The complete strategic leader usually creates value into their plan by inserting tangible performance metrics into each objective.
Deciding the metrics and choosing the specific approach toward the measurement and the tracking of the data are two of the most difficult tasks when building the plan.
The Divine, Too, Is in the Details
Q. What’s your approach to leadership?
A. I think a good leader has to do three things. It’s almost like a three-act play. The first act is coming up with the concept for a product or a service to offer. And then you have to make sure that the entire team not just the executive management but the entire team believes in that concept and understands it.
The second job is execution, and good ideas aren’t as valuable as they might be until you make them into a reality. You often hear people say, The devil’s in the details. I think it’s the divine. And so a lot of time has to be spent making sure the execution works.
The third act is measurement; I’m a great believer in measurement. So before I begin the execution phase of any project, I sit down with my team and we ask ourselves: What are the metrics against which we’re going to measure our success?
We do two things: We measure where we’re succeeding, and where we succeed we celebrate. And we also measure where we’re not succeeding, and where that happens we ask ourselves, Can we go back and fix something? And if so, we do it. And if not, we make sure that we understand where we went wrong, put it into the corporate DNA, so the next project won’t have that flaw.
Another thing I learned was that when you’re involved in a large development project, projects often morph. And when people become advocates of their project, they change some of those metrics so that they can claim success when perhaps it’s not 100 percent legitimate to do so.
So creating the metrics up front, and having a discipline of saying, O.K., this is where we want to go, and if we don’t achieve it it’s O.K., we’ll try in another way to get there, is very helpful. Not just for me, but for the whole team.
Q. You run mentoring programs for women executives. Tell me about those.
A. I started out without mentors, so I’m acutely aware of the value of a good mentor. Often in a company, the people who are high-maintenance get all the attention, rather than the people who are high-performing and high-potential. So I try to make the mentoring program about the high-performing, high-potential people.
One of the things I’ve found is that women often don’t speak financial language as well as they need to in order to go to the next level. So, for example, a lot of our women executives never went on to get an M.B.A., and yet they’re in a big corporation where they need to understand financial matters. They’re a little bit reluctant to go to the guys, as it were, and say: Excuse me, I don’t know how to read a balance sheet. Could you teach me how?
So we actually had classes, taught by women, for women, on how to become financially literate. And people throughout the organization, from the board down, came to these classes. And then, after our earnings call, we would hold a little question-and-answer session: What did you not understand during the earnings call? What did you understand? What do you think I meant when I said this?
Q. Are there messages you find yourself repeating to the women you mentor?
A. The most common thing is to understand what job you want, because I think that often people want a job and they simply don’t understand what it involves.
Second, work is not going to get any easier as you get to the top, so be prepared for what it means to take on a particular position. It’s not just the skill sets that you have, but it’s also the time commitments, the stress you’re going to deal with.
And the third is, perhaps you can’t have it all at once. I think oftentimes the fantasy that’s held is that you can do it all; you can be a parent, and you can be engaged in the community, and you can be the C.E.O., all at the same time. And I think that helping people to plan a life that includes all that, but perhaps more serially, is a useful discussion.
Q. What feedback do you get from your direct reports that you’ve used in setting your own goals as a manager and a leader?
A. In recent years, if I had to distill what I’m hearing most, it’s the importance of listening and responding to people’s concerns. I’ve always thought communication was important, but the older I get the more I realize that you cannot communicate enough, and you need to answer people’s questions and their concerns directly.
I try to answer e-mail within three or four hours. Sometimes my response may be nothing more than: Got this. I’ll be working on it and get back to you. But I want people to know that I’m reading these things, I’m listening to them, that what they say is important, I heard it, I’m paying attention to it.
You may not be able to solve the entire problem at that moment, but just to let them know that you heard it, you understand it, that something’s happening, I think goes a long way to making people feel that there’s an environment of respect for their opinions, their needs, their concerns.
I also think it’s important, sometimes, to communicate no, and to say that in a very clear way and not to leave any ambiguity so that people continue to ask and ask and ask about a decision that’s already been made.
