When I ask fellow CEOs what their job is, all too often I get answers like, “It’s making sure we’re hitting our financial targets and operational goals,” or, “It’s making sure we’re developing products that meet our customer’s needs.” While I can acknowledge that part of operating a business involves tracking metrics and cutting costs or generating sales to boost profits, that’s not leadership. In fact, it’s “bass ackwards,” as they say. I’m willing to go so far as to say that financial metrics are lagging indicators of how a business is doing. Your job as a leader, then, is to consider these following 10 rules as ways to truly drive your business—and its financial metrics—profitably forward.
1. You’re in the relationship business
Regardless of what product or service you sell, the business you are really in is building relationships with your employees, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. People like doing business together because they like each other. So the stronger relationships you build, the stronger your business will be.
2. Hire superstars
In this economy, there is a glut of super-talented people to help your business grow. That means that when it comes time to fill a position, you need to have the patience to wait and hire the best—not just the next in line. Hire for fit as much as skill.
3. Focus on the small things
While big shakeups make for good headlines, the truth is that the biggest results in your business come from your smallest gestures, such as sending a handwritten thank you note to the home of an employee, or putting a gift basket in the hotel of a visiting customer. It could even be just patting someone on the shoulder to say, “Good job.”
4. Never be a bottleneck
One of the worst things in any business is when people use the excuse, “It’s sitting on the CEOs desk.” As a leader, you can’t afford to be the bottleneck to getting things done. That means you need to adopt what I call “Empty Inbox Syndrome,” which entails keeping your inbox and your desktop clean by moving items along as expeditiously as you can.
5. Your organization is a reflection of you
Whether you realize it or not, more than half of the culture of your organization is a reflection of your personality and everything you say and do. Good or bad. Think about icons like Herb Kelleher or Jack Welch, leaders whose values were reflected in the companies they ran. The point is you need to be aware of how you dress, write, live the company values, and so on because that’s how people will perceive your organization.
6. Do what you say you’re going to do
Accountability starts with you—that means you, as a leader, need to keep your promises. And if you’re going to miss a deadline or some such, communicate it. It’s not good enough to just apologize afterward. It comes down to showing respect for one another and it all begins with you.
7. Your direction, their voice
Yes, most employees want to hear what your vision for the future looks like and what they need to do to get there. But that future is so much richer when your people get input into creating it. That’s why Bill Marriott’s famous phrase, “I don’t know, what do you think?” has come to be known as the seven most important words in business. The more you can exert the patience to let ideas bubble up from within your organization, and then give credit to those who come up with them, the more engaged your workforce will be.
8. Weed the garden
To borrow a phrase from a business mind, Doug Tatum, author of No Man’s Land, the management team that got you from there to here is not the same group that will get you from here to there. You need to be always willing to weed the garden—
to have those tough conversations about parting ways with people who just don’t fit your company culture—or to bring in outside talent when the company outgrows the talent you currently have.
9. Get out of the zone
It’s easy to get comfortable. But, as a leader, you cannot afford to. That means stretching your muscles to get out of your comfort zone, whatever that might be. For me, a self-described introvert, I push myself to walk the floors and socialize with my coworkers, which makes me both vulnerable and accountable to them. It also makes me a better leader.
10. Understand the personal vision of employees and customers
Most companies, including mine, spend significant time carving out our organization’s mission, vision and values. But how often do we take the time to know the personal vision of our employees and customers? If we don’t, how else can we help them grow professionally and engage more in the business so that it, too, grows? After all, what else is leadership all about?