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Different Views of the Bus Ride to Great Leadership

leadership, leadership style


As promised in last week’s post, I am devoting this week’s installment to some of the content that I heard at a Live 2 Lead seminar presented by the John Maxwell Company.

Jim Collins’ Leadership View

Jim Collins wrote Good to Great, one of the most highly-lauded business books of the 21st century. One of his lasting metaphors was in the third chapter of the book, entitled “First Who . . . Then What.” The chapter opens as follows:

The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get the people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it. They said . . . “if we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it to someplace great.”

Written 15 years ago, the book then goes on to compliment the philosophy of Wells Fargo, whose recent practices make the analogy less conducive to Collins’ point. Regardless, Simon Sinek provided a philosophy that was starkly different from Collins’.

Simon Sinek’s Leadership View

Collins started by assuming that the conventional wisdom regarding the success of the bus was its route. He turned the attention instead to the riders on the bus. Sinek takes it another step and moves the focus from the riders and what seat they are in and places it on the bus driver.

Sinek suggests that leaders unquestionably and without exception must have two traits: empathy and perspective. He said that it is not as important to be in charge as it is to take care of people in their charge, further explaining that a strong leader gives away credit and takes the blame.

Many managers and leaders, on the other hand, tend to have the wrong priority. Sinek has talked to many CEOs during his authorship and speaking tours, and he finds that most view their priority to be their customer, yet they haven’t actually been in front of a customer in ages. Their priority instead should be on the people in the business who are responsible for the customer. The CEOs tend to fall into the trap of micromanagement, which, he says, is a common pitfall.

After all, in order to get to a leadership position, a manager was previously in a lesser role. Because of success at the previous position, the leader gets promoted to manager where his or her responsibilities change. However, the thing that the manager was good at, and the reason for the promotion oftentimes, was how he or she excelled at the position he or she is now leading. Consequently, the manager wants to continue to do the job he or she was good at and ends up micromanaging the people that are now in that position.

Understanding Who You’re Leading

Describing empathy, Sinek says that leaders have to care as much about the person in their charge as they do that charge’s output. Managers may try to demonstrate caring by having an open-door policy, the problem of which is that the managers’ charges must have the courage to go through that door. A better way is for the manager to be more intentional in communication instead of waiting for their workers to come to them.

To describe perspective, Sinek contrasts Apple and Microsoft, both of whom have hosted him as a speaker. Apple, he noted, focused their summit on how to teach and lead employees. Microsoft, on the other hand, spoke only of trying to beat Apple. These philosophies will allow Microsoft to occasionally have a superior product to Apple, but their views are short-sighted. Apple has longer-range views and has the perspective to build a generation of employees that will allow for success over the next 50 years instead of simply the next product unveiling.

Sinek underscored his remarks about the driver’s leadership ability being the paramount part of the bus by describing a “rider” named Noah. Noah worked at Four Seasons, where Sinek met him. Sinek raved about Noah’s work ethic in the hotel as well as his demeanor. He asked Noah if he liked his job and why. Noah indicated that he loved working at the Four Seasons because he felt empowered to do his job. He would have multiple managers approach him frequently and ask if there was anything he needed in order to perform his job or if they could help him steer around any roadblocks he was encountering.

The listener then finds out that Noah also works at Caesar’s Palace, a job he despises. Noah yearns for the end of his shift and is hardly interactive with the guests. He says that there is a structure at Caesar’s Palace that is overly focused on rigidity and there is very little contact with the managers.

Sinek’s point is that the Four Seasons would view Noah as the right person on the bus, but Caesar’s Palace would think he is the wrong person even though it’s the same person. The difference is the driver of the bus, who has the opportunity and responsibility to get the most out of the people on the bus.


by Dan Massey, CPA, Manager


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