November 15, 2005
Counter Cliche: Head Lemming
Fred’s VC Cliche of the Week last week was that leadership is figuring out where everyone is going and then getting in front of them and saying “follow me.” While it’s certainly true that juming out in front of a well-organized, rapidly moving parade and becoming the grand marshal (or maybe the baton twirly person) is one path to successful leadership, CEOs do have to be careful about selecting the right parade to jump in front of for two reasons.
First, just because lots of people are going in a specific direction doesn’t mean it’s right. There’s nothing good about ending up as the Head Lemming. It just means you go over the cliff before the rest of the troops. Lots of smart people thought home delivery of a stick of gum made sense and was worth investing in, but it certainly put a kink in George Shaheen’s career.
Second, even if the parade is a good one, the organization you run might not be best equipped to take advantage of it. Again, you find yourself in the undesirable position of being the Head Lemming. Gerry Levin and Steve Case fell in love with convergence story (one of the biggest parades of the last 10 years), but in the end, Time Warner and AOL just couldn’t cope with the merger. Neither Gerry nor Steve survived the merger.
So if you’re going to follow the VC cliche and jump out in front of a crowd to lead it, make sure you select your crowd carefully.