The Thirty-Thousand-Foot View on Leadership: What CEOs Believe

In writing an earlier book, The Power of an Internal Franchise, I interviewed nearly fifty CEOs who led profitable companies. I asked these successful CEOs what they thought they needed to do to get the most out of themselves and their organizations. You can use their to-do list as guidance for your own leadership behavior:

  • Develop the next generation of leaders.

Organizations need to develop the leadership skills of midlevel managers so that these people can enhance profitability now and be prepared to take the reins of leadership someday.

  • Increase knowledge, skills, and abilities.

This goes for everyone in the organization. Depending on a person’s particular role, it could mean becoming more technically adept in a specific technology or increasing one’s skills in interviewing, conflict management, or customer service.

  • Align performance with rewards.

Successful CEOs believe that when the company does well, all of its people should do well. The creation of a performance culture with a reward system aligned to company goals is a constant theme for most successful leaders.

  • Communicate the correct message all the time.

Leo Fox is the former president of Tenacity Solutions. Tenacity was a software services company that was purchased by Computer Sciences Corporation in 2014. While Fox was at the helm, he would open every all-hands meeting, every strategic planning session, and every company gathering with a simple message of what Tenacity was (a software services company) and what it was not (an aerospace company). Fox pounded this message home on a regular basis for ten years, and everyone in the company understood it. So learn from his experience. Always ask yourself, what are the most important points for your clients, your staff, your team, your vendors, and your company to know? And also consider if you are always communicating those messages correctly.

  • Create an engaged and empowered workforce.

“Engaged” and “empowered” are small words, but they refer to huge and powerful concepts in the business world. Engagement happens when you find that sweet spot where an employee’s interest aligns with an employer’s business opportunity. Leaders have to make sure it happens as often as possible by matching employees’ interests with the right opportunities. Empowerment happens when leaders find ways for employees to act on their own with the appropriate knowledge, skills, and abilities to make good business decisions. You’re probably thinking that accomplishing everything these CEOs have on their to-do list is a pretty tall order. But a lot of it boils down to a concept articulated by one of my favorite business authors, Matthew Kelly. In his book The Dream Manager, Kelly says that to do your best as a leader, you must become the best version of yourself—and that includes helping everyone in the organization do the same.

Interestingly, most of the CEOs I spoke with were from companies that were not only profitable but also made the lists of great places to work. Could it be that if employees feel better about their jobs, they will do a better job—leading to productivity that generates profits for their company?

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