Monday, December 05, 2020

Slow Leadership in Practice

Ricardo Semler inherited his Brazilian family's firm, Semco, over two decades ago. After an "epiphany," brought on by collapse from overwork, he decided to reshape Semco's management style. Semler had been working 7:30 a.m. to midnight days, flying the world to raise capital and find new companies to buy: all the things a tough, go-getting young executive was supposed to do. He worked the archetypical workaholic lifestyle that's typical of corporate executives throughout the world. When he collapsed, doctors told him he was headed for a heart attack. He was 21.

But unlike so many workaholics, who deny their addiction and try to stay with their dysfunctional lifestyle, Semler did something. He stopped, took note of reality, and started to read. He read all the management books he could get and then acted on what they taught him. He still needed to make a success of Semco, but he wanted to find a way to do it that wasn't going to kill him prematurely, or ruin the lives of his workers. What he found was the more freedom he gave his staff, the more adaptable, innovative, productive and loyal they became—and the better Semco performed.

His description of the culture at Semco is now summed up as “he who manages least, manages best.” Semco trusts its employees to set their own salaries and working times. Staff themselves purchase the IT they need, and go to meetings only if they think they need to. Everyone gets fully detailed company financial statements, so they can see how the business is performing. There's no "them" and "us." The company has no official structure, no organizational chart, no business plan and no corporate strategy.

Has it worked? Semco has been wildly successful, despite breaking nearly all the commonly accepted "laws" of business. The workforce is deeply loyal. Revenues have increased by more than 700%. But this isn't a fairy tale. Semco has had ups and downs, and Brazil's economy is much more volatile than those of the USA or European countries. But Semler has stuck with his approach. Why? Because it works. Contrast the hard-driven, workaholic styles of people like Bernie Ebbers and the top guys at Enron. Where would you rather work? More important, where would you rather invest your money? Who's more likely to stay out of jail?

You can read about Ricardo Semler's ideas and approach (I see it as a working model of Slow Leadership) in "Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace."

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Rimantas said...

I sugges the second his book too, it has the title even more suitable to the topic: "The Seven-Day Weekend"

4:04 AM  
maisquetudo said...

Hi, Carmine,

just a quick note to say that your site is treasure. Thank you for the time you put into it, and I hope you keep going for a long, long time.

4:54 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...


Thanks. It's encouragement and comments from people like you that keeps me writing for this blog.

Adrian Savage

7:50 AM  
Shanmugha Priya said...

Excellent argument, well presented, inspired my work style, thanks ever so much

5:00 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks, Shanmugha.

I'm glad you found it useful.

Keep reading.

7:20 AM  

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