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The 5% solution

by Mark P. McDonald  |  September 23, 2010  |  1 Comment

Royal Dutch Shell was founded more than 100 years ago from the combination of two companies. One of these companies the “Shell” transportation company was based on a simple premise. 5%. That was what Marcus and Samuel Samuel wanted for transporting oil on one of eight ships that were named after different types of seashells.

The 5% rule is a helpful guide for managers who are leading teams, because that is what you should take away from your team’s successes. The 95% goes to your team in the form of recognition, visibility and compensation as you keep the team in front of management.

Now that may sound counter productive in an environment where everyone has to prove his or her individual value to the company.

So here goes

Leaders who can manage a team to achieve consistent results are your most valuable resources. They are more valuable than a manager who is constantly leading the team by being the best member of the team. That type of manager is nothing but an individual contributor in manager clothing. It is no fun, I know, as I have had to play that role in the past, Eventually resentment builds as the team feels disempowered and the player/manager feels that they are carrying the team on their backs. It may seem a good idea at the start but it quickly devolves into something else.

Leader/managers who take only 5% gain the support and loyalty of their teams. If you give the team 95% of the credit, they will give you ten fold in return. Not only do team members do more of their best work, they also advocate for their leader when you are not around — the highest form of compliment. Nothing tells an executive about your skill as a leader better than who are willing to follow you and how they feel about being part of the team.

Leader/managers who trust their teams, by putting them out there to tackle real challenges and given just enough rope to engage their interest but not so much that disaster happens. Here the manager works behind the scenes with their peers to ‘clear the path’ for team success. A leader/manager who takes this approach trust their team and demonstrates their own trustworthiness.

Leader/managers who give their team’s visibility by shining the light on them, their accomplishments and giving them face time with their boos demonstrates that they are ready to take on new responsibilities. You may say wait a minute, but executives who see the strength of the team have greater confidence in promoting the team lead as they know the team’s performance will not suffer. In the alternative the player/manager is seen, and may even describe them as indispensable. This is handcuffing them to their current job, as there is no way we could promote them without having their current team fail.

All of this comes from having an attitude that all you need is 5%. It seems like a pretty big return for such a small investment in your team. Then when you think about it Royal Dutch Shell is a global multi-billion dollar company and al that started with was 5%.

Category: leadership  tools  

Tags: cio-leadership  operational-leadership  tools  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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