Q. How do you run meetings?
A. I don’t lead meetings. To the extent that it’s possible, I have others lead meetings. Every Friday, we have the senior leadership team come for about an hour-and-a-half operations check, and we have the checklist of items that we need to get to, and we will go through that list, but I will never lead that meeting. Each one of the executives leads the meeting it rotates in alphabetical order and we just go through the list.
First of all, it teaches them how to lead a meeting. It also sends a message that this meeting’s not for me, it’s for us. And it’s been my observation that at a lot of these operations meetings, everyone talks to the C.E.O., not to each other. It also teaches good meeting etiquette. People are much more, I think, respectful of how they behave in a meeting because they’re going to be leading the meeting one day.
We also begin every meeting by asking who needs to be acknowledged in the firm. Who in the company did something that’s extraordinary, and we need to acknowledge them. We decide who should send the letter, and what we should do for that person, and there’s usually about 5 or 10 people at every meeting that we reach out to and acknowledge. That’s how the meeting begins. It ends with any concerns that I have that I need to share with the team.
Q. Any other rules of the road for your meetings?
A. Not so much for meetings, but there are rules of the road for engagement. Silence is consent. If you don’t speak up in the meeting, you can’t later come back and say: I really hated that. I don’t want it to happen. Come to the meeting, let your feelings be heard, and a decision will be made.
Second is, assume positive intent. It’s one of the ways to sort of keep communication on the high road. Perhaps somebody was misunderstood, or they misheard something. You have to go back and ask for the context, and it’s very likely to be simply a misunderstanding. And if you listen, it can be resolved. And it tends to, I think, breed a lot more trust and respect among us if we use those rules.
Q. Let’s talk about hiring. How do you do it?
A. By the time a candidate comes to me they’ve been heavily vetted, and you can pretty much count on the fact that they’ve got the skill set that you need and they have the experience you need.
So basically what I do is I try and explore the person. One of the things I explore is whether they like our company, and that’s important because so often people will come in, particularly from the outside, and their modus operandi is: Everything you do is wrong. It was done better at fill in the blank, from wherever they left and so we need to adopt their methods.
It may be that they’re bringing great best practices to the company, but they have to do it in an environment that’s respectful of both companies.
So I look for people who are going to be able to bring new ideas into the organization in a way that will be quickly absorbed into the organization, rather than in an off-putting way.
I look for people with a lot of energy. I think in almost every environment you can think of, energy’s a very good thing. Passion’s a good thing, and I look for that as well. And I look for people that have integrity.
Q. And how do you get a sense of all that?
A. I usually ask: What was the thing that you’re most proud of in your professional career? And what was the thing that you’re most proud of in your personal career? And I listen very carefully to those answers. And finally, I ask them at the very end: O.K., you’re now sitting with the C.E.O. and you’ve been through all these interviews. What would you like to ask me about the company that you couldn’t have asked these other people? Are there any questions you have?
Q. And what are you listening for?
A. If they have no questions, then I worry that they’re not going to be able to speak up in a meeting. If their question is all about: Well, is the 401(k) funded? I realize that perhaps that’s not the right question to ask the C.E.O. If they sit down and they ask me something that’s hard for me to answer, I like it.
Q. What would you like business school to teach more of, less of?
A. I’ve never been to business school, so I would be very cautious about it. But I guess what I’d say is: more respect for content. There’s a lot of emphasis on the skills of business, like the principles of marketing and accounting. But businesses have content expertise as well, and I think it’s difficult to come into a company and sit down and begin to apply those principles without understanding the content of the company’s business.
Q. Are you a gadget person?
A. I am basically not a gadget person, but when I adopt a gadget I tend to be quite loyal, and I’m a BlackBerry user. One of the things I do that I don’t see my colleagues do too often is read the manuals. In my early days, we used to create software products, and I was constantly trying to figure out how to write manuals that were easy to use. So I became an aficionado of manuals. I actually read the manuals and I usually know that on Page 17 it tells you how to do X, or Y or Z. And whether it’s my car or the BlackBerry, or my GPS system, I read the manuals. Men aren’t allowed to do this, I think; women can read manuals.