Both of us believe very strongly that CEOs should be visible and accessible. People really appreciate having direct contact with the person who leads the organisation. Knowing that the CEO has listened to you and acted on your feedback can be incredibly powerful in making employees and customers feel valued. It is vital though that they feel that they are interacting with you as a real person, so being authentic is incredibly important; people can sense if you are being false or insincere. Visibility also gives the CEO the opportunity to see for themselves the quality of the services that they are ultimately responsible for providing and to remain in touch with the reality of what the experience is like for their workforce and clients, which can be entirely different from the impression conveyed to those who choose to sit in their ivory tower and experience reality only through the narrative of a Board report. A word of caution though; be wary of organised “royal visits” as it is essential to see services and meet the staff and people we support in a natural way.
Tip Two: Live the Values in Everything You Do
Your behaviour is incredibly important in shaping the culture of the organisation. People will watch what you do and say very closely and will pick up on any incongruence. A CEO who promised that they would visit a service on a particular date cancelled due to other priorities but then cancelled again on a further three occasions.
As a CEO, you need to be self-aware. In particular, you need to be aware of your “shadow”, that influences how others take their cue from what you do and ensure that this doesn’t alter, even when you are under pressure.
Tip Three: Managing Complexity
The job of a CEO is complicated. We are bombarded with information all the time and need to make sense of it and to be able to make rapid assessments, in order to separate minor issues from the really important ones that require more consideration. A key skill is to be able to analyse a complex situation by breaking it down into its constituent elements. Recognising patterns and similarities with situations previously encountered is a valuable skill as it can substantially speed up your ability to assess a situation and decide on the right course of action. CEOs should delegate, but there are times when a CEO needs to recognise when something is potentially very serious or important, requiring them to get involved and demonstrate leadership of the situation and own the communication with stakeholders and the media.
The analogy of the helicopter works well here. A lot of the time, a CEO needs to be flying high, not with their head in the clouds but looking at the big picture and scanning the horizon. However, there are times when they need to drop down into the action to provide direct engagement and make sure that a particularly tricky issue is managed well.
Tip Four: Strategy Shouldn’t be Complicated
Strategy is often shrouded in mystique and complexity when it shouldn’t be. A strategy is simply an articulation of the aims and direction of the organisation in a way that engages your stakeholders and is communicated clearly. This isn’t best achieved by writing a long and dense strategy document that very few people will read and which will soon be out of date. Strategies are rarely implemented precisely as they were first intended. A strategy should be seen as a guide for the journey the organisation is undertaking. It doesn’t remove the need for the ability to make decisions about how best to respond to challenges and opportunities encountered on the way and it is important that the whole crew know how they can play their part in the success of the venture. A simple plan that has scope to flex is often the best.
Tip Five: It’s All About the People: Unlock Their Potential
It really is as simple as making sure that you get the right people. You want people who are technically competent, but just as important is that they live and share the organisation’s values, have passion and energy and are team players.
It is a responsibility of a CEO to unlock their potential. That means creating a culture that focuses on developing people and that celebrates diversity because it opens up a wider pool of talent, but if people can fully be themselves at work they will also be so much more effective. To get the best out of people, you need to value them as individuals.
Tip Six: Knowing When to Use Analysis and Data and When to Go with Your Gut
CEOs need data to help them make decisions, but you can also be drowned by too much information. It’s one reason why visibility is important so that you can analyse data in the context of what your staff and customers are saying. There’s a lot of wisdom in your gut instincts – listen to it. If something doesn’t feel right, pull back but if you sense you could be more ambitious then go for it. A CEO is responsible for using their judgement to help the organisation do the right thing – not just doing the maths.
Tip Seven: Do as You Would be Done By
It’s a really obvious thing to say, but act in the way that you or a family member would want to be treated. Stop and say to yourself “how would I like to be treated in this situation ?” Quite often, for example, you will be told that a complainant or an employee is a “difficult individual”. Wouldn’t you also be “difficult” if you were frustrated or did not feel you were being treated fairly or not being listened to?
If you provide services, always ask yourself, would I be happy with the quality for me or a member of my family? If the answer is “no”, it’s time to act.
Tip Eight: You are a Servant as Well as a Leader
Strong leaders attend to the needs of others before their own. They also don’t consider themselves more important than others. People remember and tell stories about the leaders who went the extra mile for them and that helps shape a strong culture. Whether you are putting in an expense claim or booking a hotel for a work event, never treat yourself differently from your front-line staff. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you.
Tip Nine: Own Your Mistakes and Learn from Them
Don’t be defensive and don’t think, because you’re a CEO, you never make mistakes. All CEOs make mistakes and it’s the best way of learning. Don’t beat yourself up but do reflect on what you could have done differently and make sure you do it next time. Most CEOs will tell you that they learnt the most from the toughest situations.
Tip Ten: Be Brave but not Reckless
You are the face of the organisation. You will be challenged and you will face conflict. In our sector, you will inevitably come up against unreasonable bureaucracy from time to time. You may be criticised for not dealing with something early enough and at the same time for stepping in too quickly to take charge of something else. Trust your intuition, do what you think is right and accept the consequences. People will look to you for leadership, they will want to know that you’ve got their back if they need you and that you will be brave in the face of adversity.
A final word is that leadership is about being yourself, but with skill and confidence in order to engage others and achieve a common purpose. Our thoughts are not revolutionary but hopefully these views from a couple of old hands might resonate with you.