Shawn Parr: Don’t Let The Inside Enemy Dictate Your Outside Appearance

A symptom of size in large organizations is the enemy on the inside, manifested as leadership infighting, politicking and a lack of genuine teamwork.

I have the privilege of working with a diverse range of leadership teams at both multibillion dollar corporations and passionate, early-stage startups. As a strategic guide I work closely with senior executives around brand, innovation and cultural transformation, operating more like a big brother to the founders of startups. I love the scrappy can-do attitude of early-stage companies—simply walk through the doors and the energy is infectious. Their optimism, agility and ingenuity to create something special and new to the world keeps them hyper-focused. Invariably everything is being rapidly prototyped and refined with the latest round of learnings. There is a competitor to beat and an incumbent technology to displace, so the focus is outward-facing with a closely connected team running to cross a milestone for funding or in a fight for survival. The startup mentality focuses the mind, challenges the body and can be good for the soul. Coming from England where fiscal accomplishments are measured in the hundred millions, multibillion dollar corporations still blow me away. The sheer scale and resources are inconceivable and I still get a thrill walking into the reception of a multinational company because of the potential for positive change that they can create. Size has the obvious benefits of scale, infrastructure, intellectual and financial capital, depth of resources and capabilities, and sustainability. Nothing surprises me in terms of what a large organization’s capabilities are. But one of the symptoms of size that I find continuously disappointing is the enemy on the inside–and it often manifests itself at the top with leadership in fighting, politicking and a lack of genuine teamwork. If you’re a leader of a large organization, I guarantee you will find significant opportunities for growth performance optimization and cultural transformation by taking a good honest look on the inside–how you function as a company and where you need to change. With that information, you can confidently direct your focus and efforts on what’s important on the outside. Courageous leaders lead  Leaders who spend their time people pleasing, positioning and politicking create cultures that don’t move corporations or departments to realize their full potential. It takes a courageous leader to set a vision and challenge the team to define a path, stay the course and not get distracted by the small stuff. A clear vision with a compelling future state focuses your entire team on a destination they can all take pride in building together. Put purpose before pride and values before greed  When profits come before purpose, personal pride usually overshadows shared values and you can clearly see the trail of dysfunction and destruction. Inside many large organizations, greed and pride are the result of short-term, results-driven incentive schemes that fail to align individual leaders around a brand’s greater purpose and operating principles. Train as a leadership team so you can play like a team Just like a great soccer team trains together so they can cumulatively play to win, a great executive team spends time getting to know each other. They are coached, encouraged and challenged to collaborate together. There are no sarcastic comments when another member of the team speaks. There are no meetings before the meeting. Come together, play together and strive for a common goal. Learn to play like a team and heed the wise words of Henry Ford, “Coming together is the start. Staying together is progress. Working together is success.”

Shawn Parr is the Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Sony, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, Kashi, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND.

[Image: Flickr user Edward Li]

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