‘What a great job he’s done!’ ‘She must be one of the best CEOs in the industry!’ “We’re lucky he agreed to come on board when he did!” You’ve heard remarks like that before and maybe uttered the same a few times yourself, but what inspires us to say such things? It could be because a highly skilled leader took the helm and set an enterprise back on course, it could be because an executive led a business to new heights and of course, it could be that an individual transformed a great idea into a thriving fast-track startup.
Do they all have leadership attributes in common? You bet! Money is the most attention-getting measure of their leadership, you know, metrics like profits/profitability, growth, share price, shareholder equity and more. All are important, some critical; dollars are the first way to keep ‘score.’ But, because of the influence they have on the sustainability of an enterprise, other leadership results deserve equal weight. Some are penned more often than others; here are but a few of those results that I admire most.
• A leadership structure committed to perpetuating the enterprise beyond itself; putting the enterprise first and you second usually benefits both. Not so true for the reverse!
• An orderly and well planned process of succession. Simply ‘sponsoring’ who’s next in line just doesn’t do it. Formal development tracks, coaching and mentoring have a much higher probability of success.
• An organizational structure intentionally designed to discourage silos and instead promote cross functional team support.
• A willingness to invest in the future even if it means constraining short term results. Not always understood or willingly accepted, definitely easier to do in privately or closely controlled enterprises and always worth communicating the rationale for doing same.
• A culture of inclusion with pride—what more can be said!
• The shared values of dignity and respect for all.
• An embedded and habitual system of both internal and external governance; history shows that success can be achieved operating within the margins!
• A true purpose in serving customers and clients. If winning is instead defined as ‘besting’ others, shallow victories become the prize.
• An unyielding focus on continuous improvement; there is no finish line.
• An uninhibited flow of ideas and soft landings for those that are not adopted. A most admired CEO expression…‘I try to hire people that are smarter than me.’
• An environment where a willingness to say ‘I was wrong’ is not viewed as a sign of weakness but is supported as a teachable moment rather than a confession of guilt.
• An unwavering commitment to community, in service and, where possible, financial support.
I’ve been inside well over one hundred enterprises. Most all were focused on the metrics but also pursed the ‘total package’ leadership results listed above. From both my observation and my personal experience, doing so is not always easy, but doing so almost inevitably improves the ‘score!’ Adverse economic conditions, predatory competitors and changing market dynamics can all distract, and when they do, is it worth it to stay the course? Customers, employees and shareholders would likely agree…an ecumenical approach to leadership has its own rewards.
Read more: The Higher Purpose Of Being A CEO