Companies that cross the Dunbar number of 150 employees should find ways to spread their leadership across several shoulders to escape single headedness. As long as you can are below this limit, those involved are at eye level – everybody knows everybody; member opinions and suggestions are considered; flat hierarchies and short paths enable agility. Multiple top decision-makers are more likely to create a confusing mess and a lack of settings rather than a clear direction. However, with thousands of employees, one-person leadership becomes a bottleneck. Corporate icons such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Larry Ellison, Jeff Bezos, have above all a marketing value. They cannot take care of everything, nor are they able to guarantee the coherence of their decisions. Besides, not only their workforces but also the network of affiliated partners depends on their mood. Not to forget the shareholder that buy and sell their shares depending on public statements. Jeff Bezos, for example, has pointed to the natural life span of a company of 30+ years, to derive from it the end of Amazon that is approaching that magic limit.
In doing so, Amazon is continuously opening up new business fields (e.g., any kind of media, platforms for third-party providers, Web Services), whose viability should be safe as long as we have the WWW. But even such big owners are not free of the faith in fate. A conscious look in the mirror could bring their weaknesses to light.
- The missed transition from growth to viability
Amazon has proven that growth pays off in the long run. In almost thirty years, the increased revenues have been used to expand the company. Since 2017 alone, sales have quadrupled to nearly US$12 billion. However, Jeff Bezos seems to have knowledge that shows him limitations; otherwise, he would not be singing the swan song. Although this is not so much about the end of Amazon, but the end of growth. As a single-minded decision-maker, he has the opportunity to lead his company into longevity by switching from growth to viability. Growth serves shareholders. Viability serves the customers, who, in return, provide the company with income. If the customers are not disappointed, they will stay loyal and hardly switch to a competitor. Disappointment occurs when the deliveries are faulty, or others provide better offers.
Keywords of viability are a demand-oriented variety of action, pleasant customer experience, self-organized workforce, sustainable business models, Win-Win supplier relationships, and consistent value practice.
- Inability to meet his social obligations
Globalization has fueled the business models of the Internet. However, companies like Amazon are using the lack of a world order to evade social responsibility. For-profit interests, revenues are channeled in such a way that they avoid any taxes. National politicians bear a considerable share of the blame for this, as they fail to set short-term barriers to such attempts or even create actively tax havens to attract companies. Understandably, companies make use of these offers – it is only immoral and not illegal. However, in the long term, they do themselves harm, when people boycott this business practice, at the latest when other providers offer similar deliverables and behave more responsibly.
Keywords of social responsibility are Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Psychological Safety, Psychosocial Safety Climate, Compliance.
- Lack of imagination about the future
The adherence to a particular way of running the business is due to the current workload and the usual routine, as well as often to the lack of imagination of the single-headed leader. Presage the end of a business is not a wise prospect but a sign of a lack of vision. Consumption via the Internet has virtualized the business world forever – at least as long as there is electricity and the Internet. Shops are now webshops. Marketplaces are now platforms. Technical discussions are now online forums. The reach of business spans the globe – even if some webshops continue to address a LOCAL, SINGLE LANGUAGE market (a clear sign of the beginning of the end). The question must be now: How will the virtual shopping street evolve? What can I do to stay ahead? What are the critical influences? These questions overwhelm a single-headed leader. It requires certain people (employees and managers), who are willing to experiment, to try out as many things as possible, and to bring viable ideas to market.
Keywords of the imagination are Learning organization, Design thinking, Experimentation, Hackathon, FabLab, Business exercise, Lateral thinking.
- Inner resignation of the driving force at the top
The greatest threat comes from one-headedness is the dependence on the daily mood of the icon. In extreme cases, morale can slip away for a long time, which then leads to clumsy and defeatist utterances. As a result, the mood is intensified by a persistent vicious circle that leads to rampant instability. The ability to fulfill a timely leadership transfer that strengthens the company in the long term is the icon’s final primary task. At the same time, the handover offers the chance to overcome the one-headedness. Bill Gates has missed this opportunity, as he did not turn Microsoft into a common, but by passing on the baton, he has underlined the previous. Jeff Bezos has the chance to turn his global consumer network into a public marketplace that puts customers first, not shareholders. However, with his swan song on Amazon, he has instead shown that in his imagination, he has already reached the plateau, and that from now on, things will go downhill. This inner denunciation is fatal.
Keywords of self-management are Self-image, Mindset, Self-understanding, Expectations, Strategy, Vision, Intention.
Bottom line: Everyone talks about agility, holacracy, and networks – however, the management levels exclude themselves from these discourses. Teamwork is crucial, especially at the level of the leaders. To hang by the silken thread of a “genius” is one of the most significant risks for all companies with more than 150 employees. Examples can be found in small and medium-sized companies as well as in the GAFAs (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple). Our example is Amazon, which fails to make the transition from growth to viability, which fails to meet its social obligations, offers no vision for the future, and is led by a mind with apparent self-doubt. The way out is a management team with equal partners who complement each other. This avoids the effects of one-headedness.