How to Lead
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That gets to the question of what personal attributes – as opposed to tactics or strategies – are most important to be a successful leader?
Matayoshi: A lot depends on what kind of organization you’re in and what stage it’s at. I’m a big believer in the idea that organizations need different kinds of leaders depending on the challenges they face, where they are in their life cycles. You have startup organizations, developing organizations, mature organizations, failing organizations. A small startup with a handful of people and a great idea needs a different kind of leadership from a large government entity that’s been around for a long time and has lots of traditions.
Dean: I don’t think there’s one description of a CEO. There are many styles of leadership. You don’t have to be an extrovert or an introvert, for example; or, by Myers-Briggs, a thinker or a feeler. Male or female – it doesn’t matter. The attributes you start with are core values. Does this person have the values that will reinforce the culture you’ve built? So, it’s more a cultural question for me. You want that person to be the heart and soul of this organization.
For example, at CPB, we have a lot of excellent teamwork. It’s team-focused leadership. How people treat one another here is a very important part of our values. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you accomplish your goals, but, in the process, you attack and destroy our culture, you won’t be a survivor here. You need to do it with teamwork and within our culture.
Matsumoto: One really important characteristic in a leader is courage – the courage to take risks, to try different things, to be willing to deviate from the pack. Otherwise, if it was easy to lead, then everybody could be a leader.
The other aspect of leaders is, typically, they tend to be very self-confident people, people who sometimes have pretty big egos. A really exceptional leader is one who has a good grasp of how interconnected and interrelated organizations are, whether it’s a company, a government agency or a community. I think a good leader understands that he or she really is just one part of the whole that enables whatever initiative is being undertaken to become successful. In other words, good leaders are not necessarily people who will say, “I did this, and I did that,” without really appreciating other people and other factors enabled their success.
Dods: Leaders also need to be humane, even when making tough decisions. The main skills are: communication, humaneness and the ability to listen. That last one is overlooked quite a bit. Leaders, after a while, start thinking they know all the answers. That’s easy to fall into, because everybody starts kissing your ass and telling you how great everything is because you’re the boss. Once you start buying into that, you’re dead as a leader.
You’ve got to be able to listen, and to change your opinion when people offer better ideas. That’s not easy to do, but a really good leader will say, “Yeah, I felt really strongly about it, but after listening to your arguments, you’ve convinced me that’s a better direction. Let’s go
Dean: Part of leadership is also not taking yourself too seriously. I have this disease called “CEO-itis.” Once you’re a CEO, there’s always someone who’s going to want to tell you how great you are, what a wonderful job you’ve done, what a beautiful speech you’ve made. There’s huge risk in that. When I give talks on leadership to young CEOs, I warn them of this disease, CEO-itis: Don’t believe everything you hear.
It’s said that, when a Roman general returned to Rome in triumph, a slave supposedly rode in the chariot with him, whispering in his ear, “You’re human, you’re human, you’re human.” What I take that to mean is: Don’t believe everything you hear. You’re not as great as they’re saying you are. Leaders need to have that machine in their head that discounts flattery if they’re going to avoid the disease of CEO-itis. I’ve seen so many young stars get it. The earlier they get it, the bigger the danger, because they think it’s all about them.
Dunkerley: One of the things that I feel very passionate about is that good leaders have an innate ability to recognize and to put themselves in the position of the people they’re dealing with, to step out of their own self-interest and to make the calculation around, “Why is this issue coming out, what are the motivations behind it.” That’s how some introverted leaders can be very effective. And that can be a limitation for some extroverted leaders. There are extroverted people who have a terrific innate sensitivity to other people. But tone-deafness around that is a terrible Achilles heel.
The second you think it’s all about you – where you’re in a meeting and the sieve through which you’re pushing all the information you receive is one that just contemplates your own viewpoints, your own interests, without considering what other people in the room are thinking and why they’re thinking it, why that makes sense to them but doesn’t make sense to you – these are obviously tremendously important skills. It’s empathy.
My first boss, who remains to this day perhaps the most significant influence on my career, was a real firecracker. He had a very strong personality. He moved a mile a minute. In fact, he moved so quickly that there wasn’t much structure to the way in which we’d do things – which sounds like a bit of a disaster. But, at the same time, he was super bright. He’d push you right to the edge where you’d just want to throttle him. But he had an innate sense of when that point had been breached, and he would kind of acknowledge it and shine his affection on you right at the point when you were just about to wring his damned neck. Paradoxically that really bound you to him. He had that innate empathic sense, and, for those of us who worked very closely with him, he was actually terrific.
