I recently went to Raleigh to attend the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast series called C-Suite Perspectives. The organization typically enlists a CEO to talk about his or her views on leadership. I’m always interested in these events because I have spent the last 35 years working as a talent management and leadership consultant with large corporations. In that work, I regularly hear senior managers pontificate on their views of what makes a good leader. But what I’ve learned is that there is often a huge difference in what I watch them do and what they said they do.
At this breakfast meeting in Raleigh I got to hear Brad Wilson, CEO for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, talk about leadership. I walked away convinced that if I visited him at work, I would see the connection between what he talked about and what was important to him as evidenced in his behavior as CEO.
Wilson challenged the people in attendance at the breakfast with a series of questions.
1. Do you know who you are?
2. What is your purpose?
3. What makes your heart sing?
4. What do you believe?
5. What is your passion?
How many of you could spontaneously and articulately give an answer to those five simple questions? Brad said that if you want to be an effective leader then you need to be able to answer those questions. He then went on to talk about a course he had taken in graduate school. One activity the students had to do was to write their own obituaries. They then had to come to class and read them aloud to the other students. I had to write my own obituary when I was in graduate school, but I sealed it in an envelope to be opened 25 years later. Either way, this exercise really causes you to think about who you are, how you want to be remembered, and whether what you are doing today is consistent with those aspirations.
Brad then went on to describe four principles that he tries to follow as a leader.
1. Know who you are. He said you need to be genuine and authentic. Answering the earlier five questions is a good exercise to help know who you are.
2. Listen. I remember someone telling me once that his job was to talk and mine was to listen. He said he hoped I hadn’t finished my job before he finished his. The point is when Brad talks about listening he means really hearing what someone is saying and asking clarifying questions along the way.
3. Communication. A leader’s job is to communicate a great number of things, every day. Brad said that it’s about clarity and being decisive. Brad said that he has a quote from Ben Franklin on a plaque in his office. The quote says, “Speak little and do much.”
4. Leadership style. Brad said you need to be inspirational and that he tries to be a servant leader. I looked up the definition of servant leadership. In his remarks, Brad hit most of the points mentioned in the definition. The definition mentions stewardship and defines it as holding the organization’s resources in trust. The definition also mentions creating a sense of community. I got a sense that Brad does both of those things. Brad also said that any time he meets with someone he always asks them a question – How can I help you?
As we move into another new year, how many of you as leaders can answer Brad’s five questions? Do you know what your guiding principles are?
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