A recent article by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania profiling John Chambers and his new book on leadership captured our attention. Chambers led Cisco from a $70 million company to an over $48 billion company in his tenure as Cisco CEO. His lessons apply to any business, from small startup teams to large corporate entities.
However, what really inspired us are the four key elements Chambers mentioned for leadership success:
- Having a clear vision and strategy that is differentiated and sustainable
- The ability to build and develop a great team
- Creating a strong company culture
- The ability to communicate these elements to the organization
“In terms of how I measure leaders, it’s results, quality of team, do they really understand the industry they’re focused on, their communications skills, how well they walk the talk, the culture, and the ability to outline a bold vision and then really make it happen.”-- John Chambers, author and former CEO of Cisco Systems
These key elements directly align with what Corporate Path Leadership focuses on to help companies and leaders grow stronger. We’ll elaborate as to why each one is important.
#1 Vision And Strategy
In a fast-paced world, it is easy to discard strategic planning as a waste of time. We hear people say “by the time the plan is finished, it is already outdated” as a reason for not going through the exercise. And there are times we agree that companies can spend so much time on planning that they are missing out on opportunities right in front of them. However, not having a plan makes it challenging for individual contributors to understand what goals the company is striving for and how they individually can help support those goals.
How to achieve this: Keep planning concise but impactful and the end-goals sustainable.
#2 Building A Great Team
Behind every business challenge is a parallel emotional or team issue. We find that companies are eager to fix department performance so they can accelerate growth, but like Chambers notes, building the right team (and the right culture) are more important. Corporate Path Leadership believes that focusing energy on building high-performance teams will help improve business results.
How to achieve this: Hiring good talent is obvious. Also consider how new hires will fit in, or bring fresh ideas and an element of change to the existing dynamic. (Remember that change is good!)
#3 Creating a Strong Company Culture
Great culture goes beyond leadership or an internal team. Corporate Path Leadership believes it should guide the entire organization and extend to its customers.
How to achieve this: As Chambers recommends, put customers first and ensure their satisfaction is a key component in overall strategy. Make a point of getting to know your team, from a personal and professional level. Understanding challenges at home and dynamics between team members (good or bad) can help identify areas for team development, building culture and respect, while helping guide leadership decisions and keeping everyone moving in the right direction.
“We paid our management on customer satisfaction, so we matched culture to our whole fundamental strategy. I think people underestimate that. It’s one of the things I love with the new startups when you get a new, young CEO, and they get the vision and strategy, they get the team, and they get the communications.”-- John Chambers, author and former CEO of Cisco Systems
#4 Clear And Concise Communication
Too often, leaders are two or three steps ahead of the rest of the organization. It’s not because they are faster or smarter, but often because the time was not spent to make sure the decisions they make are shared appropriately with the rest of the team leaders and all the employees. We see this all of the time. Leaders become frustrated that employees are not moving fast enough, but as we noted earlier, individual contributors need to understand what goals the company is striving for so they know how they can help support them with their skillset.
How to achieve this: Allocate time to clearly getting the word out on changes. In more complex situations, communication may need to happen several times. It will help to make the organization more effective and more cohesive.
We highly recommend that you take the time to read John Chamber’s book “Connect The Dots” and see how these insights can inspire you as much as they have inspired us!
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