Sometimes, I think my most important job as CEO is to listen to bad news. If you don’t act on it, your people will eventually stop bringing bad news to your attention and that is the beginning of the end. —Bill Gates
Studies on leadership revealed that each year, the average tenure of a new chief executive officer is about three years. “One of many reasons for this is the fact that change really is — and will continue to be — the only constant in the global business world as it occurs faster and in greater number, requiring business leaders and their organizations to respond faster and with greater effectiveness,” Jeffrey J. Fox and Robert Reiss reported in their co-authored book, The Transformative CEO: Impact Lessons from Industry Game Changers.
The authors share that after decades of studying organizations and CEOs, the enterprise has indeed entered the fourth phase of business — the value-driven organization. If you go back in business history, 1920 saw the birth of General Motors’ Alfred Sloan’s “the corporation.” Peter Drucker paved the way for an organized practice of management in the 1950s, and in the 1980s, the Japanese way of doing things brought the quality circles. Today, the enterprise has evolved into transformative organizations, the operation of which combines higher purpose and profit. Continuous improvement has become constant improvement and that can only be achieved by some kind of managerial revolution. Here you are reminded of the long-running, widely syndicated Walt Kelly’s comic strip Pogo the Possum’s intuitive leap: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Fox and Reiss’ tome features CEOs who share the valuable lessons they learned while leading major initiatives to achieve organizational transformation. “They are real executives in real companies who truthfully talked about real everyday life crises, dangers, and prospects. They are game-changers and they played their ‘game’ in their heads and hearts, throughout the given enterprise, and within the given industry,” the authors explain.
The CEO contributors in collaboration with Reis and Fox were able to draw upon a wealth of precious stories and experiences, particularly in the realm of crises, setbacks, and major failures. The book discusses how to turn a company around, protect or change a company culture, put culture first, hire to the given culture, perform while transforming, serve a higher purpose, and give back in response to deserving need. It also discloses information, insights, and wisdom that will help to prepare you to take calculated risks, innovate at all levels and in all areas — to varying degrees of scale, make everything “better, better, and better.” It shows you how to defend ideas and the process as they are generated, and “led with love” — with emotional intelligence that appreciates, protects as well as nourishes human dignity. After extensive exposure to many CEOs, Reis and Fox saw the trends in ideas or techniques that could be used to become organizationally effective and efficient, and they are distilled in five principles that top CEOs should adhere to in order to transform their companies:
It’s not just about making money. Top CEOs serve a higher purpose, which is focused on why the company is in business. They also make sure every person in the company understands and embraces the higher purpose.
Every impediment will help their company grow and become strong. Top CEOs hold in their arms challenges and obstacles as opportunities, and they recognize that.
Happy employees mean happy customers. Top CEOs focus on the culture before they train their sights on the customer. If the culture is strong, it develops employees that are happy, creative, and innovative. And this happiness, creativity and innovativeness redounds to the benefit of the customers.
Learning from other industries can lead the way. Many times other businesses have already solved challenges you may be facing. Top CEOs spend time learning from them.
Making the best product will save you tons of money in the long run. Manufacture and market products or services that people will tell their friends about. Don’t cut corners. Build the best product and experience. It will bring your investments spending level down.
IABC panel on the transformative CEO
Leading a company is no longer just about change or innovation; it’s also about transformation. This was the main thesis of a panel discussion among top CEOs facilitated by Reis in the IABC World Conference in New York, which aimed to help communicators better understand the rules of how to become a transformative leader, inspire teams and lead their respective organizations to success. Included in the panel were Peter Cuneo, a former Marvel Entertainment CEO and currently managing principal of a private investment and management company; Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC who also supervises NBC News’ Specials coverage; Shelly Lazarus, chairman emeritus of Ogilvy & Mather, who personally preached that the purpose of advertising is to build great brands like American Express, BP, Coca-Cola, IBM, Motorola and Unilever, among many others; and Bill McDermott, co-CEO of SAP. The panel discussion yielded 20 tweet-friendly takeaways:
Transformative CEOs are business leaders who have moved from the “to get from here to there” mindset to the “creating new value that reinvigorates a company, reinvents an industry or reboots society” thinking.
The CEO is also the CVO (Chief Value Officer) of an enterprise. It’s a key part of his or her job to set and monitor strategic value goals, to make sure that opportunities for value are maximized, and that threats to value are minimized. For a traded company, the single metric that summarizes success on all these dimensions is the stock price. The panel agreed that shareholder value incorporates all other forms of value that a company produces.
Superior performance by a CEO can drive superior performance by the whole organization, which is then reflected in its stock performance relative to the market as a whole.
As a transformative leader, you should be the “business person” first. Consciously and continuously remove a pain for your company or brand.
Boost your credibility by bringing business to your communication.
Executive compensations should be tied up with how your people feel.
Employee engagement starts with a customer-driven culture.
You can’t tolerate a disengaged employee.
History has a way of repeating itself. Be constantly aware of what is happening around you.
Listen to people and together solve the need. Go outside more — create conversations and agree on solutions.
CEOs must understand the emerging middle class, the millennials and the mobile market. They are the audience groups that have the greatest number and potential.
Create a burning platform by being relevant, as an organization and as a person.
Make employees believe in what they’re doing. That makes for an involved internal public.
It’s always a mistake to live in the past.
Reengage employees to meaningful endeavors. Tell them that what they do is for a higher purpose.
Strategy is focused on the individual and having a conversation with each of them.
The power of one conversation is key to transformative leadership.
Tactics, strategic and trusted relationships are what you need to develop as a transformative leader.
Corporate citizenship is what a company or a brand is all about.
Authenticity is the mark of a transformative leader.
The challenge is that transformative leadership can be very difficult to achieve and even more difficult to sustain. As Reis and Fox so forcefully revealed, the opportunity is that personal transformation and professional growth will accomplish almost anything the human mind can imagine. Helen Keller said it quite appropriately: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
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