In Search of ‘Triple Crown Leadership’
GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: Triple Crown Leadership: Audacious But Not Impossible by Bob and Gregg Vanourek, co-authors of "Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations."
Everywhere we look we see failures of leadership and ethics—some egregious. Look at Penn State, Wall Street, and K Street. Look at Athens, Madrid, and Brussels. Look at Rajat Guptaand Bernie Madoff. Look at MF Global, Lehman Brothers, and even Johnson & Johnson recently.
The consequences of these failures of leadership and ethics have been dire, and the effects are bound to be long-lasting. One thing is clear: we must do better. We need a better brand of leadership.
We believe leaders today should commit to building excellent, ethical, and enduring organizations.
We call this “triple crown leadership” because of the three Es it strives for.
It is a far cry from the brand of leadership practiced in most organizations today. As with the Triple Crown in thoroughbred horseracing, it is an epic quest that is audacious but not impossible. We know because we’ve seen it in action based on our own experience, as well as in the research we conducted, including interviews with leaders in more than sixty organizations—including global corporations, social ventures, startups, and turnarounds—in eleven countries.
Let’s unpack the three Es of triple crown leadership. To us, “excellent” means achieving exceptional performance; “ethical” means doing the right thing; and “enduring” means standing the test of time and operating sustainably.
It’s a high standard but achievable with changes to our modes of leading. In a nutshell, here are the five practices that build excellent, ethical, and enduring organizations. Triple crown leaders:
Seek “head and heart.” They hire, develop and promote people with the right “head” skills (experience, education, expertise) and intangible “heart” qualities (character, integrity, courage). Ascertaining these qualities takes creativity.
Post “colors.” They collaboratively set an inspiring purpose, values, and vision—what we call the organization’s “colors,” much like the colors worn by horse and jockey to distinguish them from the pack—for their enterprise that touches people deeply. Leaders must imbue these colors into the DNA of their organization, giving people a license to act as long as they do so in accordance with the colors.
Flex between “steel and velvet.” They lead by flexing between the hard and soft edges of leadership, sometimes in command, other times willingly soliciting and following the leadership of others. It takes dexterity to flex between steel and velvet without appearing inconsistent. (The key is to communicate how your actions are consistent with the colors.)
Unleash “stewards.” They expect people to step out of their traditional roles to develop, nurture, and protect a culture of character in the organization. They realize that the Triple Crown requires stewardship from the whole stable. It’s not just about the horse (or a great leader).
“Align.” They align people within the organization through a series of specific steps designed to get people on the same page and create the conditions for operating in a state of flow. In doing so, they must protect the innovative mavericks but separate the toxic culture-killers from the organization.
The five triple crown leadership practices are related and mutually reinforcing. Together, they create powerful momentum for going way beyond current performance levels while still maintaining integrity and sustainability. The triple-E quest to be excellent, ethical, and enduring is indeed audacious, but far from impossible. It may just be the defining leadership challenge of our age.
Bob and Gregg Vanourek, father and son, are co-authors of "Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations." Bob has been CEO of Sensormatic, Recognition Equipment, and Monarch Marking, a senior executive at Pitney-Bowes and Avery-Dennison, and a leadership instructor at University of Denver and Colorado Mountain College. Gregg Vanourek has co-authored three books and teaches at the Stockholm School of Economics and Royal Institute of Technology. For more information, visit http://triplecrownleadership.com/. Twitter: @TripleCrownLead