Check your ego at the door

Top leaders agree, exceptional leadership has no room for ego. Since we started this blog in February we have interviewed top leaders around the country and they all concur. Leaders of great performing companies can’t do it alone. They put the spotlight on their employees.

Jim Collins introduced the concept of Level 5 leadership in his now famous book, Good to Great. He describes this leader as humble, accepting blame and reflecting glory to those in the trenches.

Peter de Silva, President and COO of UMB Bank, recently named by Forbes as best bank in the continental US, commented on the importance of the multiplier effect. “I can accomplish much more working through 3200 talented people than trying to be involved in everything.” Joe Scarlett, retired Chairman and CEO of Tractor Supply and founder of Scarlett Leadership Institute, commented that he spent the majority of his time on hiring, training, and retaining top people. Every CEO we have talked to has said the same.

CEO of Louisiana-Pacific Corporation Rick Frost has gone so far as to write a list of behaviors and decision criteria his executives should hold him accountable for. And they have. He has been called on it before and been appreciative that the culture fosters that type of relationship. They are all part of the same team.

Another common theme is hiring the best talent, even if they are harder to find and cost more, because they are worth it. They take ownership of challenges, innovatively tackling opportunities and producing higher performance. However, strong performers don’t enjoy weak links. It slows down the work flow for everyone. Insisting that everyone contributes is a formula for success. Leaders would rather hire slowly and carefully and fire fast to keep the work force running smoothly and at a high level.

Many companies adopt unique hiring and onboarding processes to demonstrate that their company is different. Southwest Airlines, Build-A-Bear Workshop and Chick-fil-A have stringent criteria of personal character and accomplishments which carries as much or more weight than specific industry experience when screening applicants.

Finally, the employee needs to be equally committed as the leadership. Zappos will offer a new employee, fresh from orientation, $2,000 to leave the company as a test of their passion. Are they there for the long haul or a quick buck?

The leadership model that works best is that of focusing on others in the organization and extracting their best work:

  • Define the culture and the behaviors that support it
  • Identify the profiles of the people you are looking for
  • Develop a screening process that is unique to your needs
  • Stick to your guns and hire smart not fast
  • Have a cultural indoctrination period so employees know what is expected of them
  • Challenge the good ones and weed out non-performers quickly
  • Communicate extensively so everyone is a part of the team
  • Charge them with the responsibility to be company ambassadors
  • Give them a company to be proud of

As is commonly said in the world of athletic teams, “There is no “I” in team.” And it takes a team to win in today’s fast-paced, heavily competitive environment. So, check your ego at the door and support the real stars, the employees. Please share your feedback and examples of egoless leadership (or ego-driven leadership). Thanks!

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