CEO Non-Negotiable #3


My son, Will, asked me the other day who some of my best bosses have been.
I immediately thought of my first full-time boss, Captain Butler, commander of Charlie Company, 3rd of the 63rd Armor Battalion. He regularly checked in with me as I learned my job as a brand new platoon leader. He was always direct with me about his expectations. And I still have a stapled 4-page set of leadership maxims that he discussed with me one quiet summer afternoon in his office.
When I was promoted to Scout Platoon Leader, I reported to Captain Anderson. As commander of Headquarters Company, he led a unit that was three times the size of a regular Company. He was a busy man; yet he touched base with me weekly, often simply to make sure I had the resources I needed to train my men.
I remember taking my Scouts to a remote area for some specialized training that I had worked hard to arrange. Captain Anderson surprised me by showing up and quietly observing us for an hour. Later, he wrote me a note commending me for my extra effort.
If you were an aspiring young leader, one who wanted to grow, what would you want from your boss? How about a boss who would . . .

  • Give you work that brings out the best in you
  • Give you work that stretches you to do more than you thought you could
  • Encourage you
  • Hold you accountable for results
  • Give you feedback regularly on whether or not you are meeting expectations
  •  Teach you, or put you in position to learn
  • Care about your career path
  • Be interested in you as a person with dreams and aspirations

I was fortunate to have two leaders early in my career that did these things. I also happen to know that their leader was doing some of these very same things with them. Colonel Darnell, the battalion commander, was very intentional about developing each of the officers who reported to him — including Captains Butler and Anderson.
If you’ve been reading these posts for a while, one theme you might have noticed is my belief that —

Great leaders leave a legacy of more great leaders.

Thus, I identify “talent management” as the last of my three Non-Negotiables for CEOs, following vision and accountability.
I see talent management for the CEO as a collection of activities that include:

  • Hiring great leadership talent.
  • Positioning leaders in the organization where they can serve it best.
  • Challenging those leaders to continue growing.
  • Giving regular feedback on progress.
  • Having a game plan for new or expanded roles as leaders grow.

It is easy for CEOs to view subordinate leaders as merely a means for accomplishing their directives. The primary interactions the two have are around problem solving, or the status of assigned projects.
And CEOs can forget what a difference a boss makes — because they are the only one in the company who doesn’t have one! (Even a highly engaged board Chair is not the same as an everyday boss.) So CEOs forget the importance of cultivating the most valuable assets in the company, their people, beginning with the ones who report to them. The fastest way to gauge how well junior leaders in an organization are being developed is to look at what is going on at the top.
If you are a CEO, review that opening list of “boss expectations” and ask yourself:

How am I managing my talent at the top to ensure my managers at the bottom are experiencing that kind of excellent boss?

Consider how you need to take a more intentional role in the growth of leaders who report to you. It’s a fair bet that how you invest in them is indicative of how they are investing in their direct reports, and so on down through the organization.
In the end, it comes down to people — the most important resource you have. Great CEOs don’t just focus on what their leaders can do for them; they focus on what they can do for their leaders.
Be one of the “best bosses” your leaders will remember!

(For additional ideas on how to develop your employees, see my previous thoughts on onboarding and providing feedback.)