Thoughts On Leadership
In previous posts, I have indicated how fortunate I have been to learn about leadership from some of the best business leaders in the nation. People I believe epitomize what it means to be a leader.
One of those people is Gil Cloyd. Gil had a very successful career at Procter & Gamble, culminating with his appointment as the Company’s Chief Technology Officer. My relationship with Gil began back in 1989/90 when he became the General Manager for the business unit I worked in.
True Story About Gil Cloyd
I can remember one time when the brand I was managing was under severe competitive pressure with no obvious solution. I had developed a plan to introduce a new packaging concept that would require the Company to achieve a level of executional performance that was unprecedented in the industry. It was a high-risk proposal with a low probability ROI. But, it was the only way we could save the brand and potentially grow the business. I made the recommendation to senior management who debated it at length before agreeing to let my team implement the plan. Gil was instrumental in convincing the business unit President to take the financial risk. Long story short, we introduced the new package in record time beating all industry standards and saved the brand. On the day we sold our first order, I was standing engrossed in reading a memo when I felt a tap on my shoulder and a whisper in my ear “I knew you could do it”. It was Gil who made a point to come and congratulate me personally. His willingness to take a chance in my performance was inspirational and a moment I remember fondly.
Counsel From Gil
Gil taught me a lot about what it means to run a business. His lessons served me well throughout my career. In 1995, when Gil was a Vice President in the Company, I asked him for some advice on what great leadership looked like. Here is an excerpt of the memo he sent me. I think you will find his perspective as enlightening as I did.
TO: Ed Burghard
Leadership begins when we reflect upon what we will do to advance our part of the business. Strong leadership is first and foremost a strong personal commitment. It is more than a commitment to the organization and our colleagues; it is a personal contract with ourselves, which we intend to fulfill with high integrity.
Good leadership requires us to be choiceful. We need to focus upon the really important – the really impactful. Good leaders maintain this focus, rise above the many distractions, which are always present, and are tenacious in pursuit of their key objectives. They also provide clarity for their vision. This is necessary to gain the understanding and commitment from all stakeholders. People only will actively pursue and commit to goals, which are well understood and appreciated. Establishing a personal standard to always reduce objectives to a clearly written form is a good means to capture the clarity required.
Good leaders are data based. They do their homework and fully understand their situation. They reflect upon the facts, seek peer input, and fully integrate their experiential knowledge base. This allows them to reduce uncertainty and instill the organizational norm that data, not “grey hairs”, predominate in decision-making. This leads to higher quality results and empowers everyone in an organization.
Good leadership engages all stakeholders. It requires ongoing interaction with people to maintain their understanding and commitment. It also is respectful of people’s capabilities, challenging but empowering. People are allowed to truly own their component of an initiative, but good leadership requires attention to specific action planning and personal accountability.
These are the main points I hope you take away from Gil’s counsel.
- Leadership requires choices.
- Great leaders focus on the important and don’t let the urgent, unimportant distract them.
- Communication and interaction is key to gaining commitment.
- Clarity of vision is a leader’s responsibility.
- Data should drive decision-making.
- People should feel empowered and want to do their best.
- All stakeholders matter.
- Excellence in execution is as important as getting the strategy right.
Was there anything in Gil’s advice to me that you found particularly insightful? What would you add to Gil’s counsel? If you were asked to describe the keys to successful leadership, what guidance would you provide?
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