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Above and Beyond the Call of Duty: What Sets a CEO Apart

Be relatable, be methodical, and be adaptable

Over a century ago, Andrew Carnegie, the late steel magnate and philanthropist, compiled for journalist Napoleon Hill a list of 31 qualities he believed all great business leaders shared.

Such titans of industry, Carnegie told Hill, have a purpose and plan for their company. They are motivated, disciplined, persistent, creative and decisive. They are diplomatic, tactful, enthusiastic and likable. They treat others with respect.

At one point Carnegie (1835-1919) paraphrased the Golden Rule, saying that great leaders “treat others the way they would like to be treated.” And the next-to-last item on his list is one that he believed should have been placed at the very top, as he would tell Hill — that those in charge “assume responsibility for the actions of their entire team.”

Clearly this cuts in several directions — so many that Hill was moved to include the list in two books, Think and Grow Rich (1937) and Think Your Way to Wealth (1948). And while the business world (and the world at large) have grown increasingly complex since Carnegie’s day, his wisdom has proven to be timeless.

That was shown in the Harvard Business Review’s 2016 study of the top business executives, which concluded that the leading CEOs juggle long-term vision and short-term focus, while zeroing in on employees’ needs. Other lists of desirable leadership characteristics have mentioned everything from trust to transparency, from setting a good example to going the extra mile. But they might best be summarized by saying (as Carnegie would) that top-notch leaders are relatable, methodical and adaptable.

Here is a summary of each trait:

Being Relatable

Among the 100 executives mentioned in that HBR survey, just 24 percent had earned an MBA, proof positive that academic qualifications were not as meaningful as interpersonal skills. Indeed many businesses have come to realize the importance of emotional intelligence (i.e., EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient) — how a leader can 

use his or her emotions to their best advantage, and how those with the highest EQs are self-aware, self-motivated, empathetic and socially skilled.

Emotionally intelligent leaders encourage creativity and risk-taking, and are unthreatened by opinions that run counter to their own. They are active listeners. They reward employees when it is warranted. They encourage collaboration.

In short, they create a culture in which employees are fully engaged. And engagement, defined by the HealthStream Engagement Institute as “an individual’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioral connection with an organization’s mission, vision, and values,” has long been viewed as critical to employees’ happiness and productivity

And again, that all starts at the top. Maybe that means spelling out the company’s mission in an Engagement Statement. Maybe it means hiring an Engagement Officer. Maybe it means periodically measuring the degree to which employees are engaged. But it is critical that everybody is dialed in.

Being Methodical

This speaks to the necessity of laying out a plan — making objectives clear up front, and then mapping out the best route to reaching them. In one survey, 41 percent of the employees emphasized how crucial it was for company leaders to provide vision and direction, not to mention an example.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch was among the many leaders to underscore the need for clear, coherent communication, and insisted that all his managers be trained to spell things out clearly. Others have pointed out how crucial it is that communication is a two-way street — that employees’ views should always be taken into account, as they might have ideas and viewpoints not previously considered. 

Armed with such knowledge, it is important for a leader to delegate tasks when necessary, as it is impossible to do everything oneself. Moreover, it is empowering to others when they are afforded the opportunity to take on such assignments. It leaves them with a true sense of ownership.

That can be made clear in other ways, too. The upper management of The Allure Group makes a point to regularly visit each of the six skilled nursing facilities in the New York City-based network. That allows leaders to better understand the day-to-day concerns of the rank and file and field questions, enabling updates to be implemented when necessary.

Being Adaptable

Change is a constant. As an example, consider that by 2020, Millennials are expected to comprise half the workforce. As they make up the most diverse generation yet seen, they will not only alter the face of the rank and file; they will challenge long-held philosophies as well. It is critical for leadership to consider their needs, and adjust accordingly.

In addition, there is the opportunity and challenge represented by automation. While there are fears that technological innovation will lead to widespread unemployment, other forecasts are far less dire, predicting that more jobs will be created than lost.

Technological advancement has proven to be invaluable at Allure. We have implemented a contact-free patient-monitoring system known as EarlySense, which in addition to being enormously beneficial for residents has given healthcare professionals another set of eyes and ears. Robotics have also been an immeasurable help in patient rehabilitation.

Innovation has taken on other forms, too. Famed entrepreneur Elon Musk has questioned the worth of company meetings, believing that direct communication is far more effective. Kim Scott, co-founder of Candor Inc., has taken that a step further by advocating “radical candor” — i.e., being forthright with co-workers, even if it might offend them.

The point here is that business strategy and technology are forever evolving, and every CEO would do well to take heed. But the larger point is that Andrew Carnegie gave timeless advice all those years ago, and that those principles remain relevant today.

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