Any leader's true legacy can be measured by how employees feel about him or her after the leader has left an organization. Sometimes, when the chief executive officer leaves, it is as though that person didn't even exist. I've run into cases where I've asked someone how the former executive is and no one can give me a definitive answer. The silence of such an awkward situation is almost deafening.
On other occasions, however, I've run into people who can tell me how their former CEO is doing, where they are living in retirement and even how their health is. It doesn't take long to realize that the person who left is still held in high regard and is also missed.
The point is this: A leader's legacy should include the opinions that colleagues have about him or her after that boss has moved on. But this isn't always the case, and it seems to be getting more common. Somehow, the individual running the business doesn't seem to have the quality time available to spend with colleagues, and in too many recent instances in the healthcare industry, many CEOs "pursue other interests" after only a short stay-a trend that may continue for a number of years.
So what should the environment be when a dedicated and committed CEO leaves any company?
Jan Carlzon, legendary former head of Scandinavian Airlines System, gives us some insight when he describes how to get the very best results from colleagues. "There are two great motivators in life. One is fear. The other is love. You can manage an organization by fear, but if you do you will ensure that people don't perform up to their real capabilities. People are not willing to take risks when they feel afraid or threatened. But if you manage people by love-that is, if you show them respect and trust-they start to perform up to their real capabilities, because in that kind of atmosphere, they dare to take risks."
I bring all of this up because I recently attended a retirement party where I witnessed the love and affection displayed by former colleagues, customers and friends for the retiring chairman of the organization. What came through loud and clear was how those that worked for years with the chairman of the company felt about the way he had treated them. It was quite a testimonial to a wonderfully skilled leader.
Bill Kelley, retiring chairman of Hill-Rom Co., is known throughout the industry for his integrity, values and competence. He started at the bottom of the organization and worked his way up to become chairman. He led the company to record-breaking sales, but he did it the right way-no short cuts or clever gimmicks, just hard work. He made frequent calls to customers and always treated colleagues and customers with great respect.
His legacy will always be the patience and kindness he showed colleagues and the fact he hired good employees and gave them the freedom to become independently successful. His retirement dinner party was filled with love and respect.
Kelley, thankfully, is not the only example. Karl Bays, who ran the American Hospital Supply Co. many years ago, is another executive in the vendor community who was a great leader in his organization. Bays, who died in 1985 only a few years after he retired, is remembered affectionately by colleagues he mentored and provider CEOs he worked with as an excellent and nurturing leader.
Max DePree, chairman emeritus of Herman Miller Inc., is another leader who made his mark by being a "servant leader." He believed in people and believed that treating them with respect was the only course to take. He is still remembered for his kindness to colleagues and his willingness to give people the dignity and respect they deserve.
The two books he wrote, Leadership is an Art and Leadership Jazz, are classics on the subject of leadership. The books are filled with old-fashioned common sense, but the primary theme is simple: Give people the freedom to do their best and treat them well. Under DePree's leadership during the 1980s, the company surpassed former sales numbers and is considered one of the best places to work in corporate America.
Today, everyone seems concerned with what it takes to be an effective leader. Leadership is difficult, to say the least. Some people are given leadership positions who are completely unqualified for them. Their idea of being a leader is to control individuals. Many of us have had bosses who rule by fear and show their own inadequacies with such behavior.
Maybe leaders such as Bays, DePree and Kelley are from another era when things were less complicated. I don't buy any of that, however, because I believe treating colleagues and customers with dignity and respect will never go out of fashion.
Yes, it's a more competitive world out there, and the responsibilities of any leader, whether on the provider side or vendor side, are extremely demanding, but that doesn't mean they throw their humanity away and forget the basics of good leadership.
Good employees are the backbone of any successful organization, and they do best in an environment with solid values and with employers who treat them well. It's all about common sense, and it seems to me Bays, DePree and Kelley are great examples of what leaving a legacy in the hearts of others is all about.
Try love instead of fear,