Over the past 18 months, I have written 77 articles on leadership. The subjects of these articles have come from my own experience as a leader rising through the ranks to the position of CEO of my company, and by observing CEOs of other organizations while serving as a board member on public, private, private equity and nonprofit boards. I have also written about leaders and organizations that have appeared in the news due to their favorable or adverse actions.
Thinking about these experiences, I believe there are six key leadership imperatives that CEOs should focus on in 2016.
Establish the right tone at the top and corporate culture.
Tone at the top encompasses the ethics, honesty and integrity with which the company operates. One might ask, aren’t these a given? In most companies they are, in others they are not.
Corporate culture encompasses how co-workers treat each other. Leaders need to create an environment where employees are mutually supportive and meet their commitments to their fellow co-workers. Organizations in which employees don’t trust each other will never reach their full performance potential.
Motivate and inspire your employees, and nurture an environment in which they feel a sense of ownership in what they do.
Employees are motivated and inspired when you share the vision and mission of the organization and the role employees play in achieving them. This is especially important for millennial employees (broadly defined as those born between 1980 and 1995). Surveys indicate that millennials want to feel that their work benefits society and that they are having an impact on the success of their customers or clients.
Share with your employees what your expectations are, ensure they have the needed resources to do their jobs and don’t micromanage them. Nurture an environment in which they develop a sense of ownership in what they do. Great things happen when they feel you are relying on them to move their part of the business forward.
Differentiate your company versus the competition by improving the customer or client experience.
As purchasers of consumer products and services, we have all experienced poor customer service. Given that the customer or client experience can be a significant competitive differentiator, one wonders why we are forced to deal with rude customer service representatives or wait an inordinate amount of time for a technical support person to answer our phone call, only to learn that they are of no help as they pass us to someone else for the process to start anew.
Companies that differentiate themselves versus their competition will achieve higher growth and profitability. Whenever I was doing due diligence of an acquisition candidate, I would always ask the CEO, “Why do customers buy from you versus a competitor?” The CEOs of those companies who had a ready answer usually had higher growth and profitability than the companies whose CEOs had to think about their response.
You can learn much from your employees, regardless of their organizational level.
Listening to employees helps change paradigms and to think outside of the box. Nurture a culture in which all employees continuously improve their part of the operation. When employees feel ownership in what they do and are empowered, the company’s hierarchy doesn’t need to drive improvement. These initiatives start from the bottom up.
You also need to be open to discussing alternatives with your direct reports. Be an active listener. Through discussion, a new alternative never considered may emerge, better than those alternatives under consideration, and only found because you as the leader encouraged the discussion to take place. When this process to find the best alternative occurred in my company, we rarely made a mistake.
Manage reputational risk by hiring people with good critical judgment.
We are all familiar with stories appearing in the media on a daily basis about employees of companies exercising poor judgment with a customer and having the incident appear in social media a few hours later. Given the risks, it is important for companies to hire people with good critical judgment.
Hiring employees with good critical judgment is even more important when an employee, who does not have the authority, needs to break a company policy for the good of the reputation of the company or to avoid significant costs. I faced this situation when I made the decision to recall a contaminated product and my boss and his boss, the CEO of the company, were not reachable. I knew I would be either celebrated or terminated. Fortunately, the former occurred, and I was taught this valuable lesson.
Hold yourself and those around you to high performance standards.
Leaders, for the most part, achieve results through the efforts of others. This is why it is so important to hire the right people reporting to you, and for your direct reports to hire the right people reporting to them. Don’t accept mediocrity. Never tolerate a tyrant. It hurts the organization below that individual, and has an adverse impact on the organization achieving results.
I have a performance standard to which I hold myself accountable as a director. When the next director joins the board, what will he or she think about the performance of the incumbent directors? I would not want a new director to think that the incumbents didn’t properly do their jobs. The most important thing each of us has is our reputation. We need to make sure we protect it.
I believe each of the six leadership imperatives listed above represent best practice. Someday each will be common practice. These are key not only for effective leadership, but also for creating a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
About the author
Stan Silverman is a speaker, writer and advisor who focuses on helping businesses and organizations cultivate leadership cultures. He currently is a Leadership Catalyst for Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Stan is also Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Drexel University, a lead director on the board of Drummond Scientific and and serves on the board of Ben Franklin Technology Partners. He is the former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Stan can be reached by email or at his website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com.