A boomerang if thrown in a closed arc path returns to the thrower – at least that’s the theory. Contrary to popular belief however boomerangs don’t always come back. The actual path of a boomerang’s flight relies very much on the dexterity of the person attempting the feat. Boomerang managers face an equally challenging task.
Similarly when a highly performing CEO or Manager moves on from a successful role, they rarely look back, let alone seek to return to the scene of their former triumphs. When it does happen it is sufficiently out of the ordinary that it excites people’s interest and curiosity, and even active debate as to whether it is the right thing to do. A recent case in point is the decision by renowned Rugby League Coach Wayne Bennett to return to his old coaching job at the Brisbane Broncos in 2015. There are mixed views as to whether this is a good move for either Bennett or the Team. Only time will tell.
Boomerangs Managers that have successfully returned
Some returns are successful however and it is worthy to see if there are any lessons to learn from these instances.
As Co-founder, Chairman and CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs found himself in a power struggle with his Board in 1985 and left the Company. In 1996 he returned bringing Apple back from near bankruptcy to profitability by 1988 and propelling the company to become the World’s most valuable publicly traded company in 2011. Jobs was lauded in business history as “legendary”, “visionary” and “a master of innovation” as a result.
“Lazarus with a triple by-pass” was how John Howard likened his prospects of returning to become Liberal Opposition Leader after his defeat in 1989. After further unsuccessful attempts in 1993 and 1994 he won his old job back in January 1995. Persistence paid off and he became Prime Minister in March 1996 remaining in office until December 2007 – the longest serving Prime Minister since Sir Robert Menzies.
Politicians seem to be more notable for returning to the job after having been once evicted and both Menzies and more recently Kevin Rudd experienced second chances, although the latter’s was indeed fleeting and perhaps could not be included in the “successful” category.
(Image: Courtesy astralialiterally.blogspot.com)
In the recent de-amalgamation of local governments in Queensland, prompted by local movements demanding of the State Government “Give us our Councils back”, the electors went even further and in each of the elections for the new Shire Councils (Noosa, Livingstone, Mareeba and Douglas) returned to the Mayoralties either their former Mayors, a former Councillor and in one case the former CEO as Mayor. The proof of the success of those returns will be seen in the 2016 local government elections.
Lessons of the Boomerang Managers
Is there a common theme to these examples of successful revivals? In most cases the circumstances to which the leaders returned were in some form of crisis or disarray or decline from the position that appertained when that person held their role previously.
To that extent we might see their supporters as wanting to return to the “good old days” or former glory enjoyed during their previous leadership. Importantly in these cases the “return of the king” was dependent on the support of other decision makers – boards, party management, electors – and was not the unilateral decision of the person concerned.
They did however need to present themselves as the saviour of the situation and with the capacity to revitalise the perceived ailing organisations.
So the message might be that if you leave a business or public sector organisation in good shape – whether you go voluntarily or are removed – there is some chance you could be asked to return to revitalise a declining situation at some time in the future, provided you retain your skill and reputation.
If you leave an organisation in tatters you may fulfil that cynical definition – “What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back…. a useless stick.”