The Perfect Boss: Dr. Axel Zein at TEDxStuttgart (Transcript)

Axel Zein promotes a new way we manage businesses today: think of business as a sport. In sports, the team is decisive; the team with the best players usually wins. And sports are fun. So what qualifies a manager to be the perfect coach for his team?

Dr. Axel Zein – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

Good evening.

The perfect manager.

Now Benjamin Franklin said: “Two things in life are certain. Death and taxes.”

Now I dare to add a third thing, a bad boss.

You see as human beings we’re getting healthier, we’re living longer lives, we’re going to end up spending 40 maybe 50 years of our life at work. Now it’s almost certain that during this time we’ll encounter a bad boss.

On that note, an American institute conducted a study and they found out that 60% of American workers were not engaged in their jobs.

Now they ask for the main reason why? And it was very surprising because the main reason was not low pay, the main reason was not insufficient vacation, the main reason was not a poor workplace, the main reason why these people were not engaged in their job was because of a bad boss.

Why is it we have so many employees unsatisfied with their bosses?

Well, I think there are two reasons for that.

First of all, the day you become a manager your job changes totally. When you’re an employee, your performance is defined by your own work. And it doesn’t really matter what you do, whether you’re an engineer, on the shop floor, or whether you’re a cleaner.

You’re in a universe centered on the need of one person. Yourself.

Well the day you become a manager you realize your performance is defined by the work that others are doing: Your team.

So all of a sudden, it’s not about what you’re doing, it’s about what they’re doing. It’s not about your performance, it’s about their performance. And it’s not about what you need, it’s about what they need.

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See if you’re an engineer, your job is to design products. If you’re a cleaner, you will be measured by the cleanliness you leave behind.

But if you’re a manager of engineers, or a manager of the cleaning force, you don’t have to engineer or clean, what you have to do is to get the right team together, you have to create a high performance culture, you have to make them more productive, and you have to create an environment where people just love to work and love to give their best.

So first of all, being a manager is a totally different job.

Now somebody gets appointed manager and a person doesn’t get it. He doesn’t realize that it is mostly about growing others. That person is going to have a tough time becoming a good manager.

Now the second reason why I believe, people are not satisfied with their bosses, is because we are simply not educated to become managers. Let me take you through some of the concepts we’re learning in university and school.

Well, first of all, we learn a hierarchical model: “I am the teacher, I give the grades and you’ll have to do your homework.”

“But why?”

“Because I said so.”

See if this is how you treat adults in a business environment, you won’t get their top performance, you can’t motivate a team to deliver a top performance just by your authority or your title.

See, people will follow you through thick and thin, if you inspire them, if you do something great. If you convince them or if you care about them. But they will not do it just because you’re the CEO. They will work for you but they’ll not give it their all. Now isn’t that a pity?

Another thing we learn in school is we learn to look at problems from every possible angle, and then develop the best solution. Often a very theoretical one.

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In business, by contrast, success is mostly defined by rapid implementation and not by the best solution. In fact, we rarely have time to even look at the best solution.

Now in schools and in universities there is a huge misconception about risk taking and about making mistakes. You see, if you make a mistake you’ll be punished. You get a low grade for instance.

Now, as a result we’re educated, to not try anything new. We’re not taking risks because we might fail. But failure, ladies and gentlemen, is necessary for success and necessary for personal development.

Take Steve Jobs, he was fired as CEO of Apple. As CEO of the company he founded. What a personal failure. Yet he himself said years later,

“It was the best thing that could have ever happen to me. Because I entered the most creative period of my life.”

And the positive results of that period all those wonderful devices Apple created, stays with us as we speak.

Michael Jordan, the basketball icon said, “I can forgive failure. Everybody fails at something. What I cannot forgive is not trying.”

But we’re not educated to try. What we learn in school is we learn to serve ourselves. It’s all about improving our individual grades, about maximizing our chances to get a good job. It’s all about me, myself and I.

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