What Kind Of CEO Do I Want To Be? (Lesson 1)

Before we go into the more personal explorations and implications of this question, there is one critical junction that needs to be crossed, which is: Am I trying to gain control or am I trying to gain trust?

Currently, trust in leadership is at a critical low. So, let me make this bold statement to those who want to be part of the new breed of leaders:

Your ability to gain the trust of your organisation and your stakeholders is the BIGGEST input to your success.

Steven M.R. Covey (the son of the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People1) in his book The Speed of Trust calls trust “the one thing that changes everything.” In short, when trust is high, speed goes up, and cost goes down. When trust is low, speed goes down, and cost goes up.

I had a great example of this recently when I was travelling interstate to a client project. It was early Monday morning that I was due to fly. Three days prior, a budding terrorist had tried to smuggle an explosive device into his brother’s luggage inside a meat grinder that was meant to blow up an Etihad Airways flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi. At this point you could quite easily say that trust at the airport was very low!

Because I fly regularly, I usually get in a premium queue and get through security quite quickly. Not this day! The airport was one giant queue. There were airline and security staff everywhere. Every person was thoroughly checked. Speed went down! And of course, more staff means more wages. Cost goes up!

By the time I flew home later that week, the threat had abated, the culprits were in custody, and trust was restored to a more normal level. I was able to move straight through security with no wait time. Speed went up. The staff levels from security and the airlines were back to normal. Cost went down.

The trust factor is true in relationships in every area of life. When trust is high, you can say the wrong thing and it is taken the right way. When trust is low, you can say the right thing and it is taken the wrong way.

How much time and energy is wasted in low-trust environments because we have to explain, correct, re-explain, over and over? Don’t pretend that this doesn’t impact productivity. Multiply that by the number of relationships in your organisation and you start to get the picture of what I am talking about.

More than ever in today’s economy, cost reduction and speed to market are critical success factors. We usually look to the systems, processes, models, and strategies to find the edge, but in reality, the biggest edge is the relationships of trust among your people—starting with the trust you elicit as the organisation’s most senior leader.

Now, don’t move on to the rest of this article until you have that question settled: control or trust? This may go against everything you have known and experienced to this point. Good! The right answer to this question determines if you will be part of the new breed of leaders, or whether you will continue to perpetuate the current failing state-of-play.

Let’s Get Personal

I’m assuming that if you’re still reading this, you have opted for the trust option. Good call! Now that we have the big picture in place, we can delve deep into you as the leader.

Unless you go into your new role as CEO knowing certain things about yourself and your goals, you’re going to find an uphill struggle awaiting you.

Remember, you’re now the one in charge. Sure, you likely report quarterly to a board of directors, but the organisation rests on your shoulders.

Just how strong those shoulders are will probably dictate whether you transition into the job without unneeded drama and stress or like a tornado, whipping everything into a frenzy in its path.

I’m not talking here about what you want to see for bottom-line results or how much you expect the company to grow annually over the next three years under your leadership. Those are important things, but they don’t really address what kind of CEO you want to be.

You can take the “CEO” out of the sentence and replace it with a lot of words: leader, boss, example and overall person come to mind. No matter which one of those words you use to replace “CEO,” your answers should be the same.
1Covey, S R. (2004) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. London: Simon & Schuster