How can leadership be so difficult when defining its core principle is so easy? Leadership is simply the ability to get people to do what you want them to do
Do you sit in your office day after day, wondering what makes a good CEO? Do colleagues ever ask you how you manage to do it every single day? Regardless, there was likely a day you set your eyes on the CEO’s office and dreamed of being there yourself one day. How can others prepare for the demanding job of a CEO?
In business, the most successful CEOs are great leaders. If we can identify the qualities of a great CEO, we should be able to lay out a leadership path that can bring one to a position of greater responsibility.
In construction, no structure is stronger than the triangle; as we break down what makes a great CEO, a triad of qualities appears. To achieve the highest positions of authority in business, one must think, act and talk like a CEO. When these attributes are a part of your being, you are a leader.
Think Like a CEO
One thing is true: as you climb the corporate ladder, your realm of responsibility grows. This means that your range of thinking must also grow. It is a lack of mental and strategic aptitude that causes many to fail. It is the Peter Principle that states that employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.
You are probably the best judge of your ability to think big. Don’t lobby for a promotion that will put you in a position where you need to think bigger than you are capable. However, by exposing yourself to the right people and incrementally challenging yourself both vertically (accepting responsibilities above your position) and laterally (increasing the number of responsibilities within your position), your capacity to “think big” will grow.
Two more attributes are critical in order to think like a CEO. The first is to maintain a positive mental attitude. CEOs must set a positive tone for their companies. Unfortunately, most organizations, without the influence of a strong leader, succumb to negative mental inertia. The CEO must always be injecting a positive mental attitude into the company.
The second attribute is to adopt an outlook that is always seeking ways to improve. Critical to this is the confidence that improvement is possible and the understanding that without improvement competitors will triumph.
Act Like a CEO
There’s an axiom that applies to many situations: More is caught than taught. In other words, those around us learn more about who we are, what we think and what we want by our actions than by our words. Parents are often quick to learn this, and it can be a painful lesson. One day a father may wake up and realize that his son has picked up his worst traits.
The positive attitude and desire to improve must be modeled in management. Eventually, the attitude and behaviors that the CEO models will work their way through the organization, even to entry-level employees.
Think about the good leaders for which you have worked. Aren’t they usually the first ones in the office and the last ones to head home? Aren’t they the people who attack a problem head on, solve it and learn from it? When these behaviors are modeled, they are instilled in others, and the entire organization benefits.
Talk Like a CEO
While “walking the walk” is critical, verbal communication is also very important. We need to start this discussion with a very stern warning: Months or years of good work and team building can be destroyed by a few careless words.
“Rah-rah” pep talks have a lifespan of about 30 minutes; cruel words echo for ages. Again, drawing on a good CEO’s mental attitude, make your speech positive and challenging. Also, communicate the “big picture” over and over again in different ways. Each challenge faced by the company should relate back to the big picture in some way. Make that picture clear to everyone.
What does this kind of leadership look like? Let’s take a look at Walmart’s Sam Walton, whose legacy still permeates that company. He clearly demonstrated the ideals I’ve tried to capture, and here’s a case in point. As the guaranteed low-price leader, if a customer finds something cheaper at another store, any Walmart cashier will, on the spot, cheerfully issue a refund. The cashier has “the big picture” and performs the required task with the right attitude, evident in both her body language and the words being spoken.
This may not seem like a remarkable achievement, but the fact that it’s not remarkable is actually a testimony to the great leadership at Walmart. In many organizations, an entry level employee would be fearful that issuing a refund so easily would raise red flags with supervisors. Sam Walton’s vision was different, and it has been communicated through all ranks.
That is leadership.
David Ching is the Vice President of Operations for EQA Office Furniture in California. Connect with David on LinkedIn.
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- Secret to reaching the top: Think, Act, Talk like a CEO - July 8, 2013