hen Japan exports were dominating world markets, businesspersons and university dons in the West were discussing Japanese management style. They did not attribute Japan’s success to superior technology because most of the technology Japanese people were using was borrowed from the West.
The production of more engineers is being advocated as the sure solution to Malawi’s and other African countries’ development problems. At the moment in Malawi, priority should be given equally to developing executives. Both in the public and private sectors there is reason to believe that the executive or administrator is the missing link in the country’s development.
Engineers, doctors and other professionals do their best only in well managed organisations. No matter how capable a doctor may be, he or she cannot be effective working in a hospital where there are perpetual shortages of drugs. Neither can an engineer be successful if those responsible for procuring machines and equipment are incompetent.
The secret of success lies in having capable executives or administrators if you like. The best person to tell us what it takes to be a good example is someone who has employed many executives and has been able to sift the chaff from the grain. Such a man is J. Paul Getty.
Until 1976 when he died, Getty was the richest man in America, having started his business career in the oil industry and made his first million when he was only 24 years. Before he died, he had expounded his ideas about executives in a book titled How to be Rich. This article will try to summarise his thoughts about good executives.
Getty once asked university freshmen (undergraduates): Assuming that you own a large business firm, what is the principal quality trait or qualification you would want your executive to possess?
We will just go on to outline what Getty said he himself saw in a would-be good executive.
- A good executive is a leader of people working under him or her. The executive uses examples as the best means to instruct or inspire others.
- A good executive accepts full responsibility for the actions of the people under him. He accepts full personal blame for their faults for having exercised poor supervision.
- The best leader never asks those under him to do anything he is unable or unwilling to do himself. Here Getty is contradicted by other renowned tycoons like Andrew Carnegie, an American steel industry magnate. He said he succeeded by surrounding himself with people who knew the steel industry better than he did. Other authorities on human resources management say a chief executive should not hire subordinates who have the same weakenesses as he has, but those who can do what he himself cannot do.
- The man in charge must be fair, but firm with his subordinates showing concern for their needs, but must not pamper them.
- An executive praises his subordinates in public, but criticises them in private. Criticising a subordinate in public humiliates and demoralises him or her.
However, exalted his position, no man is infallible. He can and does not make mistakes. An alert junior executive who recognises errors, fallacies or weaknesses in the order that he receives from his superior and fails to call his superiors’ attention to them, is not being loyal. He is shirking responsibility.
Getty attributed his business success to his executives’ loyalty and efficiency. How did he judge whether or not a man would be a good executive? Getty responded thus: “I hold that the first acid test of an executive is his ability to think and act for himself. He should have the intelligence and ability to originate ideas, development plans, implement programmes, solve problems and meet situations without running to his superiors for advice. In my opinion, a man who cannot do these things is not an executive. He is a glorified office boy.
A good executive must think and act as a lender. Unfortunately, says Getty, few men are natural leaders. There is one Churchill in a generation. But most intelligent, willing men or women can acquire or develop traits and qualities of leadership adequate to most situations they are likely to encounter in their careers. n