One trait won’t define you as a leader, it’s about how you lead your team.
Individuals are always trying to crystallize the most important leadership trait. Are great leaders more empathetic than others, or is it their ability to accept and overcome failure? Is there even one all-encompassing trait that differentiates the good from the great?
The answer to this is no, and here’s why: being a great CEO isn’t about perfecting one trait, it’s about introducing numerous traits into your leadership style. Your primary focus should always be on your team, not solely on internal processes and procedures—or your own success. And when you prioritize your associates, an abundance of traits are manifested: transparency, trust, empathy, self-awareness, and many more. So, don’t aspire to be pigeonholed by one trait; instead, be part of your team.
From the moment I became CEO of Pacesetter, I wanted to make it clear to the team that, while we all play a different role within the company, every moving piece is necessary for growth. At the end of the day, we all want the same things: internal and external advancement—and if any one of my associates stops feeling that way, it’s okay for them to seek that elsewhere. In order to hold myself accountable to this, I created Vivid Vision, which serves as a roadmap for the future of Pacesetter. It is a reminder (a promise) that we will all empower each other at every level of the company.
Earlier this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai made headlines for publicly thanking their team for their hard work after a profitable first quarter. CNBC calls this the mark of a true leader, saying that “thank you” is an effective business strategy because it’s free. I believe that vocalizing your appreciation for your associates is a good start, but ‘a start’ is all it really is. We can do better than this.
Don’t be the “invisible CEO”
At many companies, the CEO is often a mysterious entity that seems only to exist inside the walls of their private office. Seeing them is about as rare as a bigfoot sighting—and like bigfoot, they are only known by their title. In a recent study, over a quarter of associates at mid to large-sized companies said they don’t even know their CEO’s name.
Some CEOs shrug this off as being too busy, while others believe that being too close to associates makes them too vulnerable. Whatever the reason, being the “invisible CEO” sends a loud message to your team. This isn’t to say that you should be on the floor every day, as there are larger goals that demand your time and energy. A great CEO knows that their company is only as strong as their team and that requires collaboration, innovation, and transparency.
You don’t have to be the friend, but it is important to establish your presence in the organization. Strike that balance of being available but not overly involved with an open door policy that your associates know they can take advantage of if a need were to arise.
Grow your team by knowing your team
Office doors can often be a physical barrier separating leaders from the rest of the company. Privacy is a necessary component of leadership, and your team understands that there will be periods of time when you are unavailable for meetings or check-ins. However, this doesn’t excuse you from complete separation.
It’s impossible to give your associates what they need if you’ve never met them face-to-face. Some leaders will invite their associates out to lunch on a recurring (albeit more infrequent) basis, while some implement an open door policy. Touchpoints with your team will gradually uncover each person’s purpose, passion, and motivation. These insights can guide each associate’s path within the company, or be a telling sign that they aren’t excited about the future of the business.
Knowing the strengths of your associates begets a sound business strategy. How can their unique skill set fit into your bigger goals? In what ways do they add value to their department? What is the most suitable next step in their career path? These are questions you can’t answer without an established relationship. Remember: their success is your success.
Change can happen anywhere
When you exude transparency and honesty, you instill openness and trust in your associates. CEOs that are a part of their team are often the first to find out about any challenges surrounding company culture or internal processes. An example of this is if there’s an issue with your software that’s affecting the day-to-day tasks of your associates. The news will likely reach an involved CEO much faster.
You see a lot of articles talking about where change should happen in the “hierarchy” of an organization, but I’ve learned that it can really happen anywhere. Leaders don’t have better ideas just because they’re leaders, although they are more in tune with what the company needs to advance forward. Associates, however, see things differently being on the ground floor day in and day out. There are great ideas here as well, and it’s important to envision your associates as decision-makers in the workplace; when they do successfully contribute an idea, credit them.
PayPal CEO Dan Schulman is an advocate for giving credit where credit is due. His belief is this: whatever the company accomplishes, so do his associates. If a member of your team has a profitable idea, give them credit for their contribution. This shows associates they’re being heard, eliminates the potential for unhealthy competition, and ensures that team members won’t withhold innovative ideas.
You don’t have to be on the floor every day to be a good leader, and you surely don’t have to be your associates’ best friend. They just want what you want: to be seen and heard.