I have always been interested in the business philosophies of truly successful chief executives. There is a great deal of variety of course, but each seems to follow very specific guidelines both personally and professionally.
Many successful leaders have filled bookshelves with their ruminations on business, but when you look at the common themes, they really aren't so complicated. In fact, many follow the time-honored advice of keeping it simple.
Less successful leaders veer off in so many directions that their companies lose focus and lack an identity and culture. We have all been watching as so many companies, including many in healthcare, have foundered, with tragic consequences for the leaders involved and for many people who worked for and invested in these firms. Not since the late 1920s, in fact, have we had a period when the failure of leadership and the failure of companies have been so inextricably linked and so painfully public.
What brings this to mind is that recently a good friend sent me nine points that A.G. Lafley, chief of Proctor & Gamble Co., follows in steering his organization on a day-to-day basis. My friend felt that Lafley must be on to something since Proctor & Gamble stock has gone from $60 per share to $102 in just three years.
Here are Lafley's basic but solid tenets of leadership, and some comments of my own on his wisdom:
* "Know thyself." In other words, be clear about your own interests and needs, what you care about. Know your strengths and weaknesses as a person and a leader. Understand why you want to lead and nurture an organization. Think about your place in the organization, in your family and your community. Separate personal interest from organizational interest.
* "Be clear about your values." How many times have we witnessed leaders falling on their faces because they had no personal code of conduct? You can't lead if you haven't spent time thinking about what it is you stand for and haven't lived your life based on those values. More importantly, if someone has no values, how can that person lead others anywhere worth going? A culture of values and mission starts at the top.
* "Respect your customer as your boss." How many times do companies have to be taught about the value of customers before they get it? If you don't pay attention to the lifeblood of your business you won't be in business very long. Too many leaders give lip service to quality customer service but don't inculcate that philosophy throughout their organization. The result is customers are taken for granted, given mediocre attention and service and then walk across the street to a competitor where they are welcomed with open arms.
* "Change is pervasive-the only constant." We all know this one, but how we deal with it is another matter. Any company that doesn't anticipate change strategically is in for a rough ride and probable bankruptcy. Markets change, people change, competitors change and the world changes. All of these things have to be considered and taken into account every day.
* "Come to grips with things as they are-`reality.' " Too many leaders still need to learn this one. There is a tendency when running any business to look at things through rose-colored glasses instead of through a magnifying glass. Reality sometimes can be stark and frightening, but it is also the first step toward making a situation better. Pretending that things are going along swimmingly is often easier than taking this first step of analyzing the things that are wrong in the organization.
* "Balance leadership with mastery. Know everything about the field in which you work." Start by identifying the trends. Read all the good trade journals. Find out all you can about your competitors. Know their products and their strengths and weaknesses. See where they are headed. Be an expert for your customers and colleagues.
* "Practice the power of strategy and execution, attention to detail and decisiveness." There should always be an overall strategy for everything you do. Manage the details or make sure others have a detailed plan to follow. Don't manage with a gunfighter mentality.
Too many bosses and weak leaders wait too long to make critical decisions. They wait and wait and miss opportunities for increased market share. Part of decisiveness is having confidence in your ability to make decisions. Once you know where you're going, execute the game plan with vigor and enthusiasm.
* "Leadership makes a difference." Leaders can make or break any organization. Good leaders have intelligence, vision, organizational skills, charisma, incredible energy, a fighting spirit and the ability to make tough choices. If these skills are combined with a generous spirit, any organization can find success.
* "Go with your cause. Go with your passion. Have fun along the way." G. Gilmer Minor III, chairman of Owens & Minor, is just that kind of leader. He epitomizes what a quality leader is all about. He has passion for the healthcare industry; he is dedicated to his customers and to his colleagues. He is a man of character, a man of principle and a man who has fun along the way.
Lafley reminds us with a few simple points what any of us can accomplish if we care and dare to try. The Gil Minors of the world epitomize the end result if we follow his sage advice.
Dare to make a difference,
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Chicago, Ill. 60601-3806
E-mail: [email protected]
Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, go to chucklauer.com.