“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand”—General Colin Powell
When someone is charged with the task of ‘leading a company’, he or she finds his or herself in an unique position to shape not only the future success (or failure) of that business entity, but indirectly influence the lives of all those individuals who both work for—and with—that company.
By any yardstick, that’s a good deal of responsibility and, frankly, not one that any Chief Executive Officer should take lightly.
Decisions that a CEO makes on a daily basis can—and very often do—have both immediate and longer-term impact on the lives of all those relying upon that company, both internally and externally. For anyone in a position of corporate leadership, fiscal and fiduciary responsibilities are, of course, critically important factors in reaching any decision; however, it is also imperative that a CEO take under consideration how his or her decisions will impact the people whose livelihoods depend on the continued success of that business.
Over the course of the last five years, I’ve had the privilege of being the CEO of Sackett National Holdings, a rapidly expanding, successful company. As one would expect, during that time I’ve encountered a wide array of issues, challenges and opportunities that required me to make difficult leadership decisions. It’s worth noting that, in my experience, many of the same challenges that make entrepreneurial business so exciting and interesting also require leadership decisions that often pose difficult, complex questions.
How well a Chief Executive responds to those questions and challenges often defines both his own leadership tenure, as well as the destiny of his company and its employees.
With that in mind, and based upon my experiences as CEO over the course of the last half decade, here are five of the most essential leadership qualities required to be a successful Chief Executive Officer:
5) The Ability–& Willingness–To Hear Differing Views
In keeping with General Powell’s definition of leadership, a successful CEO must be both able, and willing, to sometimes put aside his or her own personal views and be open to the ideas of others.
This is not to say that a successful business leader will ‘lead by consensus’—after all, the position title is Chief Executive Officer, and all that implies—however alternate views and opinions are important; no CEO, no matter how ‘hands-on’, can be everywhere, all the time, within his business’ daily operations, and so hearing other well-informed perspectives can provide a greater understanding of what’s happening within the organization.
President Harry Truman was correct about the proverbial ‘passing of the buck’—it stops at the desk of the leader. However, before making the final decision where and how best to spend that ‘buck’, a smart CEO should be open to wise and sometimes differing opinions.
4) Hire Only The Most Qualified People As Senior Management:
It’s all too easy to make analogies between putting together a winning sports team and hiring a successful corporate management team, and the reason is because there are, in fact, many parallels between the two.
For example, in much the same way that even a highly skilled quarterback cannot, by himself, win a football game, so too is it true that even a smart and talented CEO requires a ‘team’ of skilled and savvy senior managers in order to succeed.
A successful business, such as SNH, is comprised of many elements, including a dynamic human resources department, skilled and innovative professionals in areas such as IT and finance, gregarious and savvy sales teams, and dedicated administrative employees—to name just a few. If they are managed well, each of those departments contributes to the overall success of the company. And so it’s vital that the individuals with managerial oversight in each department bring with them the knowledge, experience and interpersonal skills required; a strong management team can, collectively, help ensure that the CEO achieves the corporate goals he or she has set out for his organization.
3) Know When To Listen, When To Lead:
As noted earlier, Harry Truman’s adage about “the buck” stopping at the leader’s desk remains pertinent in today’s corporate environment. And so, on any given day, many people both inside and outside of the company, will look to a CEO for direction and decision-making.
However, before important decisions are made, a smart CEO should take the time required to gather all pertinent information, and be willing to listen to other voices. In order for that to occur, he or she must encourage healthy debate within his management team, and seek out the opinions of those whose areas of expertise may differ from his own.
Put simply, there’s little point in building a strong management team with considerable experience in their respective fields if a CEO is unwilling to tap into that deep well of knowledge.
2) Don’t Allow Caution To Supercede Opportunity:
In an earlier column, I pointed out the potential danger, wherein a company’s success can stifle its innovation. When someone finds his or herself in a leadership position, with the full weight and responsibility that comes with it, there can be a (natural) inclination to err on the side of caution when making difficult decisions.
That’s understandable, when you take into consideration the potential impact that an incorrect business decision can have on both your company and all of its employees; the fact is that along with the most senior corporate position comes the highest degree of culpability for the company’s destiny.
However, entrepreneurial businesses—such as SNH—are extremely dependent upon innovation, and a willingness to ‘roll the dice’ via an exploration of new products and business opportunities. Succeeding as a CEO—especially a CEO of an entrepreneurial, disruptive business—means maintaining a willingness to go beyond what has already ‘worked’ for your company, and frankly, risking the possibility of failure.
In the role of CEO, caution most certainly has its place, but it is important for an entrepreneurial Chief Executive not to allow caution to displace a willingness to try new ideas, and explore new, uncharted waters.
1) Enjoy (and appreciate) The Job:
There is one thing that remains unchanged, no matter what position someone holds within a company: the chances you will succeed in your job increase substantially if you like what you’re doing. Studies have repeatedly shown that individuals who enjoy what they do for a living are more likely to succeed.
That remains true even for those serving as Chief Executive Officers.
While the role of CEO can certainly be challenging, and there are many demands made of your most valuable commodity—time—it is also a great honor and opportunity to serve as the leader of a dynamic, growing company. In our case, SNH is an extremely unique company, with a substantial footprint in several of the nation’s most essential and thriving industries; in addition, we’re very fortunate to have an exceptional Senior Management team, and a group of employees whose innovation, hard work and dedication continues to be the driving force behind our company’s remarkable growth.
Based on my experience, I would advise other Chief Executive Officers to find time in their busy schedules to appreciate their good fortune of having the opportunity to serve in a leadership capacity, and to ensure that both their company’s management–and employees–know that their contributions are also appreciated by their CEO.
It’s estimated that there are about 300,000 CEOs in the United States, a nation of more than 330 million people. While not exactly a ‘small’ club, those of us who are fortunate enough to find ourselves in the role of Chief Executive Officer have unique opportunities to shape the destiny of both American businesses, as well as hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans employed by those companies.
As CEO, I recognize that if I do my job well, I will be helping to ensure the financial future of both our company and all of our employees.
Put simply, I never take my role as CEO for granted, and I look forward—everyday–to making the most of the leadership opportunity presented to me.
And that’s a piece of advice I’d offer to anyone fortunate enough to have the title—and responsibilities–of Chief Executive Officer.