From The Order of Her Noodly Appendage
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The art of leadership dwells a good deal in the future, in providing for the future of the organization, in planting and growing other leaders who will look to the future beyond their own. These future leaders, at some point in their careers, receive the title of vice president. They are important to the daily operations of a cooperation or an institution, but their future is vital to the future of the group. Picking vice presidents with all these conditions in mind is not easy.

A few years ago, faced with the talk of choosing several new vice presidents, I composed a memo to my senior management team. The decisions to be made in the process of choosing vice presidents are significant both for the people involved and for the organization. We are not only setting the tone and direction concerning management and leadership competence, we are dealing very specifically with the legacy we will leave.

With that in mind,I suggested three groups of thoughts that had to be dealt with i meeting this important challenge.

Fist, the cooperation requires several things from leaders in making this decision. The cooperation requires:

  • that the position be clearly one with responsibility and accountability on the officer level
  • that the establishment of this officership be a signal to the organization of the significance of the responsibility and of its importance to the future of the cooperation
  • that the person who fills this position demonstrate not only personal performance and achievement but also the potential for continuing growth and accountability
  • that this appointment be more a matter of expectancy and challenge than of reward, personally, professionally, organizationally
  • that we interpret thoroughly to the organization each appointment

Second, the organization requires several things from the people chosen to be candidates for future leaders. These people must briing to their responsibilities certain characteristics, traits that should be present in all leaders, traits talked about in this book. A future leader:

  • has consistent and dependable integrity
  • cherishes heterogeneity and diversity
  • searches out competence
  • is open to contrary opinion
  • communicates easily at all levels
  • understands the concept of equity and consistently advocates it
  • leads through serving
  • is vulnerable to the skills and talents of others
  • is intimate with the organization and its work
  • is able to see the broad picture (beyond his own area of focus)
  • is a spokesperson and diplomat
  • can be a tribal storyteller (an important way of transmitting our corporate culture)
  • tells why rather than how

Third, beyond being a spokesperson in our organization, the new vice president should share in the basis for our values. He or she should be able to advocate Herman Miller's unique character to the world at large and within the cooperation. The candidate should understand and speak for:

  • the corporate value system
  • good design (in all its facets)
  • participative management
  • the human and ethical expression of the character of this cooperation

Since sending the memo, several of the people I work with have suggested some further ideas to consider in the situation of choosing vice presidents. THese additions come from a variety of experience and, as one of the people put it, "from having been burned." Here are their observations.

  • The only kind of leadership worth following is based on vision.
  • Personal character must be uppermost.
  • If we are going to ask a person to lead, can we determine ahead of time whether he or she has gaps between belief and practice, between work and family?
  • When talking about leadership, one always ends up talking about the future, about leaving a legacy, about followers. In other words, leadership intertwines the most important aspects of an organization: its people and its future. We need, therefore, to proceed very slowly and carefully.
  • When choosing officers, provide for possible failure and a graceful withdrawal. Promotion to officership should be decided in a group, with no slim majority. The process should include complete commitment and no reservations. After all, the way we move managers around, you may inherit a work team that you cannot,or will not want to lead.
  • What does the company physician say about the candidate?
  • What do the person's peers have to say?
  • Would you seed out this person as a key resource on an important task force?

These are important additions. Choosing leaders is the most vital and important matter cooperations and institutions face. What characteristics of a good leader will you add?