Develop Talent at All Levels
It’s important for leaders to give opportunities at all levels and not just focus on top performers. Top performers are likely to be tomorrow’s leaders. However, solely focusing on further developing top performers can mistakenly avoid the development of the broader employee base. Enron exemplified this for me through their ranking system, in which the bottom quarter exited the company while the top quarter advanced. By contrast, I’ve subsequently worked at other companies that stress the importance of the development of all individuals, irrespective of performance, toward developing a well-rounded team rather than individuals. I like to blend the best of both approaches. You shouldn’t center only on top performers. Build something that involves all people so it can last for the long term.
Lead by Example
The experiences I gained at Enron early in my career were invaluable in shaping me as a leader today. I experienced firsthand how corporate culture and leadership can shape the ways employees think and act. I saw the profound impact leadership has on all aspects of a company. It’s so critical to establish a culture of ethics and integrity, but more importantly, you have to demonstrate those qualities in what you do. Don’t just talk about it. Do it. Make ethics the fundamental building block to every position you fill, and make sure your team understands that it’s a high priority.
My team sells to large corporate customers and third parties who repackage our service, and we also provide international and infrastructure products. We account for $6 billion in revenue for Sprint. I’m at the table with the business unit president and his management team day to day. Someone in a position like this needs to look at market penetration, benchmarking, and competitive analytics, and show that they can both make sound decisions and provide consistent, accurate, and trustworthy information.
I learned an important lesson working for Lyondell Chemical’s European operations in the Netherlands. I wanted to single out individuals for recognition, but their culture emphasizes the team. They have a saying that “the tallest tulip gets clipped,” so they never want to stand out amongst their peers. Context matters. As leaders, we have to adapt to our surroundings.
Gain Trust Quickly
When I came to Sprint in 2009, not only had I never worked in telecom, I was just thirty-eight years old. Before the end of the year, I was appointed as controller and chief accounting officer of a public Fortune 100 company. I knew that to successfully lead my team, I would have to gain their trust. To gain trust when stepping into a new role at a new company, you have to realize that others don’t have the complete context. They don’t know you, so you have to make connections, spend a lot of time with people, and allow them to see the process you use to make decisions. Most importantly, you have to demonstrate your ability to lead through example constantly, each day. I’ve implemented a process I learned from a mentor of mine. My staff members know that if they ever have a dilemma or issue, particularly something surrounding ethical matters, all they have to do is send me an e-mail and put “upward feedback” in the subject line. If they do that, I will prioritize their issue above everything else, including a meeting with the CEO.
Then, Trust Your Employees
Some managers take a hands-off approach, and others micromanage. Each is a mistake. Lead by example, with an attitude toward service to your employees, and meet regularly while trusting your team to take direction and do their work. It’s easier for them to trust you if you’re not constantly looking over their shoulder. Have robust discussions with clear expectations. I meet with my leadership team at least once a week and also set one-on-one meetings with my direct reports and their direct reports. We talk updates, projects, and career development. Give feedback and have clear objectives. You get the most out of an individual if you understand them and they understand you. If you do that—if you hire the right people who know your mission—you will do phenomenal work together.