I once read that you need three people to run a successful business — a creative leader, a businessperson, and an asshole. (Sorry, but that’s what it said!) As I recall, the argument went that you need a creative type who has that intuitive ability to judge what the market wanted whether it was in product development or marketing. You need a businessperson to set strategic direction, handle deal making, and manage for profit. And, the argument went, you need the “bad cop” to do some of the dirty work, make some tough calls, and possess the ability to say no. Now, I’m not sure you actually need these three people, but you definitely need all three skill sets in the top people in the company.
I worked in a company where there were three of us who fit these descriptions. We had a CEO who was a creative force who brought ideas, market sense, and a passion that helped to set the tone for the company. (Yes, Mark, I’m talking about you since I know you read this from time to time.) As president, I was responsible for the day-to-day operations, people management, and business relationships. My job was to identify the ideas that had the highest potential for success and get them to fruition. Finally, our CFO was a disciplined, “by the book” guy who constantly brought standard procedures and processes to what we were doing. Our CEO dubbed him “Dr. No” for his tendency to tell us why we couldn’t do things.
But this mix of skill sets worked for us. Having a creative mind coming up with new ideas, challenging the status quo, and pushing the envelope, all with a feel for the market, drove the business’ growth. Having someone to evaluate the ideas, set priorities, and manage the business helped us to harness all that creative energy. And, someone who was disciplined enough to bring order to the chaos and ensure that everything wasn’t an exception helped to make the business profitable.
Is it possible to find all three skill sets in a single person? I believe so. Think of Steve Jobs.
Initially, Jobs was the creative force behind Apple. He had the vision for what his customers wanted and where the company should go.Yet as talented as he was, as a young entrepreneur he brought in experienced managers to run the company. This allowed him to focus on the creative aspects and it provided the company with disciplined management. In Jobs’ case, he brought in some “grown ups” that gave the company credibility and were experienced financial managers. The combination of creativity and business acumen worked for Apple for a decade or so.
But when the board and management ultimately forced Jobs out of the company he had founded, it lost its edge. No longer did it have that intuitive market sense and creativity that Jobs provided. You had a bunch of suits running around making decisions that weren’t in tune with the wants and needs of the customers.
Re-enter Jobs. After a decade absence, Jobs rejoined the company as CEO. Now a more experienced executive after having run Pixar, Jobs actually filled the role of both creative force and businessperson. He was making both the creative and business aspects of Apple. And to say it worked pretty well would be an understatement. During the next 15 years, Apple gave us the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Not a bad track record — to say the least.
Oh, and by the way, Job admittedly also played the role of asshole. He was extremely demanding and hard on people. He saw things in black and white. He either hated them or loved them. And while he was hard to work for and partner with, somehow he made it all work.
Jobs was that unusual individual who possessed all three skill sets — and only after he had a couple decades of experience under his belt.
So which are you? To be successful, I think it’s important for you to realize where your strengths lie. That will allow you to both work on the areas where you may be weaker, but more importantly surround yourself with people who bring those complimentary skills to the table. Your organization will be more successful if you can identify your core strength and then fill the gaps that you have as a leader with others who compliment your abilities.
And here’s the key, you need to learn to appreciate those other skill sets. It’s always easy to believe that the strengths we possess are the most important. I would maintain that they are all equally important. Creativity that is unharnessed and undisciplined often leads to business failure. And sound business principles without new ideas and creative drive that is in tune with the customer can lead to the same outcome.
It’s the mix of these three skill sets in some type of harmony that can make beautiful music. Think of a symphony where strings, brass, and percussion all have a role to play. One without the others just doesn’t have the same impact. The same is true here. Now go make beautiful music!