Leadership 101

Dean Fischer shares his insights and advice on how to inspire as a leader

Dean Fischer, president & CEO of West Monroe Partners. Photo: Samantha Simmons.

Dean Fischer has an enviable gig. As the CEO and president of West Monroe Partners, a business consultancy with offices across the United States, he spends his days leading a large team of talented, driven individuals to successful collaboration and decision making. But being a leader in such a people-oriented industry isn’t always easy. Here, Fischer shares the lessons, learned on his own journey, that now inform his day-to-day.

What aspects of your life have impacted your leadership capabilities?

Before founding West Monroe, I worked at Arthur Anderson for 23 years. They were renowned for developing and inspiring staff. I also am a huge fan of Stephen Covey, who wrote Principle Centered Leadership, an excellent book on developing people. Most of all, I feel that raising children gave me my first true “leadership” role. As parents, we have to “develop” our children into responsible adults, and being a parent also teaches you about selflessness and putting others first, traits I believe are important for strong leaders.

How do you define a successful leader?

Well, there are three basic types of leadership: coercion, utilitarian, and principle centered, which is the most powerful and longest-lasting. While at Arthur Anderson, I watched many leaders fail and succeed. Leaders who failed did not listen, could not inspire, did not truly care, had poor values, and did not have a high EQ [emotional intelligence]. It can be difficult to explain what makes a leader great, but easy to see what leaders do wrong. People may follow you if you have authority, but it won’t last if they don’t believe in your principles.

What is your leadership philosophy?

All too often, people confuse management with leadership, when they are actually the opposite. Managing is about control; leading is about liberating. My leadership philosophy remains focused on three simple goals: inspire and empower people, set and maintain values, and establish a culture of respect. Primarily, what I do every day—no matter the task—contains an element of at least one of these goals.

When do you rely on your own judgment as a leader?

I operate from the heart more than the brain, and feel I have a strong moral compass, so I have no issues trusting my own judgment when it comes to core culture issues and corporate values, and how West Monroe operates in regards to those issues and values. Where I include others are in matters of intellect, issues that require specific experience from a trained professional, and issues where there is more than one right answer.

What are your thoughts on leading by example?

As a leader, you have to demonstrate the things you teach in your own life and actions, every single day. Like a parent models good behavior for their children, a leader has to model good values to his or her staff, so they will know you are authentic and genuine about your beliefs. Otherwise, you are duplicitous at best.