We won’t all be Steve Jobs, but many of us will be the top executives in our respective cities. I recently met with seven of the top Executives, Presidents and CEOs in Madison, Wisconsin. Here are their keys to business and leadership success—
Share your success. It is incumbent on the person being promoted, according to Mark Meloy, President and CEO of First Business Bank, to pull others along with them. Make sure that as you become more successful, your leaders feel that their careers are moving forward as well.
Network to problem-solve. Finding groups that help you problem-solve will save many a headache, according to Brett Armstrong, CFO of the IT company Trident Contact Management. Like if you’re being audited, the group will have your back. But choose your involvement wisely, Armstrong advocates, since you only have a certain amount of time and need to spend it wisely. If you’re only half-involved then that is how people will know you.
Balance… well, it’ll all even out in the end. First, you have to decide if you want a job or a career, according to Mark Meloy. If it’s a career you decide upon, make sure you’re engaging in a two-way street. Work and life won’t always balance out that day, week, or month, but equilibrium will be found. Eventually. Meloy walks the talk at First Business Bank. When his employees go on vacation, they are not allowed access to email and have only limited access to voicemail. The company gives vacation, he says, for a reason.
A vision can’t just be a pie in the sky. A vision must be a concrete vision, according to Donna Sollenberger, President and CEO of UW Hospital and Clinics. To create the right vision, you must find the right direction for your organization to take. To do this, look at the industry trends and listen to your market. Then build a case, a good solid argument, and back it up with data to demonstrate where you need to go.
Entrepreneurs – socialites, control-freaks, risk-takers, and self-promoters. So says Curt Brink, a successful real estate developer. You must not only deal with a wide range of people in entrepreneurship, he argues, but you must also follow through on getting things done. Don’t be afraid to try something new, because once you’ve done it, you then understand how to do it better. A successful entrepreneur likes being in control, but can delegate fully. If you don’t, no one will grow. By the way, Brink was unconsciously promoting his current and past projects the entire time he was talking. That’s called passion. Get some.
Do a lot, and make sure everyone knows. Don’t let anyone pigeon hole your talents, says Annette Knapstein, Vice President of Office Administration at American Family Insurance. Stretch yourself, develop new talents and volunteer for different committees. And then, make sure everyone knows it. If they don’t know, it doesn’t exist.
Leadership is lonely sometimes. A good leader and manager makes effective decisions and communicates clearly, while putting the right people in the right spots. Not always easy, according to Gary Wolter, President and CEO of MGE. To illustrate his point, Wolter told a story about a receptionist he saw year after year. Each morning, the receptionist would say, “Hello, Gary.” Yet, when Wolter was promoted to CEO, the next morning was different. “Hello, Mr. Wolter,” the receptionist said. Leadership fundamentally changes relationships and people expect different things of you. People who were your peers, you now supervise, and while you can still be friendly, you can’t talk about the boss anymore because you are the boss. The support group that you had developed, who had remained loyal to you, and helped you along your journey has changed. Be prepared.
Throw an open door party daily. Reaching out to younger people for fresh air is essential, according to Richard Lynch, President of J.H. Findorff & Son, who had a great sense of the upcoming workforce. He recognizes that young workers are entrepreneurial, and need a flexible and honest environment to work in. He has an open door policy for this purpose and subsequently attracts the brightest young workers.
Speaking of honesty… Surround yourself with people who will tell you that you’re an idiot, says Gary Wolter. Look both inside your organization, and outside, for individuals you can bounce ideas off of, and who can communicate with you effectively and honestly.
Follow the Leader.