Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Being a Successful Executive

Everyday now, I meet more and more people in leadership positions who want to be successful. In seminars and strategic planning consultations, people will take me aside, asking for feedback and executive coaching. They ask questions like “How am I doing?”, “What can I do better or differently to be more successful?”, and “Am I missing anything which might make us more successful?” When I hear questions of this nature, I am reminded of a quote by Danny Meyer in his book, Setting The Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, HarperCollins, 2006, where he writes “the courage to grow demands the courage to let go.” Right now, quite a few executives need to let go of old ways of thinking and working in order to be more successful.

Given my work, I am fortunate enough to meet a lot of exceptional and successful leaders. Most are quite humble and all are very dedicated to the work they are doing. No two are exactly alike and yet most share some very common characteristics.

First, all of them have the strength and clarity of character to surround themselves with exceptional people who are smarter than they are. These leaders understand that they do not have to be the center of attention. They instead have to build a team where all focuses on the purpose or mission of the organization. In short, like does attract like in successful companies.

Second, these same executives network extensively so they maintain a greater perspective. These leaders know “The Law of the Instrument” or at times called “Maslow’s Hammer” which was first coined by Abraham Maslow in 1966 about the over-reliance on a familiar tool. As he said “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” They recognize the importance of generating a broader perspective in order not to frame everything up as hammers and nails.

Third, they share deeply with a select group of advisors and confidents. In this deeply trusted environment, these leaders think out loud, share their fears and worries, explore ideas, and ask for help. They know they need this time because it generates a greater degree of personal clarity and more focused action. The dialogue and analysis is a powerful way of preventing strategic blindness.

Fourth, they do not loose track of key goals and metrics. Most carry with them in hard copy or electronic version their strategic plans and their current metrics. They firmly believe in planning their work and then working their plan. They do not hesitate to hold themselves and others accountable to the goals and the metrics.

Fifth, they focus on organizational culture. They fully comprehend the notion that their strategic success is totally dependent on their organizational culture. They know that successful change, customer service and the recruitment and retention of key staff are all dependent on their culture. They grasp the powerful idea that people join companies and quit those who they report to. They recognize that the culture impacts how people relate to other people.

Sixth, they stay on-message and have a clear message. Remembering that everything gets corrupted when it gets passed down into the organization, successful executives stay on message for 3-6 months repeating over and over core themes. They also tie these core themes to successful outcomes. It may not be fancy but ask a successful leader their message and they can give it to you in a nutshell.

Finally, these same executive develop a meaningful life outside of work which includes exercise, family time, faith, and community plus personal hobbies and/or interests. They recognize and know burn-out. They also know how to recharge. Most of them manage their energy more than their time, and this makes a word of difference.

In the fast paced, multi-dimensional world that we live in these days, I am again reminded of a Danny Meyer quote from the aforementioned book. As he explains, “doing two things like a half-wit never equals doing one thing like a whole wit.” Successful executives do a whole lot of things but what makes them successful is that they do it with their “whole wit.”

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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