I had another boss who was terrific because he had working for him a number of people who were moving up in the organization and were very ambitious – I was one of them – and rather than try to corral us, he embraced that and saw his role largely as supporting our initiatives with people higher up the chain of command, so to speak. These were very different types of people, but I enjoyed working for both of them because they both looked at the broader situation and they both had that innate sense of what was important to other people. In fact, one of the things I say to people who manage others, is you really ought to have a sense of what the hot buttons are of the people you’re working with. They’ll be different for different people, but, aside from getting the work done, if you can’t answer the basic question, “What’s important for the people that report directly to you?” you’re not really very perceptive.
Matsumoto: Leaders develop skills over the course of their lives. The important things are: Do they have an appetite for taking risk? Do they have the ability to see things from a strategic perspective? Do they have the willingness to sacrifice their own personal time and comfort for the benefit of the group? Do they have the sensitivity to really appreciate and understand the people they’re enlisting in whatever effort they’re undertaking so they can also express a degree of gratitude for the contributions that others are making to the success of their effort?
Let’s talk about transition. Does a leader have an obligation to prepare his successors for leadership positions?
Former Governor of Hawaii
Ariyoshi: Personally, I have to look at how much longer I’m going to be around. If I don’t provide for succession and training so people can do the things that need to be done, there’s going to be a tremendous void when I’m gone. I feel very strongly about transition, about giving opportunities to other people so they can begin to take over and do some of the work the leader has been doing. I did that very recently. I was the head of PISCES, which is a space program. I decided it was time for me to step down while I’m still very able, so somebody else can begin to exercise leadership. So, I asked Henk Rogers whether he would be willing to take it over. He told me he was apprehensive about coming in cold, but I told
him I would be around to assist him to the extent necessary, so he’s the new chair of PISCES, and he’s done a remarkable job.
Part of leadership is not hanging on. It’s being willing to pass the mantle and to train other people – especially in an elected office, where you know you’re only going to be there for a short time. Under those circumstances, the person must be very cognizant that the things he or she feels very strongly about will be carried out by people coming on in the future. And not necessarily by their successor, but by the people who continue in government.
Dods: The thing I want to say is most important about leadership is that, when you leave the organization, if the person you helped select to replace you is not stronger, brighter, faster, better than you were, then you failed as a leader. If you have to go outside of your own organization to select your new leader, I think you’ve also partially failed. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring people in from outside the organization; but you should bring them in, and get them accustomed to the culture, and groom them, if you have to do that. But you should take internal candidates and do that, too. If a leader comes right to the very end and nobody in the company is capable of replacing them, and you have to go outside the company, that’s a mark that you haven’t worked hard to prepare the next generation of leadership and you’ve failed your own organization. Your ego is so big that you didn’t think it was important enough to have a replacement.
That’s where I see a lot of weakness in the leadership ranks in Hawaii. You can go through the companies in town and see which ones have strong No. 2s and which ones will end up importing leaders. There are times you legitimately need to do that, but they’re rare. Most of the time, it’s just an excuse because the company hasn’t done the hard work of identifying and producing leaders.
Matayoshi: If you want to sustain the changes you’re making, then you plan for transition and succession. The hardest thing to remember is that the next person is going to face a different situation from you. So, you don’t look for somebody who looks like you. You may even want someone who might not agree with you. That’s sometimes hard for leaders to see. A strong No. 2 may not always be the right person to lead the organization in its next iteration.
Dods: I was on the board of a company once, and I really admired the CEO. One of the things he’d do was once a year, he’d ask the leaders of every major division or department – the top 15 or 20 people – “Give me a list: If you got hit by a truck tomorrow, who would take your place? And, if you had the proper time to groom someone, who would take your place?” A lot of times, those are different people. One would be someone who could keep the company going as a stopgap for now. But, if you had two or three years, who would you see coming up? The second part of that question is, “What should you be doing to get that second list of people ready to assume leadership roles?”
The reason I got so involved in this whole question of succession planning is that I experienced it personally. This is going to step on toes, and people are going to get upset, but I think enough time has passed: We had a super-strong CEO, John Bellinger, who did a great job for the bank, but he thought he was going to be there forever. He thought nobody could replace him. So, when I took over – because he died of a heart attack or stroke, but he had passed the retirement age and stayed on – I was thrust into the job suddenly, without having those one or two years of learning things you don’t learn just coming up the ranks. Things like relationships with the board of directors, with the investment community, with outside groups, because you’re pretty much involved in learning the inside stuff. And I vowed to never, ever let that happen to my organization on my watch. So, early on as CEO, I got very involved in the leadership issue, seeing who needed what kinds of skills so they could be ready. And I practiced what I learned from the one CEO I admired, asking everybody to give me a letter once a year saying who would take their place if they got hit by a truck. Every year, those letters would change, and rightfully so. Every year, somebody else comes up the ranks, and you learn to get a much better feeling for them.
