Most leaders are unbalanced. They are relatively stronger in some areas than others. The secret to making them more productive is to let them play to their strengths, while at the same time bringing in someone to work with them that has complementary strengths.

Eisner and Wells at Disney

Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner was the organization’s enthusiastic, visionary leader. When I worked at the Disney Institute, our team met with him and the room was electric. He applauded our best ideas, built on them, went into excruciating detail to make sure the creative vision carried through everything, and demolished our bad ideas without a second glance. When he approved things, we were inspired to get going.

But then we had to stop.

Because once we’d sold Eisner on the idea, we had to go to then COO Frank Wells to make sure it would work. Wells focused on the business side, making sure we knew what we were going to invest, how, over what time frame to make the business proposition work.

The two were stronger together than either was on his own. Having Wells there allowed Eisner to let his creative instincts run. Having Eisner there allowed Wells to focus on the practical side of things.

Mickey greeting guests at Disneyland Park

Ivester and Zyman at Coca-Cola

At the start of each year’s annual planning process at Coca-Cola  then President Doug Ivester would send out a note laying out his expectations. To reinforce the importance of consistency and follow through, he would attach the notes he’d sent us in each of the previous three years.

At one meeting he said, “We need to be consistent.” At the next moment, then Chief Marketing Officer Sergio Zyman replied, “Well, I’m inconsistent and proud of it.”

There was a fiery tension between the two. Ivester was the southern accountant who had joined Coca-Cola as controller and then became CFO, president, and eventually CEO. Zyman was the Mexican advertising and brand guy who was passionate about surprising and exciting consumers.

Each was incomplete on his own. Together, they were amazing.


Each of you has your own favorite example of this: Jobs and Wozniak, Gates and Allen, Anthony and Cleopatra, Martin and Lewis.


Strategy, Operations, Organization

You can figure out most businesses by looking at how its plans, people and practices align around a shared purpose. Business leaders tend to have relative strengths in the strategic area (plans), organizational area (people), or operational area (practices). If you’re like most, here’s our prescription:

  • If you are relatively stronger in strategy and organization, find a complementary chief operating officer to manage the operations.
  • If you are relatively stronger in strategy and operations, find a complementary chief human resource officer to help lead the organization.
  • If you are relatively stronger in organization and operations, find a complementary chief strategy officer to help lead strategy.
  • If you are one of the few who are actually balanced, find a chief of staff to give you leverage.

There’s a strong argument to be made that it’s better to be unbalanced. If you’re balanced and bring people in to give you leverage, you probably think you can do any one of their jobs. They’ll know that and resent you for it.

However, if you’re unbalanced and know you’re unbalanced, you will bring in others to complement your strengths. If you know you need them, they’ll know you need them and they’ll feel that much more valued and valuable.

There are some roles that scream for naturally complementary strengths. In these cases the two key people need to understand and respect each others’ strengths while investing in their personal relationship on an ongoing basis. This is particularly true when a strong business or operating lead is paired with someone passionate about consumer, patient, or customer care and experience, product development, innovation, content, merchandising or the like.

This is a good example of step 9 of The New Leader’s PlaybookSecure ADEPT People in the Right Roles and Deal with Inevitable Resistance

Make your organization ever more ADEPT by Acquiring, Developing, Encouraging, Planning, and Transitioning talent:

  • Acquire: Recruit, attract, and onboard the right people
  • Develop: Assess and build skills and knowledge
  • Encourage: Direct, support, recognize and reward
  • Plan: Monitor, assess, plan career moves over time
  • Transition: Migrate to different roles as appropriate

Click here to read about each step in the playbook

Click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step