If you have not read “Four Lessons in Adaptive Leadership” in the November Harvard Business Review, I highly recommend it. It was written by Michael Useem, professor of management and director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. There are many lessons to be learned from the article that are reminders on how leadership drives meaning and in turn, purposeful reputation.
One of his lessons is about creating a link with the people you oversee or work with. Building a positive company reputation is often as simple as thoughtful communications from the top. It may be just a glance, a handshake or asking someone what they are doing over the holidays. Useem wrote about an incident when the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff visited his business classroom that is a good reminder of how the most ordinary gesture can communicate the extraordinary moment:
It is 10 minutes before class time, and many of the 65 first-year students are taking their assigned seats in a tiered classroom. The general strides into the room—four stars on his epaulets and a half-dozen staffers and security agents close behind. He walks straight to the first row and introduces himself to the nearest student. He shakes hands, exchanges a few personal words, and then moves on to the next student.
Making a personal connection from the top can have a tremendous impact on company or employer reputation. It forges a connection that transcends the everyday rapid fire activity and isolation of working behind a computer that many experience.
Useem’s example has special resonance. When I wrote my first book, CEO Capital, I used many examples of how CEOs build reputation. I used an example of symbolic CEO leadership that I had heard about upon joining my former agency. I had been told that on our CEO’s first day at work at the agency, he (Chris Komisarjevsky) shook hands with every single employee starting in the mailroom and working his way up to the 13th floor where senior management sat. When people wanted to explain to me what kind of company I was joining, they always used this example as a demonstration of the kind of personal leadership that I would witness from the top. It certainly reminds me of Useem’s classroom example.
As the year ends, I wonder how CEOs can more effectively build workplace reputations through communications, both tangible and intangible. It is important to figure out what really counts and will make the difference in keeping your best employees and getting them to go that extra mile.