On Management: John Mariotti

Dec. 21, 2004
Keys to executive effectiveness

I am always searching for insights on how to choose the best people, because having the best people is the best way to succeed in business. But few things are more difficult to do successfully than to assess and select good leaders to fill executive positions. Executive effectiveness is closely linked to leadership ability, but there is more to it than that. My thoughts on this subject recently were reinforced during a conversation with John Grom, whom I've known for almost 15 years -- dating back to the days before he recruited me to work at Rubbermaid Inc. During Stanley Gault's tenure as CEO, John headed Rubbermaid's recruiting efforts. He now operates his own boutique search firm. In our discussion on executive effectiveness, John related a few of his "secrets" for identifying an effective executive. He has a lengthy checklist with about 20 points -- developed through decades of experience -- and was kind enough to share several of his key indicators. John is quick to point out that an executive requires many attributes to be truly effective -- integrity, intelligence, conceptual thinking ability, good communications skills, and so forth. But above all, he asserts, three attributes stand out: A sense of mission -- This arises from the ability to define something beyond yourself that is worthy of your best effort, as well as having something within you that compels you to apply your energy and creativity toward achieving it. Maslow called it "self-actualization." Dwight D. Eisenhower described it when he said: "Any man who approaches a task thinking only of his own reward is doomed to failure." That doesn't mean that someone with a sense of mission will not appreciate the rewards, but monetary rewards are not the primary driver of his or her behavior. A sense of authority -- People who possess this attribute seem as though they were meant to be in charge. They neither question nor doubt that leadership was destined to be their role in life. They accept the mantle of leadership without arrogance, regarding it as less a "divine right" than a "divine responsibility." These people are able to accept criticism (and even failure) without feeling diminished by it. They allow for and embrace input from a wide variety of sources. But they leave no doubt about who is in charge -- and no need to say much about it. Calm intensity -- John says he would prefer a better term for this one, but hasn't yet found it. Calm intensity is the ability to move relentlessly ahead toward a goal without giving in to stress or causing undue stress in others. It is the ability to stimulate, motivate, and energize a person or an organization to function at peak potential -- without driving people or causing them to feel pressures of blame, guilt, or fear. This person is healthy and strong in the executive sense, helps people to set "stretch" objectives, and provides the support they need to reach them. He or she is calm under pressure, while exuding competence and a can-do attitude that inspires confidence in associates and subordinates. Noted author Stephen Covey often cites character, competence, and courage as key attributes of highly effective people. I would add another "C" word to that list for leaders -- caring. I once advised a young man who had asked me how he could become a more effective leader. His ideas had great merit, but they were not being accepted. He wondered what he should do. My answer was: "Show them that you care." Human beings are remarkable in their adaptability and their potential for achievement. But to maximize their achievements they need effective leadership. My experience confirms John Grom's assertion that a sense of mission, a sense of authority, and calm intensity are, indeed, key attributes of effective executives. I also agree with Covey. We need leaders who have character, competence, and courage. But above all, we need leaders who care -- about us, about what we are doing, and about how the endeavor turns out. When such leaders are found, people will follow them anywhere. John Mariotti, a former manufacturing CEO, is president of The Enterprise Group (www.shape-shifters.com). He lives in Knoxville. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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