A CEO says “If I Could Do it Again …”
One high performance department is miserable and oppressive another is joyful and liberating. One leader has fun while another leader …
All leaders get things done but the way they do things matters.
John Bell, former CEO of Jacobs Suchard (Nabob, Kraft), suggested he would not do different things as much as he would do things differently, if he could do it again.
Doing things and the way things are done are two different things.
If I could do it again:
Bell said he had no regrets about business strategies. But, if he could do it again he would:
- Make it more fun. I was too serious.
- Be just as competitive.
- Not be as intense. The desire to enjoy continued success along with the pressure to make the numbers, which was intense, pushed us.
- Mentor more. I would spend more time with individuals.
- Treat people they way they needed to be treated. Don’t treat everyone the same.
John’s wisdom for leaders:
- Deal with politics but don’t be political.
- The way you treat the people who report to you impacts the way they treat others.
- Build organizational culture. The right culture (integrity, excellence, and customers first) helps CEOs make the right decisions.
- Never survive at the expense of others.
- Connect strengths with weakness.
- When it comes to the board, over deliver. The worst thing to hear from your board is, “Let us help you.”
- Don’t do more with less which means cutting people – Do less better – prioritize. Pick one mountain and get to the top first. Climb the next one, later.
- Get people out of the office by 6:00 p.m. We didn’t want our people working late.
- Connect personally with those around you.
- Achieve goals and be helpful at the same time.
If you could do it over again, what would be different?
What piece of John’s wisdom can you take with you today?
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Sage words of advice.
Do less, much better. We lose ourselves and our focus when we try to be all things to all people. Know what you do well, and do that well.
And, I think most of us would give the same initial answer….I’d have had more fun. So we should, and encourage others to do the same. If every moment feels like a life or death situation, then the stress will kill you, grind you to dust or you should eventually see that you need to move on.
Live the life and the days you have now, don’t put it all off to the future.
Good Morning Martina,
Glad to see you popping in first thing.
John’s comments about having fun are “common.” I think you are right that looking back most would say, have more fun Lighten up! 🙂 . It seems we have to have some experiences before we realize how important it is to enjoy the journey.
Your little expression … move on … is powerful. We are held back because we can’t move on.
Simple, powerful. Bell’s look back shows the mellowing that comes with age….or is that what is called wisdom?
You comment made me think about gentle strength. Maybe in youth we are too brash, harsh, or brittle. As time passes we “mellow” but hopefully we maintain our strength and resolve.
Balance? I don’t like the word balance because it feels mediocre but perhaps it applies.
Great seeing you.
Good morning Dan!! Number 4 under do it again is critical. The older I get the more I realize just how many people invested in me and I’m striving to do the same. As we invest in others we become fruitful!!!!
Right on Howie!
Just a personal note. I’m in contact with lots of college students. We try to orient the old students to getting into the lives of younger. I hope it sets them on a great path of building others.
This blog is very inspiring not just to CEOs but to all. Each one of us lead in different capacity.
Right on Cicelle!
Great post. Very appropriate for my day! Thanks Dan!
Too many times we forget to enjoy the moment!
I hope you are able to enjoy today’s journey. Your comment encourages me.
Yes! Yup! Yo! & Yay!
Brevity is not only the soul of wit – “Today’s World” requires it of those of us who seek true and real communication.
And yes again-Fun is a key key. It is possible, yes, to just be trying too darn hard for your own good and the good of all those around you.
Thank you –
Love your enthusiasm! Whoo Hoo. Come to think of it fun and enthusiasm go hand in hand. I can’t tell which comes first.
I’m taking, “It’s possible to, yes, to just be trying too darn hard ….”
Reblogged this on Jots & Thoughts and commented:
I would profoundly respect a leader who did this.
One of the challenge we find at Online courses on WizIQ is to balance fun with intensity. If the culture in the team veers towards jokes and fun, we find intensity dips and with it the focus. Do you have recommendations on how we can address that?