Those people would do this exercise as well: Each division guy would go down to his five section heads and ask them the same thing. And we’d keep that list and keep a big board of all those names and what skills they were missing. Should we send them to the Harvard Advanced Management Program? Should we put them in an operational job, if they’re in a lending job? Should we be cross-training them? Should we be giving them more skills at mentoring, which is very important, both for leaders and next-generation-leaders. We actually started informally putting mentors together with up and comers.
These are not easy things to do, because, if you don’t do them right, or people don’t handle them right, you get people going around with this “anointed” halo around their heads, and people can become jealous. So they have to be handled right and the chosen have to be humble. They need to clearly understand these things can disappear any time. But that’s no excuse for not doing them.
Dunkerley: One of the things I ask managers to do – what I’m looking for – is I think it’s every manager’s responsibility to manage themselves out of a job. If that’s personally, desperately threatening, they probably aren’t the right people to lead. The paradox is that people who work assiduously to manage themselves out of a job tend to be indispensable in an organization and move to the next level of promotion and development, while the people who are mindful to make sure they always have a job become the very people who, as you look at your organizational structure, you say to yourself, they’ve got to move along. So, there’s a real irony in it. But I expect all managers to work hard to make themselves redundant.
Dods: When it comes to succession planning, all pitfalls are minor compared to the crime of not doing it. I want to make that point clear, because you could use any number of reasons not to do it. The biggest reason people don’t do it is they feel insecure themselves, and they don’t want the board and/or the shareholders to know there’s a competent person to replace them.
When does this transition process begin?
Dods: Well, it’s never too late to begin. Let’s start there, because a lot of companies don’t do it. The day you become the CEO is the day you should start planning to groom your successor. The reasons are: One, you could get hit by a truck tomorrow. Two, it’s your obligation to the employees, to the community and to your shareholders to leave the company better than you found it. For those two reasons, it ought to start the day you’re named CEO, if not sooner.
Dean: I think transitioning starts with: How do I transition? For me, it’s delegating more. I have fewer direct reports today than I had a year ago. What I’ve told people is, “What you’ll see this year and next is we’ll transition more of the responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the bank to others.” So, it’s not going to be, you wake up one day and read the papers and see, “John’s left the bank and he’s back in Waimanalo and no longer working.” But, is it bad to fade away? I think, if you fade away, there’s a time when you empower, you trust. But, just because you empower and you trust doesn’t mean you don’t verify. Whether it’s me or the board of directors, you always need checks and balances to make sure we’re doing what we say we’re doing, and we’re doing it the right way with the right values.
Dunkerley: I spend a lot of time thinking about succession. At the end of the day, I don’t fly any airplanes, I don’t load any bags myself, I don’t check in the customers, I don’t work on any applications in the IT department. The success of Hawaiian Airlines as a company, and my personal success as a human being in the context of my life as CEO of the company, is determined by the effectiveness of everybody else in the company, and whether they have the tools they need to do their jobs, and have the right direction and motivation. So, succession and the development of talent within the company is something that’s front and center that I think about almost daily. The reality is, it isn’t me who makes this business successful; it’s everybody else. So, it’s a good use of my time – to think about how we can get the right people, give them the right tools and motivate them in the right way.
Some companies have a COO for the nuts-and-bolts operations, which leaves the CEO free to strategize and look at the bigger picture. Is that also a model for transition?
Dods: Sometimes it’s great training for the No. 2 person to do the grunt work of carrying out the mission as he’s developing his own ideas about the mission.
Matayoshi: Every visionary needs somebody who has the nuts and bolts in mind to make things happen. I don’t believe in planning and not taking action; there needs to be a bias toward action. That comes from a focus on outcomes and results. Plans don’t get you those outcomes, you have to be willing to take action.
What’s helped me is that I know the nuts and bolts, having been in state government for a while. It’s very helpful to understand the fiscal, the HR, and the IT issues and challenges of working in government systems. It helps you to be the problem-solver, and to facilitate the development of others as problem-solvers as well.
They’re not separate; you can have someone who’s a visionary, but who understands how it works, too. The dream has to be connected to the mechanisms that make the dreaming a reality.
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