Corner Office-Eagle or Turkey?

Corner Office-Eagle or Turkey?

Leadership makes the difference.

Eagles soar. An eagle will swoop down to grab a fish with its talons, fly to the top of the tallest tree around, and tear into its catch with its beak. Eagles are powerful, aggressive birds of prey. They represent the spirit of freedom and independence. They are the American emblem.

Turkeys roost in trees to avoid being gobbled up by predators. They live in flocks for protection. Turkeys are easy to lure into a risky environment (e.g., a hunter decoying them into a blind). They can only fly short distances, and they forage for food on the ground. They are the American Thanksgiving dinner.

I’ve written a lot about animals, but the fact is, we can apply many lessons from the animal kingdom to business. With their contrasting characteristics in mind, imagine eagles as the winning organizations we dream of creating, and turkeys as the organizations we wake up to every morning.

Many articles and books have been written about the “things” you have to do to become an eagle. These authors give us their vision of the perfect business and advice on how to become it. There’s a tidy step-by-step plan: Do this right thing and then this other right thing combined with a few more other right things, and you’ll end up with a perfect organization.

What most of these authors ignore is that businesses aren’t static structures that we build, like a child building a tower with blocks. Businesses are dynamic, and changing; having the best intentions and “right” building blocks just isn’t enough. Instead, what’s needed is a more dynamic force, a catalyst called “leadership.”

Leadership is what makes the difference between being an eagle and being a turkey. It’s difficult to find leaders who can provide this consistently over time and at all of the levels required, which is probably why there are more turkeys than eagles. Let me explain.


Market-Level Leadership

Leaders of eagle organizations have figured out how to operate in a market space that has virtually no competition. This allows them to control their market and hold a sustained competitive advantage. They offer customers real value, resulting in deep and loyal relationships.

In contrast, leaders of turkey organizations choose to compete in big markets with many competitors. Their products are either too expensive or are priced so low that the company can’t make a profit. These companies don’t meet customer needs and struggle every day to find a competitive advantage.

See what I’m getting at? The core difference between eagles and turkeys at the market level is in leadership decisions about where and how to compete.


Company-Level Leadership

Leaders of eagle organizations know the importance of solid strategic planning. A good strategic plan analyzes what’s going on in the market. The planning process causes a company to look at itself objectively, build on its strengths, and minimize weaknesses to provide maximum value to customers.

In daily affairs, eagles are focused on action. Progress is more important than perfection. The imperative of “Ready, Fire, Aim!” is heard in management meetings. Leaders understand the business well enough to know which metrics they should measure and monitor, and they communicate their vision and strategies often to customers, shareholders, and employees.

Planning in turkey organizations, on the other hand, is a tortuous exercise tied to annual budgeting. Managers compete for resources, and the sales and marketing folks sandbag revenue forecasts.

Leaders at these companies lead according to whatever business book is at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Managers are usually found sitting at their desks or in useless meetings instead of promoting action and communication.

Again, I hope you get my point: At the company level, what separates eagles from turkeys is leadership decisions about which goals to achieve and how to pursue them.


Employee-Level Leadership

Eagle companies have positive cultures based on shared values and respect. They understand the importance of hiring the right people and getting started on the right foot together. Leaders who are eagles insist on teamwork and have a low tolerance for departmental silos.

Turkeys say the right words, but their actions speak louder. You get a bad feeling from these companies the moment you walk in the door because of the dirty carpet or the crabby receptionist. Or maybe they have beautiful office space, but their managers are consumed by office politics instead of achieving common goals—too busy covering their butts to look into the future.

At the employee level as well, eagles are distinguished from turkeys by leadership choices about what the organizational values and priorities should be.

By the way, the capital markets are fairly efficient, and they generally feed the eagles and starve the turkeys. That could make eagles the better Thanksgiving dinner, but they don’t allow themselves to be eaten!

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