As CFO, the best principle I learnt from Thomas and I constantly apply is Challenge Always.
A True Measure Of Leadership Success: Seven Guiding Principles
Recently, a 70-year-old CEO reflected with me, “In the end, the real measure of success will unlikely be our accomplishments or achievements. Rather, our most authentic measure will likely be the lasting impact we had on the lives of people.” I doubt many of us will lament in our final hour, “If only I had pushed for one more percentage point of profit in my last quarter!” Likely we will reflect on our key relationships, on the people we have impacted, loved, grown and been influenced by.
In the 75+ year Grant and Glueck study at Harvard, the longest continuous research study with four research leaders to date, there has been one consistent finding across the decades, across generations and across geographies: that the true measure of success and satisfaction rests on one thing, relationships.
In a leadership context, relationships play out in a multitude of ways in teams, collegial connections, culture and customers. In many ways, all leadership is in relationship, a way to add enduring value with and for people. However, I posit that there is one fundamental measure to our leadership effectiveness: how many leaders have you produced?
While this measure may be a real, sustainable computation as to our ability to generate value from one generation to the next, it is rarely calculated.
As a CEO, how many CEOs have you produced? If a board is looking for tangible CEO evaluation, this may be one of the better ways to evaluate sustained performance. With some of our clients, we actually track this generative multiplier.
Novartis is one organization that has produced an extraordinary number of CEOs over the years. Their dedication to a performance culture and a wide range of leadership investments has clearly paid off. Partnering with a wide range of divisional, functional and HR leaders like Steven Baert and Anish Batlaw has been a great privilege. But one Novartis leader I have closely worked with for more than a decade, and tracked his “true measure of success,” is Thomas Ebeling, now CEO of ProSieben Media, the largest media company in Europe. Thomas’ track record is unique, as he has mastered CEO leadership across three very diverse industries over the past 15+ years: consumer products, pharmaceuticals and the media. Rarely do CEOs demonstrate agility, success and people passion across such diverse industries. So how many CEOs has Thomas helped to produce over the past 15 years? The number is currently 23 and still counting … these are not 23 possible CEOs. We have tracked and verified 23 actual CEOs, many of major publicly traded firms. Few CEOs have contributed to the development of so many CEOs. So , what accounts for this successful development of top people?
I sat down recently with Thomas to explore how he was able to produce, mentor, develop and coach so many enterprise leaders. Thomas suggested 7 critical guiding principles to accelerate the development of the next generation of CEOs:
- Be All In On People: “Completely dedicate yourself to both the acquisition and development of talent.” Foster the mindset that leadership and talent are the fuel that accelerate the enterprise.
- Seek Excellence Everywhere: “Find excellent people, expect excellent performance, drive excellence in everything. The best, most high potential people thrive the most when stretching to excellence.” Foster an atmosphere of continuous learning, practicing and coaching excellence.
- Challenge Always: Top people get energized through challenge. Grow people by helping them rise up to challenges. Challenge people strategically, challenge people creatively, challenge people to do what has never been done … and challenge yourself to inspire versus merely instruct. “Get people directly exposed to a variety of business situations: to turnarounds, high growth scenarios, acquisitions and restructurings. Ideally these business situations are in new and different cultures and foster a silo-breaking, enterprise mindset.”
- Be a Coach, a Mentor and “Sparring Partner”: “As a martial artist, I know how critical it is to grow by sparring with training partners. It tests your progress, allows you to learn from others and clarifies where and how to grow.” Creating an atmosphere where top people can test themselves and others is critical to innovation and learning. Thomas expands his thoughts, “One of my leadership challenges is moving from critic to coach. When I do, I can energize people and help them to more clearly see themselves and the challenges they face. Balancing coaching (guiding with questions and insight) and mentoring (directing with expertise and experience) are both critical to growing key talent.”
- Build Self-Awareness and Check the Ego: “There may be no greater gift than helping top talent to see their strengths, challenges and ego concerns.” It is quite possible that egos have killed more CEOs than marketplace dynamics. Helping people to see when their power is too personal and self-absorbed and when it is serving the broader enterprise is crucial as people move upwards. This feedback can be tough but extremely valuable. Self-aware CEOs know that the ego needs to serve the enterprise, not itself.
- Build Visionary Thinkers: In today’s complex, dynamic marketplace, success goes to the most innovative. “Challenging top talent to be fearless, imaginative, open and curious may be the most foundational quality needed to decisively create the future.”
- Foster Passion About Succession: “Help talent to see that they must find people who can outperform them. The whole enterprise and succession itself depends on being passionate to find and develop people that can exceed us. Care more about next generations’ success than your own.” Seeing people exceed us is the greatest satisfaction and legacy one can leave.
Reflecting on our conversation, Thomas shared, “People tell me I am about as results-driven as leaders come. While this may be true, my real passion comes from seeing people grow, seeing so many leaders become CEOs. And some are now running enterprises much larger than myself. Let me be clear: I did not make them CEOs, they did that themselves. But, in my quiet moments, it is deeply satisfying to know I played an important role.”
What is your true measure of success? How many enterprise leaders have you played a role in developing?