RIM’s leadership woes: 5 lessons on how to go from hero to zero

Posted January 24, 2012 in Latest News & Insights

After rocketing the Blackberry to success in the mid 2000’s, RIM Co-CEO’s Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie stepped down this week and were replaced by new CEO (and former RIM COO) Thorsten Heins.  Analysts and investors seem to be panning the move as too little too late and the new CEO has been on the defensive since the announcement was made.  What can we average leaders learn from this shake-up?  Here are a few of my thoughts:

1)  Success can make you complacent… it’s almost becoming hard to remember the time when all you ever saw people carrying was their Blackberry.  Now it’s all about the apps.  Somewhere along the way, the leaders at Blackberry seem to have forgotten the plot line as to why they were successful in the first place.

Key takeaway:  When you’re leading on the innovation edge you have to keep innovating…not buying NHL teams.

2)  Being the “old” new guy sucks… personally I find it fascinating that whenever there’s a corporate shuffle people think that the solution has to come from outside of the company.  Everyone seems to want a savior.  To me, this speaks to a naïve underestimation of the power of corporate culture.  The track record of external CEOs coming in and righting a sinking ship is beyond shoddy.

Key takeaway:  if you ever get promoted to take over a role that everyone things should go to an outsider, ignore the nay-sayers, stick your head down and deliver results.

3)  Know when it’s time to go… one of the hardest things to let go of, especially when you’ve been incredibly successful, is the fact that it may be time for you to move on.  Ego can be a real killer.

Key takeaway:  may sure you have at least one person in your life who’s going to tell you when you need to step out-of-the-way.  And actually listen to them.

4)  Know when you’re over your head… on a similar note to the point above, one of the challenges for any leader – but probably especially entrepreneurs – is to manage increased scope.  Styles that used to work for you at one level of complexity, won’t work at the next.

Key takeaway:  know what skills you need to be able to lead at the next level.  And, if you’re over your head, either do something about it (eg: get a coach or a mentor or take a course) or find someone who can take the helm.

5)  Once you’ve screwed up, actions speak louder than words…  the initial challenges at RIM were dismissed as “blips”, but once you’ve had three major screw-ups, your words will mean nothing.  It’s going to come down to your actions.  And those actions better blow expectations out of the water.

Key takeaway:  get on missteps early because the further down the slope you go, the harder it’s going to be to dig your way out.

Personally, I’m pulling for Thorsten Heins and the team at RIM.  They’re a great brand and a great company and sometimes the best things happen when your back’s against the wall and you’re sick of people telling you that you can’t do something.  Ask former execs at IBM, GM and Apple.  So come on RIM… prove everybody wrong.  Everybody loves a come-back kid.

Happy leading!


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