I was reading the current issue of Fortune Magazine and there is a regular section in the Technology pages called ‘The Best Advice I Ever Got‘.  This week I particularly enjoyed the tips that were shared by Mike Splinter, CEO of Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT) in California.  In my opinion he has really hit the nail on the head in terms of some of the characteristics and key behaviours of true leaders.

Mike first speaks about the best advice he ever got, from former Intel CEO Andy Grove.  Grove was giving a talk to new management hires trying to provide them with some foundation and understanding of the Intel culture.  In his talk he told them to “always assume it’s your responsibility.”

Always assume it’s your responsibility.

What a great concept and an incredible underpinning for a corporate culture.  What if everyone in your business assumed that everything was their responsibility?  As a small store owner can you imagine a world where all of your employees took it upon themselves to sweep the floor, pick up that piece of paper that has been sitting under the racks from a previous customer, or folded the messed pile of clothes from the dressing rooms regardless of whether they were a part-timer, keyholder, or manager?

According to Splinter, the power of this statement is that it “creates specific action and works across almost any situation, from picking up garbage on the floor to a new product idea.”  Empower your employees to assume everything is their responsibility and you will see how quickly the line will appear between those that you want on the bus with you and those that need to find a new ride.

More Great Advice

Mike continues by providing his own top tips:

  • Engage Your Audience
    When you are talking with a group give your audience a challenge.  It will make your presentation more enjoyable and keep their attention as they work to complete the challenge.
  • Stay Connected
    Read every one of your emails regardless of where they are from.  You need to be in touch with every level of your organization to be a truly effective leader.
  • Get Others Involved Early
    If you get your team involved in the planning and strategy phases you are much more likely to be successful engaging them and gaining their buy in when you need to execute.
  • Recognize Good Work
    Send a personal note to recognize the extra effort made by your employees.  As in all types of praise you need to make sure you are rewarding that ‘extra’ effort and not just meeting the expectations, but a personal note from the leader (regardless of the employees layer in the company) has as much meaning as any other reward you can bestow on them.
  • Know Why You’re Meeting
    A personal pet peeve of mine is the meeting that goes nowhere from the start.  You need to make sure that everyone in the room understands why they are there and what specific outcome you are looking to achieve from the meeting in the time you have together.  On this topic I highly recommend reading “Death by Meeting” by Patrick Lencioni.
  • Streamline Your Schedule
    You can’t be everything to everyone in your day if your business is going to be successful.  Identify the value that you uniquely bring to your business and delegate the other tasks to those better suited to completing them effectively.  A great book on this topic is “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.
  • Balance Your Risk
    Understand where you fall on the risk scale and offset your position with the people around you.  Mike considers himself a risk taker so he has selected a particularly conservative CFO to help keep him in check and ask the hard questions before he exposes the company.

Being a leader within your own company is a vital part of being an Entrepreneur.  If you aren’t the type of person that can beat the drum and rally the troops then it is important for you to recognize that and find someone to work with you that can.  One key characteristic of all of the great companies over time has been the existence of a strong leader at the top.  Jack Welch (and now Jeff Immelt), Bill George, Andy Grove, Mike Splinter, Bill Gates, and the list goes on.

There are a lot of great books out there that can help you to identify the behaviours you need to be successful.  Watch for a future blog post that will highlight some of my favourite reads.

I’d love to hear your own story about ‘the best advice you ever got’.  Comment and share!

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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