Sunday, April 17, 2011

Great Leadership and How to Succeed -- Characteristics of Top C.E.O.s

This year, we started a "Meet the Executive" initiative at the Isenberg School of Management, through the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter, that I serve as the Faculty Advisor of.

Just this Friday, we had the honor and pleasure of hosting one of our alums in this initiative, Mr. Kevin Koswick of Ford Motor Corporation. I wrote about some of the highlights of his talk in an earlier post but he offered additional pearls of wisdom during more informal discussions that took place both before his talk and at the lunch afterwards that several of our students and faculty attended (I was the host).

Lo and behold, today's New York Times has a terrific article by Adam Bryant on extractions from his book, “The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons From CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed," based, in part, on his weekly "Corner Office" column, which is a favorite read of mine.

And, guess who is the first exec that he quotes -- none other than Alan Mullaly, the Chief Executive of Ford, who is quoted as saying:

“You learn from everybody” “I’ve always just wanted to learn everything, to understand anybody that I was around — why they thought what they did, why they did what they did, what worked for them, what didn’t work.”

A discussion on the importance of teamwork came out during Friday's Q&A with Koswick (and even our Dean, Dr. Mark Fuller, asked some terrific questions).

So, distilling some more pearls of wisdom from top C.E.O.'s -- those who succeed in business, according to Adam Bryant, have:

1. passionate curiosity (with Mullaly being an exemplar here);

2. confidence and a tireless work ethic gleaned through facing adversity;

3. team smarts (and Koswick emphasized this to us last Friday);

4. limited time so make sure that you get to your point fast (forget about those time-consuming Power Point presentations), and

5. fearlessness!

The Times article states that: C.E.O.’s can act as mentors to speed people along that learning curve. They may not develop silver-bullet theories, but they are experts in leadership because they practice it daily. And many of them have spent years honing their leadership styles, studying what works and what doesn’t, and then teaching others.

However, Kevin Koswick of Ford had interesting insights when I asked him about the importance of mentorship in corporate America. Mentorship is very important as one moves up the academic ladder, beginning with being a student. He told us that one actually has to be a bit careful on this because what happens if your mentor gets fired and you have been very closely associated with him / her? This goes back to what Mullaly said about learning from everyone and as Koswick told us -- the importance of getting along with everyone. One should not just manage up (which means that one should also always be genuinely nice to the administrative assistants).

Plus, what Koswick and I agree on is the most important attribute of a successful leader, whether a C.E.O. or not, and that is, first and foremost, INTEGRITY!