Essentials of Leadership

A CEO is responsible for the alignment of a team of leaders.

Essentials of Leadership

Leadership should exist on a number of levels throughout an organization.  While this article will cover executive leadership, many of its principals will pervade throughout the differing levels of leadership.  The forthcoming information will review leadership principals and approaches necessary for superior results.


Is It Lonely At The Top?

It can be if the company culture does not permit adverse opinions.  A CEO cannot run a company by him/herself.  A leader’s job is to guide progress forward through the art of making decisions.  To make the best decision for the direction of a company, a leader must consider all important variables which impact the decision.  A culture must be fostered where it is safe for an executive team to share essential information, regardless of how it may be perceived.  Without fluid communication, important information may not be shared which inhibits the leader’s ability to appropriately guide the organization. For insight into how to foster this type of environment, please see our article on Improving Executive Communication.


Traveling Is Part Of The Journey

The larger the organization the greater the travel responsibilities. When speaking with a number of CEOs for large organizations, travel was an essential part of their responsibilities.  Once a strategy for a company is developed, the direction of the organization must be communicated and consistently reiterated.  While technology advancements provide a platform in which communication can be handled remotely, physical travel is also advised.  When a CEO travels to different organizational locations, they are able to accomplish more than simply communicating direction.  The CEO is able to get an intimate feel for how the divisions are progressing.  S/he is able to coordinate with local leadership and reinforce a positive culture with the workforce.  Many CEOs of very large organizations have spent time in leadership roles throughout the world prior to becoming CEO.  This journey has given the future CEO the opportunity to showcase their ability through achieving results at multiple levels while also providing an essential look into the different facets of the organization.  This preparation will pave the way for the leader to become CEO and provide valuable insight to better serve the organization as its top leader.


Culture Is Driven From The Top

The CEO sets the tone for the organization’s culture.  A CEO with a dysfunctional executive team dynamic cannot expect a positive culture to permeate throughout the organization.   Therefore, start with driving a successful culture in the boardroom.   Culture at an organization is a collective evolving set of espoused beliefs, values and attitudes.  Often culture is tacit which is why it can be difficult to change.  It can be felt or described as “the way we do things around here.”  In smaller organizations, culture is often a result of the owner’s values, beliefs and attitude.  Within larger companies, it gets more complicated.   To understand an organizational culture, an anonymity feedback tool is important.  People inherently want a better culture, though they may not be willing to take a backlash risk for providing valuable insight that is contrary to current culture.  Alignment with the executive team and appropriate feedback from all ranks is the starting point for positive cultural change.  For more information on company culture change, please view our article on corporate culture.


Part Time Ethics Are Not Acceptable

Leaders are under a great deal of pressure to perform, especially in publicly traded companies.  The pressure of positive quarterly returns is often the precursor to an unsuccessful leader’s downfall.  Business growth is not a 45 degree angle.  Analysts can sometimes get ahead of themselves with forecasts which can lessen the value of quarterly growth if it doesn’t meet analyst projections.  While it is a tough position to be in, it is what you signed up for.  Part time ethics are not an option.  Not only will unethical behavior ultimately destroy an organization’s worth, it will send a clear message to internal and external stakeholders.  Internally, company culture will erode from the inside out.  Externally, branding will suffer and the stock will eventually take a hit.  There are plenty of examples of this happening so we won’t belabor the point aside from saying; there will be fluctuations in quarterly earnings, there should never be fluctuations in ethical values.


Feedback Is Actionable

Feedback, good, bad or indifferent is important for leadership.  When a message is sent throughout the organization that feedback is welcomed, this is generally positively received.  People want to be heard.  They want to help improve the business.  An organization that historically hasn’t requested feedback creates an environment where people felt unheard.  An organization that requests feedback but does nothing with the information received is worse off.  In this scenario, while the people have been heard, without action, they feel ignored.  This will create dissension within the company and may cause a host of other problems throughout the organization.  Action on feedback does not mean that the feedback must be implemented.  It does mean that at the very least it should be acknowledged and the organization should be thankful for the feedback.  With fluid communication of feedback, many items will be actionable to implement into the organization.   For example, according to the book Marketing Management[1], Toyota reports that its employees submit 2 million ideas annually which equates to roughly 35 suggestions per employee.  Remarkably, more than 85% of these suggestions are implemented.  A company has valuable resources in its workforce to improve production, products and services.  It simply needs to tap into those resources and the CEO can drive this process forward for the betterment of the organization.


Business Acumen Over Industry Expertise

Ideally, the leader possess both.  However, if a choice is between the two, business acumen is often more applicable.  A CEO’s job is to lead an executive team.  The executive team’s job is to lead their respective divisions and so on.  A strong business acumen provides the foundation for creating a successful organization.  This is why successful leaders have been able to change industries and remain successful in creating positive returns and improving organizational attributes.


Empathy And Humility Are Not Weaknesses

I’m not suggesting that the organization sit in a giant drum circle and sing kumbaya songs.  For a CEO, when the entire company is looking to you for leadership, humility can be scary.  However, having empathy for others and humility for oneself are human elements in which the organization will positively respond.  Each of us are human.  Each of us occasionally make mistakes.  Owning a poor decision and taking the necessary measures to rectify the mistake sends a strong message to the organization. It allows the company to know that a leader is committed to the necessary action for improving the organization, even if it means having egg on his/her face.  People respond to sincere and genuine leadership.  In the book, Return on Character[2], it was found that CEO’s with appropriate humility and character had a 5X greater return on assets than those whom did not possess the attribute.


Final Thoughts

There is a lot more we could cover but we wanted to tackle some of the points that aren’t commonly written about regarding leadership.  Also, in the interest of writing a blog post and not a book, I wanted to keep this relatively short and to the point.  Ultimately, a leader has the ability to influence “the bed they will sleep in.”  A successful leader will drive positive financial returns and a positive work environment.  Leadership development and succession planning should be a functional aspect of the organization’s mission.  Guiding future leaders is a responsibility of today’s leaders if a business is to have long-term success.  Only 61 of the Fortune 500 have remained in the top 500 since 1955, none of which have the same CEO as in 1955.  Organizational excellence requires leadership excellence.  The sustainability of excellence requires equipping future leaders to carry the torch through tomorrow.


Author: Rob Comeau is the CEO of Business Resource Center, Inc., a management consulting firm that works with industry and the investment community.  For more information on Business Resource Center, please visit






[1] Marketing Management, 15e – Kotler & Keller

[2] Return on Character – Kiel

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