If you compare what made CEOs successful just 10 years ago with what makes them successful today, you’ll notice some changes. There’s been an evolution in the way leaders think about their companies, employees, communities and even themselves. Regardless of what has driven these shifts, leaders can set the conditions for success in today’s workplace in 8 ways. Warning: Many of these may require you to step outside of your comfort zone.
By Sam Reese
- Your purpose is fuel. Nobody wants to work anymore for a company that says its No. 1 goal is “shareholder value.” While that may have been true in the past, running a business today is also about customers and employees. Unite colleagues and stakeholders around a clear purpose to energize them to work for your business. Employees want to do something great for the world and understand how their actions contribute.
- Drive the culture you believe in. Invest in your culture as a differentiator to attract and retain the right talent. Ten years ago, especially when the economy sputtered, the way many executives talked about their teams was almost as if people had no other options. That’s no longer the case. Employees are free agents. The most recent Vistage CEO Confidence Index Survey shows 56% of CEOs plan to hire in the next year. With unemployment at a decade low, finding and retaining talent is a critical challenge. It’s more important than ever to craft a culture that appeals to the type of employee who will drive your business forward.
- Bridge the generational divide. Nowadays, it’s common for a business to have five generations in the workplace. Trying to speak to every constituency with its own attributes is almost impossible. Communicate that your organization values collaboration and respect, and every generation will nod in agreement.
- Champion transparency and candor. Today, any reaction to what we say can pop up on social media in minutes. Leaders should embrace this feedback – good or bad – because it drives transparency. It signals where you and your organization may need to focus its attention. Your own candor also increases loyalty and alignment. Create an open environment where your team can celebrate the successes and learn together from the failures.
- Embrace vulnerability as a strength. Vulnerability now is a strength that leaders want to be open about. They want to be clear about their shortcomings and their mistakes. This is important because it shows your team (and your family) that you are trying to improve. A leader who thinks they must have all the answers—or else appear weak to their team—is not setting themselves up for success.
- Know the details of your business, but don’t get stuck in the weeds. Top executives can no longer get away with just being cheerleaders for their companies. Because you have ready access to data about every facet of your business, your board and leadership team expect you’ll use it. Your familiarity with the details doesn’t mean you should micromanage. A leader’s role is still to provide bold, strategic decisions. But leaders have to understand the details to provide relevant guidance and to keep up with data-driven competition.
- Challenge your perspective. Surrounding yourself with people who push you for clarity and offer differing points of view is a fundamental condition for success. This source of feedback should come from both internal teams and peers outside the office. It’s important to prevent confirmation bias, situations in which we’ve made up our minds and start asking people who we know will agree with our perspective. We have to be strong enough to open our mind to totally different ways of thinking. CEOs position themselves for better success when they implement a process to gain unbiased feedback on a regular basis.
- Then make a decision. In today’s environment, the inability to make timely, accurate decisions can cost the company and the leader. Nothing indicts a leader more than when they don’t make decisions. Execute your plan, then tweak based on the results. There’s no shame in making a bold decision that doesn’t work out as expected — as long as you learn from the experience and are open with your team.
CEOs who view themselves as unilateral decision-makers with little accountability will fail in today’s workplace and economy. Yes, your primary responsibility is to be the chief strategic decision-maker. The buck does stop with you. But employees expect to be active participants in your vision, and the complexities of a fast-paced, data-driven world mean you simply can’t make effective decisions without input from others. To be a great leader today, you have to learn to embrace this complexity, even when it means leaving your comfort zone.
Sam Reese is CEO of Vistage Worldwide, the world’s leading CEO coaching and peer advisory organization for small and midsize businesses. Over his 35 year career as a business leader, Sam has led large and midsize organizations and has advised CEOs and key executive of companies all over the world. He holds a business administration degree from the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado and has completed executive programs at The Wharton School of Business and Northwestern University. To learn how a peer advisory group can help you navigate challenges, make better decisions and achieve growth, visit vistage.com.