Throughout my career I have worked with some fantastic leaders. I keep a little notebook where I write down interesting quotes, ideas and thoughts that I pick up from them from time to time.
For example, during a recent conversation with a CEO about leadership and performance, I was struck by his attitude towards his performance and his team’s performance. He made it clear to his team of Executive Directors that he depended on them for achieving his own objectives for the business. He went on to explain to me, my team know that I depend on them. If my team fails, I fail. It began to sink in as we discussed this further, that this was coming from someone who is very clearly the leader, the Chief Executive the Grand Fromage, the Head Honcho, Numero Uno, the Big Banana, whatever you call it. As with most leaders, his physical presence is itself commanding. His decisions are scrutinised by the Chairman and the Board, but he is the decision-maker, he decides who’s in his executive team and who’s not, and what the priorities and objectives are based on the expectations of shareholders – he is accountable. And in this particular case he is leading a high profile business, under a lot of scrutiny in a very tough market. The buck stops with him.
However, he is equally vulnerable, because he cannot do it all, he’s not an expert on everything and his performance and accountability is transparent and public. He relies not on technical skills but entirely on being an effective leader to ensure that his team delivers their objectives. They in turn rely on their own managers and employees to deliver their own.
We all know that leadership in business is about providing clarity about what needs to be done, which comes with the challenge of communicating, motivating and empowering employees to deliver. Surely that’s obvious, I hear you say. Everyone knows that leadership requires great communication skills and the ability to empower employees and that great leaders have the personal and legitimate power and charisma to move employees to action, to perform. Yes, it is obvious. However, with the power of leadership comes not just responsibility, but also accountability and vulnerability. What struck me about this CEO was his honesty and willingness to lay himself open when he told his team – “I’m completely dependent on you to deliver our Company’s objectives. My performance depends on you performing.” Only after his team understood and accepted this dependency did he move the discussion onto the Company’s objectives for the future.
That’s why I wrote it in my notebook as another important lesson about leadership. But even as I noted his comment I noticed another phrase on the opposite page – “Why should anyone be led by me?” Perhaps how he or you might answer this question is the subject for another blog..…