What's more important, teamwork creativity or leadership? Bob Lutz, former president of Chrysler Corporation, expressed some interesting thoughts on that and other subjects at the recent fall meeting of AMT—The Association For Manufacturing Technology.
Lutz holds a variety of refreshing and occasionally cranky opinions on management that can make mincemeat of the more trendy views of the day. For instance, he argues that the customer is not always right, and slavishly chasing customers' expressed wants will drive your business to mediocrity or worse. Lutz also asserts that too much quality can ruin you—a seeming odd notion coming from a creature of the auto industry where total quality has been a dominant theme for more than a decade.
But Lutz is not saying that listening to customers or maintaining high quality levels are unimportant. He is arguing that dogmatically applying the tools of conformity is no substitute for the creativity it takes to develop great products and services. Customers cannot tell you about what they have not visualized themselves. You're the expert in your field, and it's up to you imagine what customers cannot. Likewise, if the perspective on quality is only about the reduction of defects, companies will miss opportunities to add features and functions that elevate quality in the eyes of their customers.
Perhaps the most compelling argument that Lutz presents is that teamwork is no substitute for leadership. Rather than dealing with issues, he says, too many managers push problems down to teams that may not find resolutions decisively. This "teamwork" approach may make the manager feel better, may even make the team feel empowered, but it may not get a problem solved quickly.
This is not, however, an argument for a return to command-and-control management techniques. Lutz believes that the leader's most important role is to create a "compelling vision of the future," and then to unleash the creativity of the organization to achieve it. To be sure, the pure execution aspects of the enterprise require discipline, and to that end "it's OK to be `anal' sometimes," he says. But in the final analysis, it's all about achieving balance—about maintaining the ability both to dream and to turn dreams into reality.