Home Best Practices “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

In their book, “The CEO Next Door,” consultants Elena Botelho and Kim Powell talk about “The 4 behaviors that transform ordinary people into world-class leaders.”  They base their findings on studies of over 2600 leaders.  While any individual leader may display a wide range of behaviors, Botelho and Powell argue that there are just four that all leaders tend to have in common.  However, one of those four behaviors (in our judgement), towers over the other three.  To learn what these transformational behaviors are that the authors describe, and to learn what we believe to be the most important of the four, please continue reading below.

 “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”    ~ Aristotle

In no particular order, here are the four behaviors found in “The CEO Next Door” that the authors believe all great leaders exhibit.

  1. Decide: Speed Over Precision. Great leaders don’t fire from the hip, and they don’t make decisions recklessly or capriciously, but nor do they allow themselves to get tangled up in “analysis paralysis.”  They don’t delay things in hopes of a perfect decision when a good one is already at hand.  Steve Gorman, former CEO of Greyhound Lines, said it this way: “A potentially bad decision is better than a lack of direction.”  A CEO  who delays, delays, and delays making a decision while dithering over the details doesn’t exactly inspire the confidence of his or her organization.
  2. Engage for Impact: Orchestrate Stakeholders to Drive Results. There is little, if anything, a CEO can do to single-handedly drive the company forward.  A CEO can set a direction and formulate strategies, but ultimately, those need to be carried out by others.  Knowing the truth of that, great leaders are consensus-builders.  Not that they try to run a democracy . . . the final decisions are still theirs to make . . . but they do try to get as many stakeholders as possible (employees, customers, vendors, etc.) to understand and support what the CEO is trying to accomplish.  A CEO who isolates himself or herself from the rest of the organization and tries to rule by edict is almost certain to fail.
  3. Relentless Reliability: Deliver Consistently. Every CEO must earn the trust of his or her organization.  And the best, most direct way to earn that trust is for the CEO to be utterly reliable and to behave in ways that are consistent from one day to the next.  Let’s look at those two traits a little more closely.
  • It’s simple.  Don’t promise what you can’t deliver, but absolutely deliver what you do promise without fail.  Your word is your bond.  And this goes for everything both large (i.e., negotiating a new contract with a major customer) and small (i.e., arriving at a meeting on time).  When you agree to do something, your people need to forget about it, safe in the absolute knowledge that it’s going to be done, done right, and done on time.  And by the way, this is a behavior you’re modeling for the rest of your organization, and over time, you should demand it of everyone else.
  • Consistency and reliability are two sides of the same coin. Don’t rigorously enforce company rules one day and let them slide the next.  Don’t be a mellow fellow in the morning but turn into an ogre by lunchtime.  The way you solve problems and make decisions should be fairly predictable by those around you.  In short, you should operate by the “Doctrine of No Surprises.”  If your people could reasonably say about you, “We never know what the guy’s going to do from one minute to the next,” you will have a tough time building a firm foundation of trust.
  1. Adapt Boldly: Ride the Discomfort of the Unknown. According to H.G. Wells, we need to “adapt or die.”  If you don’t believe it, just look at Kodak, Blockbuster, or Borders to name only a few.  Change is an inescapable aspect of business today, and the rate of change has been accelerating and continues to accelerate. Technologies are constantly changing as are market conditions and government regulations.  Yet our leaders are expected to not just react to these changes, but to anticipate them and spot places where these changes may bring new opportunities.  Like it or not, today’s CEO must confront the unknown . . . must continuously face conditions he or she has not faced before and for which there is no real precedent.  Under these circumstances, a successful CEO, when confronted with a pile of manure, must have the strength of conviction that there’s a pony in there somewhere.

 Our choice for the behavior that’s head and shoulders above the others is #3, Reliability and Consistency.  They are the building blocks of trust without which the other three behaviors will never be able to take root.  Consider:

  • Without trust, people will not follow a leader’s decisions, whether they’re made fast or slow.
  • Without trust, a leader will be unable to gain the stakeholder support he or she needs to accomplish anything meaningful.
  • Without trust, a leader’s people will not follow him or her into the unknown, making the leader’s task of adapting to changing conditions almost impossible.

Here we have focused only on what behaviors “The CEO Next Door” says a strong leader must have.  We haven’t said anything here about how to develop those behaviors.  So if you think you may be deficient in some of these behaviors but need help developing them, the book will tell you how.  Pick up a copy.

Or, if you don’t want to get your leadership training from a book, call me.  I’ll be glad to help.

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