Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

A Leadership Lesson from Blackberry: You Can’t Fool the Troops

People want to follow an honest and objective leader.  The most frequent place where leaders have an opportunity to display such honesty and objectivity is when they provide an overall assessment of the current situation.  Much of a leader’s job is to try new things and to refine the ideas that don’t work.  However, many leaders want to avoid failure to the extent that they don’t admit when something did not work or they don’t properly summarize the state of affairs because they believe it reflects badly on the organization or on them.

Let me give you an example.  Research in Motion (RIM) which markets the Blackberry was the absolute rage during the period from 2002 until 2007.  Its stock when from $10 per share up to the $130 range and their Blackberry was basically a required tool for the majority of business people.  It had secure email while also being a cell phone and you could get to the internet but it was very slow and clumsy.  In 2077 the Apple iPhone was launched as was the Android operating system from Google which was used by Samsung and many others to launch their smartphones.

Given the useful apps and the touchscreen which characterized the iPhone and Android smartphones, Blackberry went into a severe tailspin because it was clearly an inferior product.  This decline continued and finally in January, 2012, after the company had lost three quarters of its value, the board of directors of RIM dismissed the founding co-CEO’s and named insider Thorsten Heins as the new CEO.  In his first public statement to employees and investors, Heins made the comment “I don’t think that there is some drastic change needed.”  Clearly his comment was off the mark on the honesty/objectivity scale and it was quickly noticed both within the company as well as by investors.  The next day RIM’s stock fell 8%.

The CEO not only wasn’t being objective or honest with the troops, he was missing a giant opportunity to make it clear to all concerned inside and outside of the company that he understood the severity of the situation.  Also, he missed a big opportunity to fire-up the employee base, indicating that a lot of excitement was about to happen as RIM worked to re-vitalize the Blackberry and regain its leadership position.

In summary, gutsy leaders constantly confront reality and are totally honest and objective in their assessments of the current situation and what needs to happen in the future.  Such objectivity is usually quite motivating for those that are on the receiving end of it.


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