Friday, September 24, 2010

The Boss Leads The Way

Linda Hudson, CEO of BAE Systems, got this message after becoming the first female president of General Dynamics. After her first day on the job, a dozen women in her office imitated how she tied her scarf. Hudson realized, “It really was now about me and the context of setting the tone for the organization. That was a lesson I have never forgotten—that as a leader, people are looking at you in a way that you could not have imagined in other roles.” Hudson added that such scrutiny and the consequent responsibility is “something that I think about virtually every day.”

This snippet above illustrates the importance of the CEO in setting cultural overtones for a hospital. In short, if you are looking out the window of your executive office and wondering why it is that people dont do things they way you would expect them to do them - then it is because they are following your lead.

Now let's be realistic. We're not talking about how people go about giving an injection, applying a bandage, cooking a meal or preparing a set of financial accounts. These are technical skills, these are taught skills. We're talking about the behaviours that make an organisation an enjoyable place to work, or otherwise.

What are your surveys telling you? Do you even take any notice off the picture they paint? Maybe you do and maybe that is why you are feeling a bit disappointed. I hope so. Now turn around, find a mirror and look into it. What do you see? Do you see a CEO who smiles, has a open, inviting posture, looks interested in other people, has a enquiring mind? Do you see someone who wants to help, wants to engage everyone in the organisation? If you were new to your organisation and you were looking at you on your first day, would you want to follow yourself?

Now the challenge is that what we see in ourselves and what others see will often be different. It is a rare individual that is able to undertake an accurate self assessment, and more importantly, make the changes without being pushed into doing so by someone else or some form of crisis. By that stage it is often to late and we are left wondering what it is we did wrong.

When you arrive in the CEO's office, newly minted, or any senior executive office for that matter, life does change. For a start you have immense influence over the careers of other people. In turn they have less influence over yours. This is an outcome of our hierarchial system of management. It can be different but not likely to be in the current climate. Those that you have influence over begin to observe you from day one. They note constantly every aspect of your behaviour, and they copy whatever they believe will help them to advance or remain in their role. This is natural behaviour. We prefer the status quo to something different and we do everything in our power to retain the status quo - to the point of going down with a sinking ship because our perception is that this is the least risky option.

If you decide that decision making will be a solitary exercise, take a heroic CEO stance, where you appear to know it all - then that is exactly the stance your senior executives will take. Those that are uncomfortable with that style will eventually leave and you will likely replace them with people similar to yourself. In turn, every manager throughout your organisation will adapt that style of decision making. In this instance the outcomes could be catastropic. This eventually leads to a culture of blame and backside protecting. Who would you blame? Yourself or your management team? I would suggest you start by looking at yourself.

How do you stop this from occuring? Firstly ask yourself, are you open to change, are adaptable, are you willing to listen to feedback from others, and if so are you prepared to act upon that feedback? If not, its time to go home. It's time to find another role. Let the Board appoint someone that is adaptable and able to work with people, able to engage with people and able to listen to what other people say.

Should you decide you have all the good qualities! Then it is time to seek some feedback, formally or informally it doesn't matter. What is more important is what you do with the feedback you receieve. Try this, speak to those that gave the feedback. Thank them, do not criticise their feedback. Have a conversation, seek more information and make a commitment to ongoing change. Ask for their support and feedback. Seek some executive coaching or mentoring. An external coach, with no political affiliation, no axe to grind, whose only desire is to see you be the best you can be, can also help you to challenge your assumptions, interpret your observations and develop new management behaviours.

When you seek feedback, go deep into your organisation. Many CEO's limit feedback to immediate direct reports in the executive team. Remember what was stated earlier about focusing on those with the greatest impact upon your career. Maybe the people with the most to lose are not the most reliable when it comes to getting feedback on your behaviour as a CEO. Afterall they are simply copying you. What would they see wrong in your behaviour?

Other people will see a different CEO. They will focus on the impact you have upon them. They will look at how you communicate with people, how you share information, how you engage them and seek input from them. They will judge you upon the quality of people you promote into management roles. Yes they will gripe about how little they are paid and how difficult their work is. You need to hear these things also. You need the reality check. Some things you can do something about, others you can do nothing more than listen. You will be judged upon how often and how well you listen. You will be judged upon how often rank and file staff see you in their territory, and when you are there, they will judge you on how you behaved towards them and their colleagues.

This will not be easy feedback to seek, to listen to, to absorb or to act upon. CEO's and senior executives assume a persona when you reach higher office. Its a coping strategy for all the issues they are faced with on a daily basis. It helps to protect them from the constant demands upon their time. It can also prevent them from being perceived as a real person, someone with heart and soul. Noone will doubt you have a brain; yet often they will doubt you know how to use it.

Becoming a CEO does not mean you know it all. It does not mean you have reached the pinnacle of management behaviour. It does mean you are at the beginning of the next stage of your journey, rather than the end of the journey.

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO

Telephone: +61 247 390 376
Twitter: john_coxon
Facebook: johncoxon1

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