The speed and scope of change in business continues to increase, and with this comes added complexity and uncertainty. The challenges for today’s leaders include this accelerating change, increasing competition, greater demand for quality and output, and overwhelming amounts of information. The traditional model of top down leadership simply does not work well in this environment. Innovative leaders know that employees who “own” their work do better than those who simply “do” their work. These type leaders collaborate with their teams to “co-create” the delivery of goods and services for customers. In this environment, the leader is not merely a supervisor, but instead a coach who helps each team member achieve his or her full potential in the organization. This is more time consuming and requires more personal investment on the part of the leader; however, the results flow from this type leadership. Leadership guru Ken Blanchard in his book Leading at a Higher Level argues that the best run companies in the world “know that empowering people creates positive results that are just not possible when all the authority moves up the hierarchy and managers shoulder all the responsibility for success.”
Mississippi native and resident Robby Hansbrough works daily in some of the most complex organizations in the world and subscribes to a collaborative view of management. Robby is a partner in IBM Global Business Services and leads a team that provides services to large governmental and health care organizations. He grew up in Magee, Mississippi, and he earned an undergraduate and Master’s degree in science from the University of Mississippi. Upon graduation, he went to work in the oil field services industry for several years. Robby then went to work in technical sales for what was then SmithKline Beckman. This experience led him to IBM where he started in technical sales and later moved to professional services. After moving around with IBM, he and his family came back to Jackson where he joined the local IBM office. In this capacity, Robby worked closely with some of Mississippi’s largest organizations including Skytel, Mobilecomm, Bellsouth, and Jitney Jungle. His experiences and results for clients opened the door for him to serve for four years as a Senior Vice President for Jitney Jungle in the mid 1990s. In 1998, he decided to return to IBM where he joined the Global Business Services division as a practice leader.
Robby shared that he views today’s business world as “a very fast-paced environment.” He noted that, “as companies drive shareholder value and the bottom line, the demand for high performance to meet this demand is taking a toll on today’s workers and causes excellent professionals to experience burnout.” To help keep this burnout at bay, Robby has chosen to lead with what he describes as a “collaborative” approach. He views himself more as a coach, and tries to build trust and respect with his team members. Robby knows that it takes a large investment in new employees to prepare them for success, so he is very careful and methodical in the hiring process to look for people who he believes are teachable and willing to grow.
We discussed how this collaborative style means that he shares responsibility with his team. He believes that if you have good employees then they should be allowed to make decisions. Robby knows that team members have to be given the opportunity to make decisions and that sometimes those decisions won’t work out. While he doesn’t chastise for bad decisions, he does take the time to help his team members learn from those mistakes. This is what good coaches do. They take the time to help their employees learn and grow. He aptly noted that if you don’t train up your employees to make decisions then you personally become the bottleneck in the organization.
Robby’s insights into leadership were helpful to me, and I enjoyed the opportunity to learn from someone who has seen and worked with extremely complex organizations. Whether our organizations are big or small, we all face this growing complexity. In order to succeed, we all will need to grow our ability to have a collaborative leadership style in the future.