How Mid-Market CEOs Can Win Friends and Lead People

Time was when the route to business success often went through a Dale Carnegie Training course, where participants learned how to rub shoulders more effectively and even grease their way up the corporate ladder.

Now we’re in a different era, and some might consider Dale Carnegie’s notions for building relationships and projecting confidence almost quaint.

Yet Joe Hart, CEO of the midsized training firm told Chief Executive that not only does their firm’s message still resonate today with fellow business leaders, but also, the enterprise founded by the author of How To Win Friends and Influence People is growing.

“The brand recognition and brand relevance of Dale Carnegie today isn’t what it used to be,” Hart allowed. “But in my mind, that’s one of the most important opportunities we have: to communicate what we do more effectively and tell our story more effectively.”

“One of the top things Millennials say they want is training. Not just in communication skills, but interpersonal skills.”

In fact, celebrating its 104th anniversary this year, Dale Carnegie has a franchise network in 90 countries ranging from Argentina to Vietnam. “It’s because of the enduring nature of our business and what we do and how we help [participants] unlock their confidence and public skills,” Hart said. “From that standpoint, the work that we do is every bit as relevant and powerful as it’s been.”

Recently, for instance, Hart met with a group of 10 CEOs in Milan, Italy, who had taken Dale Carnegie training, and one after another they “shared examples about being able to use Dale Carnegie to build better relationships with family members as well as in their business contexts. So part of what we do is about social fabric, about helping people live fuller and more satisfying and complete lives—as well as having more successful businesses.”

To that end, Hart offered 3 of his most fundamental lessons for fellow CEOs.

1. Millennials don’t think leadership training is hokey. “There’s a bit of a contrast,” Hart said. “On the one hand we’ve got a very technologically sophisticated generation. But this is cross-generational. Millennials want to do something that’s really going to be meaningful in their careers and have an impact. They will leave a position if they feel like they’re just going through the motions and it’s not meaningful.” He adds that they are very into [personal] growth. “One of the top things they say they want is training. Not just in communication skills, but interpersonal skills.”

2. Create a working-together environment. C-level executives have “so much more pressure on them than ever before, with social media, and a dynamic and changing marketplace,” Hart said. “So they can truly benefit by creating a working-together environment, one that involves collaboration with other members of the organization. And that means being authentic, listening, and being able to admit you don’t have all the answers. You’ve also got to understand that the people with whom you work have much greater knowledge than you do in certain areas, and that it benefits you as a CEO to listen to them and to trust them to lead as well.”

3. Balancing transparency with authority. At the same time, Hart cautioned, CEOs must establish a basis for respect and authority in their organizations, and that includes keeping some things close to the vest—and only his or her vest.

“People want to follow someone they admire,” Hart said. “So leaders need to be careful about what they disclose, not trying to be someone they’re not. If you say something wrong, don’t try to cover that up. Usually, if a leader makes a mistake, people know it and are looking to see how you respond and follow up to that. You need to say, ‘I made a mistake on this, but here’s how I’m going to fix it.’

Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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