Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A hear the train coming

In my early management career, I attended the Queen's University Leadership course.  In that room with me were CEOs and executives from companies across Canada and into the United States. I was full of vision and good intentions. I wanted to learn how to be a good leader, and to be worthy of leading. From the stories and experiences that I learned, there are two things that I carry with me always:

  1. When things go awry, trust the CEO. 
  2. Values are those things for which you would stand in front of a moving train. 

I have come to learn over the past 9 years in management that the CEO is the embodiment of the corporate values. Values define how an organization reacts to challenge, change, communication and relationships.

My first CEO lesson was about the values of clarity and focus. He led through six strategic thrusts which any and all business activities had to support.  He also introduced an aggressive financial corporate goal (5 in 5).  We met it because clarity and focus are what people need to engage. He created a culture of engagement as a result, where people were treated with respect and their contributions honored.

My second CEO lesson was about the values of accountability and performance.  Under his leadership, I was hired to introduce corporate planning,  balanced scorecard, business line strategy and quarterly reporting.  His values of accountability and performance came through in the culture of leadership.  He used to say, "My job is to ask questions." We knew that he would ask, and that we had to do our homework.

I made sure I had covered all the bases and had a clear concept to present to him. If there was a problem, I would be prepared with a clear statement of the problem (ownership) and a solution (accountability). If there was something that I wanted to change in the process, such as quarterly reporting to the Board, I would be prepared with a clear statement of what needed to change, why, how and when.  I never took more than 5 minutes of his time at once, but I knew that I had his full support.

My third CEO lesson was about the values of humility and compassion.  She led with a "take the high road" philosophy, which was paved with 6 leadership principles. Through her leadership, she took the company from despair to possibility.  In a speech she gave, she said, "We were battered and bruised children."  She brought them out of the storm with principles and with a commitment to a new culture and a path for the future.

Through this journey of leadership and follower-ship, these values of clarity, focus, accountability, performance, humility and compassion have shaped not only my perspective on work and leadership, but they keep me on track, reminding me of the work that I have yet to do.

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