5 Things I’ve Learned About Leading Leaders
I have 300+ bosses. That might be surprising coming from a CEO, but it’s true. I work for the CFO of our parent company who is the chairman of our board, the nine directors on our board, and each and every one of my employees. If I don’t help them succeed in their roles, I’ve failed in my job, and that means 300 livelihoods are in my hands. How do I make sure I’m leading them to be successful for themselves and the company, especially the senior management team tasked with leading others throughout the organization?
For one, I learned a lot from watching my predecessor, Louise Kelly, lead until her retirement three years ago. When I joined EnerBank, I was very happy to be the chief credit officer. To me, that was the pinnacle of success. Ms. Kelly, however, saw that I had potential to manage not only the credit and finance departments but possibly the entire company. Through good fortune and great mentoring, I became the CFO, and then when Ms. Kelly knew she was going to retire, she trained me to be the new CEO before she retired. Now, after three years as CEO, here are five things I’ve learned about leading leaders.
Blocking for the Team
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned was the need to “block” for the other senior managers so they can focus on the tasks that help their teams succeed. For example, in between board meetings, the vast majority of the communications with the board members and our chairman run through me to keep the senior leaders focused on achieving their department’s goals. Yes, our HR manager is working with the HR manager for our parent company and our accounting is working with their accounting, but I am the primary point of contact with our chairman and the other members of the board, which ensures messages are communicated consistently to some of the most important of my “bosses.” In that way, the board and our chairman get the entire picture of the operations of the company, not just one department’s view.
For me, blocking for the senior leadership team has also positioned me to handle the difficult conversations with clients, partners, employees or the board. On my first business trip as CEO, I had to visit one of our larger customers to have what I anticipated would be a difficult conversation. And, that first conversation was a challenge. But now, after an experience with these difficult conversations, I’m 100 percent comfortable having the hard and direct conversations with anyone.
At EnerBank, I point my senior leadership team in the right direction and then let them go. I am not a micromanager. If they are headed in the wrong direction, I nudge them in the right one. I’ve been told I give less feedback than most managers do, and some employees aren’t used to that, but it works for me. If you are micromanaging, you are not allowing managers and employees to do their jobs nor are you benefitting from the expertise they bring.
Trust―and Be Trustworthy
Not micromanaging also shows a level of trust that leaders at any level highly value. When you show you trust them by letting them do their jobs, listening and implementing their suggestions, they begin to buy into the plans and enjoy working for you and with you.
Get the Team Involved
Before I took on the position of CEO, Louise and I created a development plan to prepare me for the CEO role. For example, each year the CEO presents an update on the bank’s performance to the senior executives and board of directors from our parent company. A few years earlier, Ms. Kelly brought me along when she presented so I could observe the entire process. The following year, she gave me the lead in developing the plan, and we presented together. The year before she retired, I had primary responsibility for developing the plan and delivered the presentation on my own. So, while you want to block for the senior team to keep them focused, make sure you give them the right opportunities to learn and grow as leaders.
Give Credit Where Due
Make sure you’re praising your senior leaders―and any employee really―when they have a success that helps your organization. Recently, we hit an important company goal by a very small margin, and we gave credit to everyone who had saved the company money because every dollar ended up counting. Showing appreciation is motivating, so more successes will follow.
Growing a strong, successful company requires a strong management team. Not only have these leadership strategies helped to develop a quality senior management team but our senior leadership team has implemented similar strategies with the middle managers and so on. This has strengthened our middle management team and allowed the senior managers to be mentors like I’m trying to be for them, and Louise was for me. Building your own leadership skills―and helping your leaders build theirs―will help your company be successful and ultimately meet the expectations of your bosses, no matter how many you have.