All of us in the corporate world yearn to reach the very echelon of power; the coveted position of CEO. Once those three magical letters appear on our business card, the entire world can pay witness to the fact that we have successfully scaled the corporate ladder. Mere staff members and vice presidential pretenders to the throne are awestruck and can only hope that their tenacity and skills will someday land them in the corner office.
I have been a five-time Vice President, one-time Chief Operations Officer, and two-time Chief Executive Officer. Throughout my career progression, the responsibilities grew and the areas that I was accountable for expanded exponentially. Imagine my surprise when I first became a CEO and realized that my entire universe revolved around only three things! It appeared that my business existence and corporate survival now entailed the Profit and Loss Statement, the Balance Sheet, and the Cash Flow Analysis.
We all have to be measured, with respect to success and achievement, in our work roles. My fellow Board members and numerous shareholders were relying on me accomplishing three simple tasks. First I had to increase revenue while preserving an acceptable level of profitability. Second, I had to deliver respectable equity in the corporation and meet the proper ratios. Finally, one of my tasks was to fuel the first two efforts without having to take on any additional debt. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? If you aspire to the C-suite, prepare yourself for just how difficult an effort this really is. If you are already a CEO, you know exactly what I mean; so you can stop snickering right now!
At the risk of sounding arrogant, I was highly successful in meeting the traditional objectives of the Chief Executive Officer position. I exploded revenues, enhanced profits, built significant corporate equity, and did it all without having to borrow money. Numerous business awards found themselves on my credenza, my staff was thrilled, the Board patted me on the back, and the shareholders enjoyed tremendous dividends. Yet through it all, I felt puzzled by my accomplishments.
One of the companies led by me was a fairly mature organization. It had suffered a decade of stagnant revenue growth and profit was at a minimum. The second company steered by me was a start-up that was boot-strapped out of my personal funds. In both cases, the organizations enjoyed an unfathomable level of success. I kept asking myself if I was truly that brilliant? Was I one of those captains of industry that comes along so rarely? Was I destined to soon lead a Global 100 conglomerate? Did I truly have the Midas touch?
The answer to my questions came late one night as I struggled to fall asleep. I am currently back in the job market. As you might imagine, at my career level positions do not exactly grow on the vine. In a downward economy, competition for C-level positions is as intense as ever. My eyelids refusing to close, I kept wondering what it was that made me unique to an employer and set me apart from the pack.
The success of any leader is directly dependent upon the following that he builds. As I reflected on my past CEO experience, I realized what my greatest asset was. Yes, I knew how to build relationships, engage new customers, manage cash well, and invest wisely within my organization. But my strongest suit was in my ability to create enthusiasm!
Every staff member that has ever reported to me will tell you about the fire in my eyes. I believe unwaveringly in my company and its people. I take the time to learn everything I can about my employees, from the COO all the way down to the janitorial staff. I find out about their families, their hobbies, and their aspirations in life. Is this part of some great strategic corporate scheme? Have I discovered a new management philosophy that will soon find itself in book form and on the New York Times Bestseller List? Am I about to sell you a senior management seminar presented on some beautiful Caribbean island?
Truth be told, I have found the formula for a potent and magical elixir. When you genuinely make an honest effort to learn about those who work for you, they immediately sense that you care. Once they know you care about them as human beings, rather than as P&L expense entries; they reciprocate that sense of caring. When your charges feel the radiating warmth of your unabridged enthusiasm, it becomes infectious. The end result is most eloquently stated as; “they will throw themselves on a grenade for you, as well as follow you through the gates of Hell if need be.”
The path to the title of CEO is not for the weak-kneed or faint of heart. Start your preparation now; learning the ins and outs of the P&L, the BS, and the CFA. But more importantly, devote most of your energy to learning about your staff and creating a true sense of enthusiasm amongst them. They will carry you to the coveted corner office on their shoulders!