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Right Person, Right Role, Right Time
Does this also apply to a leader’s personality?
I have long believed that there is a right person for a particular role at a particular time based on the person’s competencies, skills, and experience. For example, an early stage startup needs a leader who is risk tolerant, able to pivot, and not afraid to fail. If someone who doesn’t display those competencies is placed into that role, they are going to struggle and likely fail. Having consulted with hundreds of startup tech companies going through hypergrowth, I have seen how companies can outgrow leaders. Someone who was great as a “hands on keyboard” engineering leader becomes overwhelmed when they begin hiring multiple teams of engineers and this person can no longer be deeply involved in all of the technical decisions. This is when the other co-founders or board begin looking for a new tech leader to help take them to the next stage. This doesn’t mean the person isn’t a great leader, rather they just need to be in the right role for the right time of the company’s growth cycle. I wrote a little about this in my post on frameworks in that each of us are drawn to a particular stage of a company (explore, expand, extract). Given this notion that the company’s phase of growth dictates who would be best suited for a particular role, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a person’s competencies, behaviors, and even personality impact the company’s culture and ultimately performance. If we leave the early stage leader, who wants to personally code review every pull request, as the senior engineering lead, we’re going to stifle the company's growth.
A recent article from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business summarizes research on how a CEO’s personality impacts their company’s culture. This is based on the research of Charles O’Reilly, a professor of organizational behavior, in which he found correlation between at CEO’s personality, as measured by the traits of openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and neuroticism, with their company’s culture, as measured by the nine dimensions of organizational culture. The paper reports:
Extraverted or sociable CEOs were associated with agility, collaboration, and execution, while agreeable or trusting CEOs were associated with flexibility and internal focus. Highly conscientious or detail-oriented CEOs typically led companies whose cultures placed less value on agility, innovation, and — interestingly — execution and results.
This intriguing insight sheds light on the delicate interplay between the leader's personality and the company's cultural fabric. It implies that the quintessence of effective leadership transcends the simplistic notion of a 'good' or 'bad' leader. The contextual alignment between a leader's intrinsic traits and the company's operational exigencies can significantly influence the trajectory of success. It is therefore imperative that organizations deliberate on the synchrony between a leader's personality traits and the predominant phase of the company's life cycle. This alignment could be the linchpin in fostering a conducive culture that galvanizes the workforce towards achieving the strategic objectives.
Moreover, the evolutionary path of a company often necessitates a metamorphosis in leadership. As organizations transition from startup to scale-up, and eventually to established enterprises, the leadership mantle may need to shift to individuals whose personality traits are congruent with the altered operational dynamics. This evolution underscores the necessity of having a robust leadership development and succession planning framework. Such a framework can facilitate a seamless transition of leadership, ensuring that the organization remains agile and adaptive to the shifting market landscapes.
Furthermore, it's not just about the C-suite. The ripple effects of leadership personalities permeate through all echelons of the organizational hierarchy. Department heads, team leaders, and even project managers play a crucial role in mirroring and reinforcing the culture emanated from the top. Hence, a comprehensive understanding of the behavioral economics of leadership could be a game changer in orchestrating a harmonious organizational culture. This paradigm advocates for a more nuanced approach to leadership selection, one that takes into account the dynamic interrelationship between personality traits and organizational culture.
On a broader spectrum, this conceptual framework holds resonance beyond the corporate milieu. It extends to any entity or institution, be it governmental bodies, non-profits, or educational institutions. The principles of aligning leadership traits with organizational phases and culture are universal. They underscore the essence of strategic leadership that is attuned to the nuances of the external environment and internal organizational dynamics.
In conclusion, the axiom 'Right Person, Right Role, Right Time' is an eloquent encapsulation of a profound leadership paradigm. It invites organizations to transcend conventional wisdom and to embrace a more holistic, nuanced approach to leadership. By doing so, they not only enhance the congruence between leadership and organizational culture, but also significantly augment their capacity to navigate the complex, ever-evolving business landscapes. This, in turn, lays a robust foundation for sustained success and long-term value creation.