six months, allowing Semler to function at the highest levels of leadership and not make decisions. As with any great leader, he has worked hard to get out of the way. He is fully dispensable, while nobody could replace Mayer.

The Results Are In

Semco gets hundreds of unsolicited resumes every month, and no one leaves. In the worst 10-year recession in Brazil's history, revenues grew 600 percent, profits were up 500 percent and productivity rose 700 percent. Innovative Stakeholders have taken them into profitable industries they could have never dreamed of entering, and they continue to grow exponentially. And unlike Yahoo, Semco hasn't told people how or where to work for more than three decades.

LCD management may get quick, short-term results, but Yahoo's future will never look like Semco's–it's too reliant on a very high-profile, LCD superhuman manager. Very impressive in the short-term, but very old school.