In the old days, the CEO was an autocrat. They would say, "This is how we're going to do things," and that was the bottom line; they would micromanage to make sure everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing.
Today, business has become so complex and there's so much that is required to produce great service or a great product that it's way beyond the expertise of one person. The world is moving so fast now, and technology is changing every industry.
Unsurprisingly, the role of the CEO is changing along with it.
The Wolff Olins Report 2015, which looks at the current and emerging leadership climate, notes that CEOs must "find ways to create the uncorporation--a company where the culture celebrates and nurtures individualism whilst continuing to meet hard and demanding targets." As the CEO of a company with almost 600 employees, I agree that this "paradox" is the next great challenge of modern leadership.
Here, then, are four ways the role of the CEO is changing to meet the demands of the future:
1. Serving the business
I don't view the concepts of individualism and a corporate environment as mutually exclusive. The way I see my role as CEO of Ovation is that I am ultimately a catalyst for the business. I have always said that I consider our employees Ovation's "special sauce." Therefore, it makes sense that investing in and focusing on them will in turn help the business. It is extremely important to be very careful not to undermine people. When that happens, it creates a rot that will eventually metastasize throughout the organization. When someone is disempowered they are also disenchanted, and they won't want to do their jobs effectively. Unless you empower people at the next level--to also empower their teams to collaborate and formulate best practices--it's impossible to be successful.
2. Listening to the experts
It's unrealistic to think that every CEO has an expertise in every area. I happen to be good at sales and marketing, and I'm less astute with finance and technology. It's important to surround yourself with a leadership team that can fill the gaps that you have in your expertise. One of the things I do is walk around and talk to my team, and I find out where there may be obstacles preventing them from getting stuff done. My job is to then grease the wheels of the organization in different areas. If it was not originally in our budget, I need to then decide if it's going to solve our problem, and then I need to get it done behind the scenes without anybody feeling like I'm micromanaging or counter-acting or disempowering them. That's one of the things that I pride myself on: knowing when it's appropriate to stick my nose in versus when to take a step back.
3. Learning from experience
I am by nature an optimistic person, so whenever something bad or unexpected happens, my instinct is always to look on the bright side. If you have the right frame of mind, everything is a learning experience that will tell you how to be a better leader and build a better company. I recently read an article discussing the fact that children whose parents do not let them make mistakes, such as falling off a bicycle, have a harder time in life because they never learned how to keep going in the face of adversity. I think the same is true in the business travel industry (or any industry, really) as well. There were so many events (think 9/11, two Gulf Wars and the Global Financial Crisis) that happened where we could have given up but didn't, and I think we are better because of it. Related to that, it's extremely important to me that Ovation employees never feel afraid to discuss new ideas or strategies just because it's something we have never done or considered before, and therefore may not work. For example, a few years ago we started an invitation only, 24 hour VIP service called our Titanium Desk, at the suggestion of one of our managers. It had never been done before, and it now boasts some of the highest profile clients in the industry, continuing to grow because it is a differentiated service that our competitors can't match.
4. Creating a holistic work environment
I have continually said I am a firm believer that it's incumbent upon us as an employer to provide a holistic work environment that includes a salary, benefits, and a collegial atmosphere where people want to come to work. If you do all of those things, people will want to stay working for the company and they'll go the extra mile. Instead of walking out the door when their shift ends at 5 p.m., they'll take that extra call. It's a free market out there, and particularly now with the unemployment rate going down and the economy improving, it's even more important that we provide a compelling and attractive work package so that people don't want to look elsewhere. We have a very high retention rate in a difficult industry which tends to have somewhat of a revolving door, and it is a big competitive advantage to boast a loyal and growing work force. The bottom line is that you want people to take a proprietary interest in your business, for them to know their worth as employees, and to treat the company like it's their own.