Successful Leadership: Insight from a Well-Respected CEO
Today, leadership manifests itself in many different ways. We all know powerful leaders that may not necessarily be successful or effective, and many of us also know successful leaders that don’t exert the power that we would expect of someone in the role. But what about the leaders who have found that delicate balance between power and success? What types of leadership drive people to do not only do their work, but to motivate them to do their best work while also instilling a desire to learn and improve? A recent interview with a newly-retired CEO, and one of our esteemed clients, stirred up some thought-provoking ideas for being a people-centric leader.
Always Present (Even When Physically Absent)
As a leader, the goal is to encourage a positive culture among the organization–one that radiates the company’s values across all levels and locations of the business. After all, as a leader, you can’t be in two places at once, so establishing a culture driven by trust while motivating individuals work to their full potential (even without someone looking over their shoulder), is key.
After interviewing members of the CEO’s organization, many employees often expressed how his values, beliefs, and insights had a lasting impact and they pointed out that he was perceived as perhaps the most influential team member in the processes, even when he wasn’t physically present. The participants often identified the CEO’s presence and his values as having a differential impact on decision-making within the organization, and this impact was seen when he was in the building— but also when he wasn’t.
By emanating the values of the organization and entrusting employees to work effectively towards the company’s goals, a successful leader doesn’t always have to be physically in a particular conference room or building. A successful leader is everywhere, at all times, simply by putting the right people in place and continuously setting an example of what it looks like to be a contributing member of the organization.
Values Have a Trickle-Down Effect
In a recent study by Harvard Business Review, researchers found that the moods and behaviors of leadership directly affects the mood and behavior of everyone else—so much so that they described a leader’s mood as “electricity through wires,” meaning that their moods quickly spread to the rest of the organization. This research showed that organizations run by leaders with low emotional intelligence were filled with fear and anxiety, yet those led by leaders with high emotional intelligence had organizations filled with more information sharing, trust, healthy-risk taking, and a desire to learn. The values and emotional intelligence that a leader displays can ultimately mean success or failure for a company. And while this concept may seem intuitive for some, many take this for granted or diminish the powerful ripple effect that a leader has on a company.
The influence of the CEO’s personal philosophies were seen in the following statement by a Director of the company, which he suggests then translates to the business strategy and can be seen in the actions of the leadership team, as an extension of the CEO:
“[A] lot of these high-stakes decisions really reflect the values of the leadership and, in our world, reflect the leadership of [CEO], who genuinely cares about his employees and their welfare. I think that it might be somewhat unique that there’s a person in his position that actually asks questions about the individual and what the effect of those decisions might be on the individual, instead of just on the bottom line or on achieving a certain objective. The personal values as expressed as the business strategy of a CEO or executive means a lot.”
Employees—Your Most Valuable Asset
At the end of the day, it is your employees that make up your organization. While the leadership directs the strategy of an organization, it is the employees that carry out the strategy and support the business objectives. The truth is, however, that not all businesses see their employees as assets. Some even view them as a liability. Sadly, this mentality among leadership trickles down, as mentioned before, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders who view their employees as expendable, portray that view throughout the company, and employees become demotivated, demoralized, and underappreciated.
This CEO believes that people are innately good, which is an underlying message that has been felt throughout the company for as long as he has been leading. He hasn’t ever had to say it or type it up in a value statement, but the organization felt it, and for that reason, it flourished. Here is what the CEO had to say about his people:
“I think the decisions you make with your employees as being one of your most valuable assets is very critical, and making those decisions are largely about how you feel about individuals. I am a believer that 90-some percent of the world are good solid people who want to do well and, given the opportunity and given the proper circumstances, will always do the right thing.”
Hire People Based on Roles
The CEO offered an interesting perspective on hiring for success:
“My own view is it’s actually important to hire role players, . . . though I know other CEOs who think that everybody should be swinging for the fences all the time. . . . My view is you create [too much competition] . . . when everyone has to be in that [high-potential] mold and everyone has to be the next potential CEO; then it can be a really tough environment. I think it’s almost too much in-fighting. . . . [It has the] potential for inviting animosity. I believe in a world of A players, B players, and even some Cs.”
Some argue that Topgrading, or hiring all A players, sets your organization up for success, as you have the best of the best on your team, ready to overachieve and outperform. Others, including this CEO, suggest hiring A, B, and even occasionally some C players. Not only does this allow each group to work on their particular areas of expertise, but with the right leadership, the Bs can be on track to becoming As and the Cs can eventually become Bs, with less of the competition all focused on one specific role or level. Another criticism to the “all A players” approach, is that there is a higher potential for A player personalities to clash, leading to unnecessary conflict within the organization.
Never underestimate the power of good leadership
After interviewing the CEO, we decided to speak with some of his direct reports to understand the impact that he had made on the organization. One Vice President specifically stated that during high-stakes decision-making meetings, he and others specifically looked to the CEO for guidance. Another offered insight into what life will be like after the CEO retires:
“Well, I think you’ve got an interesting experiment because you [previously] had [the CEO] there and I think a lot of people like me were kind of looking at him out of the corner of our eye for signals, because we have a very strong leader in [the CEO] and you have a pretty good idea about where he wanted to go.”
Leadership exists in all organizations, but it’s the extraordinary leaders that go out of their way to make employees want to contribute to the company, achieve business goals, and celebrate successes. Leadership is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it takes a strategic leader to understand and appreciate their employees, and determine what will be most effective and beneficial for their company. And it certainly takes a special leader to get kudos from their direct reports, even after they retire!
What type of leadership does your company institute? What type of impact, spoken or silent, is it making on your employees, customers, and stakeholders?
Considering these questions may lead you to a happy realization or may reveal a harsh truth, but it is important to understand that the leadership of your company has a profound effect on your employees— and certainly a greater impact than just the SOPs they have put in place. Your leadership can directly affect how business gets done, and to run a successful business, having the right leader in place is invaluable.