The CEO’s most important task
The chief executive officer is an appointee of the board of directors. So, he reports to the board and makes the directors’ expectations his focal point so as to have a successful tenure. Since a CEO holds office by the grace of the board, he has to strive consistently to meet and even surpass the directors’ expectations.
A company’s board of directors consists mainly of investors or their proxies. The board acts on behalf of the shareholders, people who have put their resources in the company with the hope of getting worthwhile returns on their investments. Though not directly involved in the daily management of the organization, the board has its eyes fixed on the bottom line, which is tied to the performance of the company. Since assessment of the board is linked to the performance of the business, the board works on the management to improve the company’s financial profile and make it not just a going concern but a profitable business. So, in broad terms, the board has two expectations; increasing revenue and reducing cost because if revenue increases and cost decreases, profit will soar.
There is no magic to increasing revenue; the revenue generated by a company is directly proportional to the size of the market it controls. Companies increase revenue when they up their game and give their customers the kind of products or services that are not easy to come by.
Modern day customers have no loyalty; they go where their needs are met the most. So, to increase revenue, a company must keep its customer hooked to its products and services; it must have the customers literally eating out of its hands. So, to increase revenue, a company has to consciously work towards exceeding market expectations.
There is also the need to consistently work on improving strategy. Most companies lose relevance and revenue because they rely on what worked in the past. Nothing in nature stays stagnant over time, everything changes eventually. Companies that fail to move with change are usually left behind to lick their wounds as they see others leap into prosperity.
A company may up its revenue by also identifying new areas of opportunities. Great companies don’t just follow trend, they set the trend. So, to have customers tied to its apron string, a company must make available to them what they need before the need becomes obvious to the customers.
Many organizations have a warped understanding of what cost reduction is really about. Whenever the issue of cost reduction comes up for discussion, what occurs to them is the need to reduce staff strength or overhead cost. While those may be part of cost reduction, they are not all there is to it. Cost reduction is principally about improving the processes of an organization. Once there is an improvement in the processes, every area of wastage will become evident and these can be done away with.
Improving the operational processes of an organization has to do with being effective and not just efficient. An effective company spends less to achieve more, an efficient one gets the job done at a huge cost. Being effective boils down to seeking a better way of achieving maximum value at the least cost possible. An effective organization has the capacity to achieve its stated goals with a minimum deployment of energy, time, money, human and material resources. An effective organization ensures that every resource is made to deliver optimal result. It is when resources are not effectively deployed that a company amasses wastage and the cost invariably shoots up. Great companies consistently tweak their processes to ensure maximum value delivery by every of its resources.
The CEO’s most important task
However, as important as increasing revenue and reducing cost are, neither is the CEO’s most important assignment. His most important task is keeping the workforce unflaggingly inspired. There is a limit to what the CEO as an individual can accomplish. Whatever he hopes to accomplish can only be done to the extent to which his people are inspired to be part of it. With an inspired workforce, reaching the moon will be a done deal for the CEO. Therefore, more than any other thing, keeping the workforce inspired is the CEO’s primary task.
Between motivation and inspiration
In his book, Good to Great, Professor Jim Collins counsels that there is no need to motivate the workforce. His point is that external motivation does not last the distance, arguing that the best thing is to have a self-motivated workforce. A self-motivated employee is self-driven, focused and determined. He knows what he wants and aligns this with the goal of the company to ensure that both the organization and himself profit from his endeavour. He does not rely on external stimuli to do what he ought to do, rather, he challenges himself to be at his optimum at all times.
That is the point of departure between the inspired employee and the one who waits to be motivated. The level of performance and the quality of delivery of the latter is dependent on the motivation he receives. The downside is not that he needs motivation; it is that it has to be done repeatedly. Hence, as Zig Ziglar, a personal development expert, once observed, “People often say that motivation does not last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” The import of this is that those who are not self-motivated are like junkies; they are irredeemably hooked on external stimulation. If the stimulation is taken away their performance heads south. No organization can be exceptional with that type of workforce.
How leaders inspire others
To inspire his employees, the leader has to do the following.
Share the organisation’s core value
According to Simon Sinek, author of the book, Start With Why, the difference between great companies and ordinary ones is that the former start with why. Sinek has developed a concept which he calls the ‘Golden Circle,’ which has three layers. The first layer is the ‘Why’, the core belief of the organization. It’s the raison d’être of the company. The second layer is the ‘How’. This is about how the company realizes the core belief. The third is ‘What’, which is the activities engaged by the company to realize its core belief.
Sinek explains that every organization knows what they do but few understand why they do it. He adds, “if you don’t’ know why you do what you do, then how will you ever get someone to buy into it, and be loyal, or want to be a part of what it is that you do.
“The goal is not just to hire people who need a job, but people who believe what you believe. If you hire people who just need a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people that believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”
This is why revolutionaries are usually successful; they never start with what they want to do but why they want to do it. This makes it easy for their followers to buy into their vision. Their followers are often so sold out on what the leader wants to do that laying down their lives for its accomplishment is not considered a huge sacrifice.
The leader has to effectively communicate the why to get the workforce inspired and get a buy-in from them.
Paint picture of a desirable future
According to Napoleon Bonaparte, leaders are dealers in hope. Great leaders always give their followers hope, something to look forward to. They are adept at awakening a sense of expectations in their followers by painting pictures of a better future. Hope keeps people going stronger by the day. Hope makes people to see the invisible and do the impossible. Hope empowers, inspires and goads people to exceed set limits. When a leader paints the picture of a desirable future, the people are energized, become gung-ho and shatter records.
Challenge them to be the best
A good leader never leaves his people at the same level they were when they met him. A good leader always places a demand on his people to get better daily. He challenges them to scale up their performances and improve on their tasks. Only very few people are conscious of their inherent capacity, it takes good mentors and leaders to bring out the best in people. So, good leaders inspire others by challenging them to do what they had never done to experience what had only existed in their imagination.
Create opportunities for them
Leaders are ladders for others. They give others wings to fly and help them reach heights they never thought was possible by creating opportunities for them. When leaders create opportunities for their followers, they grow and become better. When they achieve growth and realize the benefits, they desire more growth and are inspired to do more to grow more.
The easiest way leaders inspire their followers is to walk their talk. Alexander the Great is regarded as one of the finest and best Generals the world has ever known. He won so many battles and conquered so many territories because his soldiers always put themselves at great risks and fought with the whole of their hearts to ensure victory for Alexander’s side. His soldiers were so determined to have victory on battlefields because Alexander led from the front. He was not a General who would sit at the command headquarters and issue directives to soldiers; he led them into battle and inspired them to fight for the common goal. He modeled to his soldiers what he expected from them. So, by his actions, he inspired commitment, devotion and excellence. When leaders walk their talk, and lead by example they inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
Have their back
One of the worst mistakes a leader can make is to treat his followers as expendables. This will leave them flat and unproductive. But when followers know that their leaders will always support and defend them, there is no height they won’t want to scale to achieve corporate goals. Organizations grow when employees are allowed to take risks and try new things. New possibilities are discovered when risks are taken. But it is not every risk taken that ends up in the positive. Employees will be inspired to try new things which may turn the tide in favour of the organization if they know that they will not be skinned or fried for trying out something new that failed to work.
An inspired workforce is the fulcrum of corporate success. When a leader inspires his workforce, his most important job is done.