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MANAGEMENT: CEOs – Improving Leadership Skills within their Department Heads
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CEOs - Improving Leadership Skills within their Department Heads

By Marwan Emile Faddoul ( Managing Partner, NFG Consulting LLC) & Katherine Lange Johnson

BT 201603 12 Management
On a recent chilly afternoon, I met a former client at a coffee shop near the office-let's call him Oliver. As I approached his table, I noticed he was engrossed in a book on leadership, his forgotten cup of coffee long ago left to go cold. Oliver first came to NFG with a supply chain problem, and has stayed in touch with us ever since.

When I first met him, I was struck by what I regarded as natural leadership skills. He is inspiring and motivates the workers at the pharmaceutical company he owns. He is an excellent communicator in not only his native Chinese but also in English and Korean. And he drives for results, a skill that helped him carry his company through rough financial times and continues to buoy him against newly-emerging competitors.

He was so enthralled with his book that he didn't notice me sit down beside him.

"Oh, you startled me. I've had my nose in this book for over two hours, but I still don't see how I can apply these adages to better my process. I'm glad you're here-maybe you can help me see what I'm missing."

BT 201603 11 Management
Oliver stood to stretch his legs, put down the book, and began to explain his concerns.

"A few months back, I decided to expand our product line and refocus towards a new target market, so I hired some great talent to run the marketing and R&D departments, which have developed into the two largest departments overall. The other departments are run by some of the most loyal employees I've ever met. Over the years I've promoted my best employees to manage the accounting, operations, and HR departments, and they've been consistent in their output and performance. I like to stay informed of what's happening in their departments, so I head over to see them at work every once in a while to look over their work, picking up the slack where I think I can do a better job. These daily check-ins leave me with little time to take the lead on other new initiatives, and I don't have enough time to devote to bigger, strategic planning ideas."

Be the chief but never the lord.

Oliver had just revealed his real problem, and it unfortunately turned out to be him.

"It sounds like you may be getting in your own way of success," I offered sympathetically. While he had hired and promoted some of the best workers available, he was failing to trust them to do their own jobs. Instead, he was watching over their shoulders, checking in on them too often, and not allowing them to flourish in their positions as department heads.

"I know you take great pride in the company you've developed-much of your success is due to your hard work and vigilance. But it's time for you to manage from the back, inspire from a distance, and let the department heads do the job you entrusted them to do."

"But how will I know what they're doing if I don't watch them do it?"

"It sounds like you need to make sure everyone is on the same page, and then trust them to reach their departmental goals. Have you considered setting some SMART goals?"

"Well, I haven't considered any dumb goals, if that's what you mean."

"No, Oliver, I mean S-M-A-R-T goals. It's an effective framework for goal setting that could help you and your department heads achieve more at work. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. In brief, this means that any goal you set should meet these standards. By meeting with your department heads and steering them toward setting some SMART goals for their departments' strategic plans, you can insure that their plans align with your own, and then you can give them the space they need to independently achieve success."

BT 201603 13 Management
No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit

Oliver picked up his book from table and wrote down the acronym on the back cover. He turned the book over in his hands.

"This book talks a lot about being innovative, championing change, and making the tough decisions. As CEO, I see myself as the ultimate decider. I'm the one who makes the go/no-go decisions. I built this company with my own hands based on my vision, and it's my vision that will carry us into the future of pharmaceuticals."

"You're right about having built this company on your own, but now that the company has grown, your role as CEO is to manage from the back and delegate down to the talented department heads you've brought into the team.

"One of the most important competencies for a leader today is the ability to collaborate and promote teamwork. There's still room for you to be the ultimate decision maker, but you can't make all the decisions. You've got to collaborate with your team of department heads, make sure everyone is aligned, and allow them the space necessary to run their own departments.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way

BT 201603 14 Management"You mentioned you've created some new initiatives at work. Tell me more about those."

"Yes, I want to get a new product out to our customers this summer along with an online marketing campaign to spread the word. I'm hoping the new product will initiate a new opening in our target market to take advantage of the ageing population."

"That sounds great, but I've got to ask you: how do the department heads feel about that? Have you gotten them together to discuss your plans as well as theirs? Sounds like you'll need to involve R&D as well as marketing and make sure they are aligned with each other's goals. Oliver, you're an excellent communicator-use that skill to actively engage each department in the creation process. You'll need to express to them key internal and external goals so you can assess their positions on your initiative, as well as spot any areas where there is a misalignment with their intentions and yours. Getting everyone aligned with your overall strategic goals as well as this initiative will also create a greater sense of buy-in among your employees. When your employees are invested in change, aligned with your specific goals, and intertwined with the process, they will operate efficiently together."

"You know, I've been sitting on this couch all morning reading this book on leadership, but where I think I need to be is chairing a meeting with my department heads. I've got big goals for my company, but I won't get anything if I'm too tied up in micromanaging each department, and they won't get anywhere if I don't tell them where to go. It's time for me to start delegating more appropriately and to trust each department head to do their job, giving them the opportunity to run the department as they see best, but, also in line with my bigger, strategic goals for the company as a whole."

"You're absolutely right, Oliver. The key to great leadership lies in delegating appropriately and trusting completely."


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