RESULTS-DRIVEN LEADER. They are the descriptors you’ll find high up on almost all ‘desired characteristic’ lists for CEO job ads, whether the job ad was written in 2014, 2004 or even 1994. And it makes sense; a good CEO does need to be all of those things, and clearly, what made a good (maybe even great) CEO ten or even twenty years ago, still makes a good CEO today.
But when was the last time you were aiming for ‘good’? Let’s be honest; ‘good’ can be the most insulting of adjectives when it’s used to describe your work and abilities; ‘good’ is one small step away from ‘average’.
So why doesn’t a great CEO of years gone by cut it in 2014? Well, I’m sure there are many reasons, but a few of the biggies are the rapid growth of information and communication technologies, the rise of global markets and the love child of the two; increased competition. Companies need to work harder to get, and keep business. Which really means their employees need to work harder.
Which really, really means CEOs of those companies need to work harder at getting their employees to work harder. And how does a good CEO inspire their employees to work harder? They think very strategically about how much money to offer in the bonus incentive structure, they negotiate that down a little, and then they give a rousing speech at the next team meeting about results, results, results, team work, bonuses, focus, results, results, results.
In 1994, this approach worked. In 2004, it was losing steam but still yielding results across most industries. In 2014, it is an approach that has become boring, cliché and dare I say, lazy. Worse still, it remains common practice among many CEOs. Today, an outstanding CEO reads people, reads their staff. They know that while money is still a juicy carrot, there are many more incentives in the carrot bunch. They also recognise that now more than ever, their employees are looking for more than dollars. They are looking for fulfilment, inspiration and to be part of something bigger, something lasting.
So what specifically do outstanding CEOs in 2014 do?
They don’t just give great direction; they ask great questions.
If you’ve made it to the top of the corporate ladder than congratulations, it is a given that you are superb at giving direction and telling people (tactfully, of course!) what to do, when to do it and maybe even how to do it (but hopefully not too often).
Your staff and stakeholders expect this of you. But what they might not expect is that you’ll ask them questions. And not just any questions – questions that matter beyond short term results. Yes, you need to ask about targets, dead lines, lead times, KPIs etc but you also need to ask questions that make your employees think about their work. Ask them about their process – why they chose to do something a certain way (regardless of whether it was a success of failure). Ask them their opinion. Ask them what they would do in your position… just ask! Integral to this point is that you ask even if you know the answer – and especially if you know that they don’t know the answer- sometimes the role of a CEO is to ask a question that provokes thought.
They make every staff member feel like they’re doing something that is worth it.
Sometime in the past 20 years it became trendy to give certain jobs (generally the ones regarded as being on the ‘bottom’ of the corporate ladder) euphemism titles, for example – a receptionist is the ‘Director of First Impressions’. Let me make something clear- this is not what I’m referring to here (in fact, those euphemisms are so condescending they make me cringe!)
An outstanding CEO doesn’t hand out fluffy titles to boost employee egos. They make sure that every staff member knows why and exactly how they make a difference to the bottom line of the company. An employee that knows their impact is an employee more likely to be invested in the success of the company.
They create an environment that makes staff hold themselves accountable out of passion, not fear.
This follows on from the previous point. A staff member that is invested and has motivation beyond financial reward is more likely to hold themselves accountable because they genuinely feel accountable, not just because they’ll miss a bonus this month or be reprimanded. A friend of mine recently told me a story about a warehouse shift supervisor at the global clothing company she works for. A shipment of important samples had been delivered to the warehouse and signed for by a warehouse employee, but had gone missing. As is often the case, the signature was a just a scribble, so the team member was unable to be identified. Pressure was on the warehouse staff to identify who the team member was, as the samples could not be resent in time and had to be found. Instead of doing this, the warehouse shift supervisor worked overtime looking for the samples until they were found. His primary concern wasn’t finding and punishing the ‘culprit’ – it was finding the samples. He held himself accountable, not because he was fearful of being reprimanded (as he wouldn’t have been) and not because he wouldn’t meet his bonus targets (the outcome didn’t effect his targets). He did it because he understood his role and his importance to the bottom line. He was invested.
They knock staff out of auto-pilot.
It’s very easy to run on auto-pilot, especially in a big company. Processes that have always worked, keep working and are never challenged. Staff do things the way they always have done it because it works. A good CEO is proud of this and focuses on preserving this auto-pilot mode.
An outstanding CEO wants to do things better. They challenge all their employees, even the ones meeting their KPIs. They encourage (calculated) risk taking because they understand exponential growth always requires disruption of pattern.
And finally, they recognise how important it is to turn staff members into raving fans.
You’ve heard it before. It’s Management 101- A good CEO creates a culture that inspires employees to feel like they’re a valuable part of the company. They have staff that love their job and enjoy coming in to work.
A great CEO creates company culture that serves as a launching pad to inspire employees to want to spread the feeling of ‘being a part’ of the company to their customers and clients. Their staff becomes the company’s biggest raving fans. They connect with the company and the connection is infectious when dealing with customers (think Apple or Virgin).
It’s often the most genuine and effective form of advertising, and it won’t cost you nearly as many money-carrots as you think.