Effective leaders must set positive example for organizations and people they serve
I’ve spent most of my working life serving as a chief executive officer, mostly in hospitals and health systems. I’ve enjoyed and appreciated the opportunities that role provided, especially the chance to develop or nurture a team that makes a positive difference. I like challenges and finding ways to overcome obstacles. For me, it made the long hours and the pressures of the job less problematic. I like to think one of the best legacies for an effective CEO is to leave people and the organization better off than when he or she found them.
Despite my savoring the good things about being a CEO (or other organizational leader), there are some burdens, too. Being an organizational leader is a demanding job.
Leading requires energy, effort and time. I believe that a CEO is always on duty and must never lose confidence, direction or composure. That’s why they need physical and psychological stamina. CEOs need to have more energy and tenacity than most. A certain calmness in the face of adversity also does not hurt. Leadership takes and demands a lot. Effective leadership demands:
- Investing yourself in training and developing those around you.
- Being a constant example of someone of good character who is firmly grounded and with a reputation for high integrity.
- Taking time to connect, serve and build relationships with the people you’re leading.
- Being a catalyst for change while consistently producing the desired results.
- Setting a positive example in virtually everything you do, every day.
There is another issue, too: CEOs need to keep personal beliefs and actions from undermining professional performance.
Gordon Hinckley, who was president of the Mormon Church for many years, said, “It is not wise, or even possible, to divorce private behavior from public leadership.” While I agree with him, an effective leader needs to know how to keep those personal beliefs and actions in perspective, so they don’t detract from the CEO’s ability to set a positive example for the organization and its people.
Dr. Ronald Riggio, the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College, provided a prescription for effectiveness as a CEO:
- Unify and don’t divide.
- Avoid creating divisions among their constituents.
- Achieve results but limit collateral damage.
- Make sure your personal effectiveness is not damaging to your team or is turning friends and followers into foes.
I’d add five more points to his list:
- Strive to be recognized as the strongest advocate for the success of the organization.
- Share credit for the organization’s successes liberally but accept responsibility for its failures and shortfalls.
- Be clear and realistic about your expectations. I never intended to ask my team members to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.
- Build awareness that the organization’s human resources are its greatest assets.
- Inspire the organization to “stretch” to reach its potential. Don’t allow good to be the enemy of the best.
The formulae for success are clear. Why, then, the high failure rate? In the book, “Why CEOs Fail,” David L. Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo, suggest these factors:
- Arrogance — You think you’re right, and everyone else is wrong.
- Melodrama — You need to be the center of attention.
- Volatility — You’re subject to mood swings.
- Excessive caution — You’re afraid to make decisions.
- Habitual distrust — You focus on the negatives.
- Aloofness — You’re disengaged and disconnected.
- Mischievousness — You believe that rules are made to be broken.
- Eccentricity — You try to be different just for the sake of it.
- Passive resistance — What you say is not what you really believe.
- Perfectionism — You get the little things right and the big things wrong.
- Eagerness to please — You try to win the popularity contest.
One factor is the most essential for successful CEO performance: Trust.
I don’t know who said it, but this is the best advice you could give to anyone who aspires to be a CEO: “The trust you give is the trust you get.” And it’s that trust that underlies every aspect of the success of a CEO — and the organization he or she serves.