Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Servant Leader

A Conversation with a CEO
July 3, 2012

You can’t help but be impressed by a CEO who is comfortable in his role as leader. Today I had the opportunity to meet with such an individual. He was invited as a guest of a small group of consultants of which I was one. The purpose of the meeting was to get a better sense of what leaders are struggling with in our current business environment and understand more fully what kinds of challenges they might be encountering. Of course, I’m listening for opportunity. I am an expert in marketing and communications with an emphasis on techniques for sustainable efforts. I am listening for problems that might be effectively addressed with improved messages, mission and shared values. My colleagues are listening for issues that might be related to personnel alignment, organizational process, effective selling or culture.

We asked the CEO what he thought a leader needed to accomplish to be successful. The question was a little awkward and maybe even a little open-ended but our CEO wasn’t perplexed, confused or bewildered in the least. He spoke in measured tone with confidence and self assuredness. He was not pompous or arrogant. In fact, he was quite humble in his manner. There was, however, absolutely no doubt that he was a man who had studied and pondered the qualities and dynamics of leadership.

His answer was concise and to the point but at the same time comprehensive. I may not do if complete justice here but in essence this is what he said:

A leader does three things.
1.       Direction – “He or she must first provide direction. That direction needs to be clear and well defined. It must be accessible to everyone in an organization and easily translated to each and every functional responsibility. If a leader does this well, people can feel a sense of accomplishment each and every day knowing that they are making a meaningful contribution to the company.” Our CEO described a process of annual strategic planning along with meaningful metrics to help the company board, senior management team and everyone else measure progress.
2.       Resources – “Once direction is set, the leader needs to make sure the appropriate resources are available to accomplish goals and achieve milestones that are outlined in strategic plan documents.”  The CEO said that the clarity in direction helps determine what skills are necessary and allows a frame of reference for personnel assessments. He said it was important to get the right people in place and provide the right tools.
3.       Break down barriers – Finally the CEO said that a leader needs to: Be there to break down barriers.” I noted that he was not afraid to be hands-on in this area. He went on to describe the role a leader plays in creating a culture of transparency and trust. He stressed the importance of communication between departments, integrity in dealing with customers and teamwork overall. “We have great people” he added “That makes my job easy.” 

I could not help noticing that this CEO who cited The Servant Leader among those business books he’d read was the right man for the job. His company was lucky to have him at the helm.  

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