Harvard Business School Publishing's Harvard Business Review - October 2010 PDF

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Extra resources for Harvard Business Review - October 2010

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But if star tasks were easier to accomplish, guardian tasks might get short shrift. It turns out that pirates did a better job of assigning the right tasks to a leader than my students do: They made the captain responsible for star tasks and elected a quartermaster general to perform the guardian tasks. This solution also prevented a concentration of power in the captain’s hands. In those days many captains of merchant navy ships spent too much time on guardian tasks and became tyrants, triggering mutinies and inducing their men to join the pirates.

As chief executive, you have to consciously set the right tone, and Ursula worked to develop that. I’m not perfect at it myself. My team will tell you that when my pen starts tapping in a meeting, it’s time to run for the hills. But CEOs have to manage those unintended displays, because of how much impact they have on other people. Something else Ursula needed to develop was an ability to engage her team. When you’re really smart and tough and have a lot of responsibility, it can be hard to sit through a long process where everyone voices his or her views—especially if you’ve already reached a decision.

At that point, in 2001, we focused on four candidates and were considering two scenarios. The first was: What if something unexpected happens tomorrow, and we need someone really experienced who can step in immediately? The second was: What if we had the luxury of developing someone naturally over a long period of time? Ursula fit the second scenario—she needed more time to develop. Over the next few years she totally reengineered our manufacturing and supply chain. By the time she finished, our operating costs were probably a third of what they’d been five years before.

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