Leadership : A Hired Hand With A Mission

Albert A. Vicere is executive education professor of strategic leadership at Penn State's Smeal College of Business, and president of Vicere Associates, Inc., a leadership consulting firm with clients around the globe. He is one of the country's top leadership coaches, and is the author/editor of several books including Leadership By Design, The Many Facets of Leadership and more than 80 articles on leadership development and organizational effectiveness.

View his website by visiting www.vicere.com or e-mail him on a.vicere@vicere.com

The economic turn around is here. Analysts are cheering, markets are booming, and companies are seeing the results. After three difficult years, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

But before we all breathe a sigh of relief, consider this. The forces of globalization and the information technology revolution have fundamentally altered the economic environment and challenged leaders to rethink their roles.

In a recent Fortune interview, venerated business guru Peter Drucker observed that indeed, globalization and IT were changing the world. He discussed how the changes could be a force for the better as long as CEO’s delivered on their real job, that of building a solid management team and keeping that team focused on doing the right things well. 

Drucker went on to criticize the era of the celebrity CEO and challenged what he termed excessive levels of CEO pay. Reflecting his concern regarding the business leadership credibility crisis, he quoted JP Morgan, “The CEO is just a hired hand,” charged with maintaining the relevance and performance of the firm.

Maybe the best CEO’s are hired hands-but with a mission, a mandate that includes creating a positive identity for the firm, recruiting talented people, keeping the best on board, and getting them to work together for the good of the organization and all its stakeholders. Here’s some advice for senior leaders who wish to succeed in that role.

Build your company brand.

Building brand requires that a company tell its story (in the current vernacular, “articulate its business model”). How do you make money, serve customers, contribute to communities, provide great employment opportunities, achieve outstanding results? If you, every employee, and every stakeholder in your organization can’t answer those questions, you’ll never make the leap.

Invest in Talent. 

Joe Neubauer, Chairman of Aramark and among the country’s most respected business leaders, said it best, “it’s all about the company you keep.” The most effective organizations are made up of talented people who work together, share resources and information, and are committed to both personal and organizational success. But you’ll have a tough time attracting good people without a strong company brand. And you’ll struggle to retain those people unless you engage them, involve them, and make them part of the decision-making process.

Leverage Your Most Critical Assets.

Former GE CEO Jack Welch used to say that the key to a company’s success is getting a real return on its three most critical assets: money, people, and information. If you allocate and reallocate resources toward exciting opportunities, if you seek out the best minds in the organization regardless of where they reside, if you put those minds to work on challenging opportunities, and if you share the knowledge they create across the organization, then you will prosper. Make sure you’re doing it.

Train Leaders to Lead. 

In the old economy, leaders often were auditors. They watched over things, approved things, and kept things running smoothly. Today electronic systems do that. That frees up leaders to facilitate, coach, teach, mentor, and develop both their people and the key relationships essential to their success. But they can’t do those things until they are taught how to do them, and they won’t do them until they are held accountable for delivering on the demand. Leadership development may be your organization’s biggest current challenge.

Remember the Basics. 

Never lose sight of two basic but powerful principles shared with us by Peter Drucker early in his career: do the right things and do them well.

So if you want to benefit from the upturn, look around your organization. Make sure your organization has a clear identity. Go after the best people. Give those people a chance to contribute and excel. Do the right things, morally, ethically, and from a business perspective. Do those things well. Do this and you just might succeed on your mission.

© Copyright © 2004 Albert Vicere

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