I love  : Be just as competitive and  : Mentor more. I hope I can have these two on my list later too 🙂
Thank you for posting this!
When fun becomes distracting it’s not fun. hmmmm great question. Can we make fun about performing well rather than just jokes? I do think high performance is fun, perhaps not frivolous, but fun.
I really like #2:
“The way you treat the people who report to you impacts the way they treat others.”
This is the starting point of building culture – it’s all about what the leaders exemplify and tolerate in behavior, and it starts at the top.
I could see this being a real challenge to take to heart too. It’s so easy to see what others are doing “wrong,” but so hard to see it in ourselves.
Thanks for sharing!
That one stood out for me too. It’s uncomfortably practical. We look around and don’t like how people are being treated…perhaps the people around us reflect us. OUCH
Thanks for rubbing it in.
Leadership is one of my interests.
Dan, a great illustration of balancing the task side of our work with the people side. It is what shows up in my coaching frequently. Invariably, we tend to work out of where we are most comfortable (people or task) to our detriment. It isn’t either or, it’s both. I would put the people side first because out of our relationship comes influence which can create higher motivation and engagement for the work and getting it done. Building breadth and depth helps us to see that and improve not only our outcomes, but how much fun we have a long the way. I love that John pointed out he would be less intense and have more fun. Sage advice for all of us.
Hearing John talk I could feel the pull of the pressure to perform quickly and the need to take care of the people side of things.
Perhaps our competitive natures drives to deliver results quickly even if it costs relationships. Sure it’s short sighted, less fulfilling, and personally troubling… but I can feel the tension.
It’s great to hear an experienced leader talk about it and share his insights. Very encouraging to me.
Your comment reflects your experience.
What a classic post. You have caught the nerve of the organizational practices. Sitting late, playing politics, and focusing on achieving numbers by any means. I will share my experience with these three subjects. People sit late to show their sincerity and commitment but actually they are not. They are dangerous people who make such practices to safeguard their position. There are other category of people, those who come early and monitor others timing either by ticking in muster roll or by questioning them unnecessary questions. This is key success factor for them. In fact, they do not much worry about output. Those who play politics are again either backstabber or sweet whisperer. They try to mingle with everyone with great enthusiasm and try to extract as much information as possible. They play game on that information. Those who believe their success on number game generally manipulate balance sheet, profit and loss account and even create environment to fire people to show their success in numerical form. All these three kind of people are position centric, overambitious and fearful about their safety and position in the organization. And this incompetency and fear lead them to follow such practices. If I could do it over again, I would make more transparency, delegate more accountability and create harmonious environment at workplace. Number 8 wisdom is very powerful. Allow people to pack up in time and even early sometimes. It will boost morale.
Your comment packs a real punch.
Just to jump on one idea, the fear some people feel. I didn’t write about it but John talked about insecure leaders who make decisions to protect themselves. it’s more common than some might think. I know I’ve seen it. These people are dangerous and toxic to organizations.
Fear driven leaders should be feared.
Thank you for sharing your insights. Very helpful.
Re-create (aka build) your culture! While John’s list may not be prioritized, while most all work is ‘serious’, you can still enjoy it and in moments find it fun-if you choose to.
While I thrive on intermittent intensity, less so on persistent pressure, so I find a distinction between intensity and pressure with pace and duration being two variables of influence.
Would appreciate some additional info on #5-treat people the way they ‘needed’ to be treated. How is that determined? I can see the individualization, that is key and speaks to connecting on several levels. Is there more to the ‘needed’ piece?
Mentor more is huge…we often don’t realize it is on our playlist until way down the line. If you have taken ‘safe’ risks and learned from your mistakes, then you may have wisdom to share. How you mentor is just as much an art as leadership.
John’s wisdom is priceless, each is a diamond with many facets. Politics not political…now there’s a dance! Each of the wisdom points could be adapted easily to expand concepts. Achieve goals and be helpful could spin to help others achieve their goals, which segues into how you treat others, how you connect with others.
