Friday, March 11, 2005

The Importance of Martha's H Ingredient

There’s no doubt about it. Martha Stewart is one tough, resilient individual. And we admire her for that. But as the saying goes, “insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results”. To rebuild her company, Martha will need at least a dash of humility or what I call the “H” ingredient. Has the embarrassment of her trial and eventual incarceration for five months been life-changing for Martha? It’s too early to tell. To revive her company, it will not be enough just to do something altruistic for imprisoned women. Martha needs to demonstrate that she is a kinder, gentler person.

Before Martha went to prison, there was little indication that she was in touch with her “people” side. It is common knowledge that Martha irritated and was frequently unkind to many persons in the pursuit of her business objectives. Ironically, her insensitivity to people may have been a major factor in her eventual demise.

We can only surmise that Martha’s legal woes may have unfolded quite differently had she nurtured a devoted network of colleagues and employees. Martha’s legal transgressions were mild in comparison to those of other senior executives in the news charged with “white collar crimes”. Something else, such as the “H” ingredient, must have played a role, hovering below the surface, escaping Martha’s awareness and meticulousness. When the going got tough, it is possible that the right friends did not come to Martha’s rescue in the early stages when the seeds of her legal problems were taking form.

As the time drew near to going to prison, Martha remained the stoic businessperson. She never mentioned that she would miss her daughter. Perhaps she did that deliberately because it’s not “businesslike” to say such things. However, she did say that she would miss her multitudes of pets and her work. Martha emphasized in a July 2004 Larry King interview that she “wished she were the nicest, nicest person on earth, but I am a businessperson.” Does Martha equate being “nice” with not being a sharp businessperson?

Let’s hope that a valued coach will help Martha re-evaluate her assumptions and “see” that humbleness and empathy will go a long way in helping to re-ignite her company. The brand is Martha. But the brand is unsustainable without Martha tuning her attention to building a great company of excited and inspired people. It’s a matter of balance.

Daniel Goleman of the “empathy” fame would say that Martha’s styles are overbalanced on the demanding and pace-setting which negatively impact on the culture of her organization. He would likely recommend dashes of “H” ingredients such as “people come first” and “what do you think”?

Jim Collins, who undertook a five year research study to determine what catapults a company from good to great might declare hands down that if Martha can’t find a way to become a “Level 5 Leader”, her company will never truly become great. He describes a “Level 5 Leader” as “an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will”. Well, Martha has the will!

Finally, another spin on the humility ingredient is the “versatile leader”, a person who doesn’t default always to her strengths whether strategic or operational or enabling or forceful, but instead draws on the right capabilities for the particular situation. That is, a leader may have to pursue consciously that which she is not necessarily inclined to do in order to contribute to moving the organization forward positively. For Martha, that would mean being more “enabling”.

Martha loves recipes. On her release from prison, she explained to an interviewer that she was going to write some guidelines on surviving the situation she went through such as how to conduct yourself (with the media, in the courtroom), what experts to consult, etc. She lived the experience with few “best practices” on which to rely. Now, she can be a teacher to others who are unfortunate enough to get entangled with the law. Will she add to her recipe book the “H” ingredient? It’s potent.

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