Blog post September 2011
It's one thing to be ruthlessly consistent and another to be consistently relevant. Aligning people, processes, structure and infrastructure with the wrong focus can be very effective ... at leading you to failure.
Stuffing your products with even more features doesn't make sense if what your customers really want is simple (ever see an 80-year-old struggling with a cell phone?). Cutting people to cut costs can be self-defeating if exceptional service is growing your customer base (think Zappos).
So where does the right focus come from? A well-designed strategic management process. Once you've got a handle on the competitive landscape, your internal situation, and the larger societal factors that are impacting your business, you can establish your focus. Then align your people, processes, structure and infrastructure.
First comes focus, then consistency. Now you're relevant ... and winning.
Fortune Magazine, among others, publishes an annual list of the best companies to work for. A characteristic common to many of these companies? Fun. They're fun places to work, they have fun activities. (Like sumo-wrestling contests where everyone from the CEO to the service rep can be found crashing into each other in their plastic sumo suits!)
But wait a minute. Isn't business about making money? Well, it turns out that the best companies to work for typically outperform their competitors financially. Why? Because fun helps employees feel good about their workplace. So they go above-and-beyond. They take initiative. And that's what leads to better performance and results.
Think Southwest Airlines. Their former CEO, Herb Kelleher, was known to attend company parties dressed in drag. Ever flown Southwest? Unsurprisingly, their flight attendants are fun. But how do they do financially? Very, very well compared to their competitors.
Fun and business results aren't incompatible. In fact, fun can help you achieve business results. So go back to the office, identify the people who are fun, form a Fun Committee and get out of the way!
Now, where did I put those panty hose?
I've consulted with hundreds of CEOs and executives. And I've learned to be selective on the front end to maximize the opportunity for success on the back end. So what do I look for in a CEO? The 3 C's.
If there's no will there's no way. If you're a CEO, I'm looking for evidence of commitment not just in words but in action. Have you made personal sacrifices in order to win? Have you changed your behavior in some significant way? Have you taken decisive action that was unpopular or uncomfortable?
As a CEO, you need to possess at least sufficient capabilities in all areas critical to your job. That generally means some combination of traits and skills ranging from the analytical and technical to the creative to the interpersonal and intrapersonal.
The acid test. Are you in control of your ego or is your ego in control of you? If you're unable to acknowledge your limitations, unwilling to accept responsibility for outcomes, or reluctant to share credit for successes then, ultimately, you can't win.
That's what I look for in a CEO. And that's what you should look for in any executive.
They might listen to what you say but they hear what you do. Make no mistake, you are constantly on stage. Your people are watching and judging everything you do. Everything you don't do. Everything. So how consistent are you?
If you expect your people to change, then role-model that change. If conditions force your organization to sacrifice, then be seen as the first to sacrifice. If you want to bring attention to a cultural norm, then be an exemplar of that norm.
If you're not consistent, you can't be credible. But you have to be credible for your people to follow you. And as I once read, if you think you're a leader yet no one is following you, then you're just going for a walk.