As always it’s a pleasure reading your comment.
I sent a note to John regarding your question. I’m not sure but from my view, the term “need” may be too strong. Additionally, it may seem to apply too broadly.
I took John to mean leaders should adapt to the personalities of others… some respond to a kick in the pants…others to a kind word… etc.
I’ll let you know…
Best to you my friend,
It’s me again Doc. As promised, I sent a note to John and here is his reply:
You nailed it, Dan. Kick in the pants or TLC is exactly what I meant. There are folks out there who need to be continually reminded of their worth. Fine. That’s also fun to do, because you see their glow, their satisfaction that the boss values their contribution. Others are happy if you leave them alone, and/or your interaction is a mere suggestion or a question. JB
A wise person once told me…..there is a big difference between…
* doing things right (e.g., following the assumed rules and paradigms that come with your leadership position) and…
* doing the right things (responding to each person and each situation with intuitive grace, creativity, empathy, flexibility and foresight).
Nicely said Valerie, thanks for sharing this nugget. Best, Dan
Here’s the one that resonated with me today: 3.Build organizational culture. The right culture (integrity, excellence, and customers first) helps CEOs make the right decisions.
We have had a bit of a disconnect at my current organization — our ED comes from a more corporate, rigid, traditional environment. We are a private not-for-profit populated by many (relatively younger) people who have never worked anywhere else. The disconnect occurs when our ED wants it to look and feel like a traditional environment (rarely an unpopulated desk, dress code, strict scheduling system) and the staff here has never had that — hence the “deer in the headlights” reactions when it gets brought up. I suppose I am suggesting that a leader needs to assess the culture in order to build on what he or she inherits.
If the organizational foundation is quicksand instead of something more solid, it won’t matter how much rebar you use in the edifice.
Powerful and useful comment with a great construction illustration at the end.
You made me think about how organizational culture can either help or hurt leaders. If we aren’t prepared to fully align or agree up needed changes then quicksand is the best description of the situation.
New leaders in particular must first fully align before considering a change. If they don’t, the crew will mutiny if they dare. If they don’t dare they’ll just be disloyal…
Thank you for sharing your insights.
If I could do it over again what would be different? Well part of what got me here was learning all of the things I need to learn by doing things less than perfect. But if I could start with what I know now?
I would focus a lot more on working on the business. I include business strategy, working on the business itself and developing people. A big part of that would be more agressively working on marketing and sales capabilities.
Tomorrow the list will be longer and that is ok, as long as I am always focussed in making things better each day.
We can learn a lot from nature – in particular our pets! Stroking your cat is good for your heart. “When dogs have a job to do, they give it their undivided attention. It turns out people should probably do the same. Stanford University researchers found that attention and memory suffer in those who juggle work, email, and web-surfing, compared to those who focus on one task at a time. Other studies suggest people actually lose time when multitasking.”
You need the right cat! It needs to be trained to bring peace, though I think it is a natural attribute of some felines.
A great leader inspires people to exceed their natural expectations.
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This brings two things to mind: experience counts, and hindsight is 20/20. Two words of wisdom to live by IMHO.
In my own experience I could advise:
To get in where you fit in – it makes no sense not to play to your strengths, in fact the sage advice should be to always play as much as possible into your strengths.
To embrace change – of all sorts in work and life, I always shudder to hear people who feel trapped or without future options. There is always the option to make a change for the better.
To learn through initiative, not through a mentor-employee relationship alone – when does shadowing become a cover? When you lose the initiative to embrace potential relationships in other divisions or with other individuals and stop exploring learning opportunities without guidance. Everyone should want a mentor but that individual isn’t the scope of your activities within a firm. The sooner you can function within the firm without the mentor the sooner you will be truly valuable to your company.
To remain an Individual – sure teamwork is great and collaboration is an essential business skill, on the other hand it is generally better to be recognized for your own talents then to be lumped into groups. Being the star player on a mediocre team only matters if you can make that fact noticed.
Do what makes you happy – ’nuff said.