3 Keys to Executive Success
As I continue to work with and study the most enduringly successful CEO’s, owners, and senior executives some surprisingly consistent traits continue to emerge. Among them are these three:
- The commitment to continuous learning and development and;
- Being open to revising your organization’s structure and design.
In a recent interview in the Wall Street Journal, Rich Lesser, the soon to be retiring CEO of the Boston Consulting Group talked about the changing nature of the role of the CEO and how he (and those he consults) responds to these ever-expanding responsibilities and expectations.
When asked how he prioritizes his time and attention, Mr. Lesser cited three main considerations: Listening, learning and humility.
It seems obvious to say that not all good ideas come directly from the person in charge. Yet many organizations are tied to familiar but increasingly out of date structures, reporting lines and processes which stifle innovation at the expense of policy. While not advocating for chaos, Mr. Lesser notes that changing the focus from rigid structures and protocols to more idea generation and experimenting (“we placed bets”) helped move BCG forward to better meet the demands of their stakeholders.
“We changed our organization structure when we had never changed it before” he said. “We changed things not because of my ideas but because you listen and learn”.
Mr. Lesser warns other CEO’s to be mindful of “the CEO bubble”.
“When you become CEO, and you have tremendous influence over people’s careers, people start screening what they say to you” he says.
The ability to foster honesty, openness and direct conversations isn’t easy but it is necessary and well worth the effort.
Recently, I worked with a CEO client who was struggling to transition to a more open way of leading his organization. His biggest challenge (and frustration) was that while he sincerely wanted his team to bring their best ideas, someone needed to be in charge and that someone is him.
“While I don’t want to disillusion my team, the fact is than not every idea is workable for us. This may be due to timing, resources, or competitive issues. It can also be because it’s just poorly though-out. How do I get this across without limiting future idea generation?”
We spent a good deal of time on this issue. We finally agreed on a productive way to address members of his team. Here’s a quick summary.
While he accepts full responsibility for the results of the organization, he does not want to lead in a vacuum. He needs the kind of creative idea generation his team is capable of providing. In the end, if a team member is disappointed that their idea didn’t carry the day, he would remind them that all the input he receives is considered and that no one should feel their recommendations didn’t influence his thinking; it did. Even if the net effect of that was to simply re-consider his final choice or to anticipate consequences he would not have otherwise though about.
Leading and developing people is one of the most rewarding aspects of management. It isn’t easy. It takes time, patience, humility, resiliency, and skills. To find out how you and your senior team can develop these essential traits, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.