Basic Things Executives Should be Doing to be Great Leaders

By Natasha L. Foreman, MBA

Patty Azzarello, the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group wrote an interesting article, “Learning What Great Executives and General Managers Do”, for TLNT a Human Resources site. In this article Azzarello addresses the concerns that many CEOs she speaks with have about their new GMs, Directors, and VPs; that they are not comprehending fully that they have to begin working in a different way now that they have moved up to this new executive level. Sound familiar?

What Azzarello points out is that new executives struggle to “step up” because they are too busy worrying about the work they used to do instead of focusing their attention and efforts on helping people that they manage; owning decisions; personally leading the change that is needed for their organization and that they want to see; and doing their part to help drive the business forward strategically.

To quote Peter Drucker, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Once you begin working at a company at any level you need to set your sights on doing the right thing all of the time, and in the example shared by Azzarello, the right thing for new executives (and GMs and VPs) is to “step up”.

Azzarello makes good points in her article that many people lack a strategic mindset, they don’t ask questions, don’t ask for help, and fail to truly connect and communicate with those at their level, their ‘subordinates’, and those in higher leadership positions. She shared that there are a list of things these executives should be concerned with:

1. Getting a coach or mentor. I have several mentors that serve different purposes in my professional and personal life.
2. Splitting their thinking and budgeting their time between:
People, Process, Profit, and Communicating.

When it comes to ‘People’ the GM (or other executive) should talk to their people, ask the probing questions, ask for help to better serve them, and focus on discovering what is really happening at your level and the levels below you. You would be surprised what you find out!

To find out what is truly expected of you in this new role the best way to get the answers is to speak with a mentor and hold one-on-one and group meetings with people in your organization. Ask everyone in your company how you are doing in your role and what they would like to see done differently. Go to the various levels below yours and ask individuals their perspective about the company, operations, management, sales, customer service, etc.

Azzarello wrote that some executives resist taking these steps and asking these questions because as I’ve paraphrased below:

1. They feel like they are going around the backs of the same managers who report to them and they feel wrong about it.

2. Their ego gets in the way and they are above the people who are responsible for doing the work; so they (execs) only need to speak to their same-level peers or those above them, but definitely not a subordinate.

3. They fear the feedback, and the loss in credibility for showing vulnerability. I would suggest that they read my friend, John Hope Bryant’s book, Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-based World (Jossey-Bass).

She said once she started talking to individuals she realized certain things that she was not privy to:

1. One of her managers was a bully, and because they did a great job at ‘managing up’ she couldn’t see the bully factor.

This is a common occurrence in many organizations today, and it is imperative that company leaders weed these people out and help realign them to your organization’s environment (and expectations) through training, or release them from their duties and they can find another company to work for and folks to bully.

2. There were three different projects with duplicate efforts because her managers were not communicating with each other, so she had to solve the duplication issue and the lack of teamwork.

I have seen this before at other organizations I have worked for or had as clients; too much independence and no interdependence leads to duplicated efforts, organizational behavioral issues, failed goals and objectives,and sometimes failed companies.

3. She discovered that their customer satisfaction survey scores were only high because the questions were written to generate favorable responses. She suggests that companies either stop cranking out useless surveys or create effective ones. Foreman & Associates, LLC can show you how to develop and manage effective surveys for your organization so you can truly get a pulse for what your customers want and need.

4. Her employees were frustrated that a decision had not been made about a certain project and that they were tirelessly “spinning their wheels waiting for direction” when actually a decision had already been made and somehow it was not shared with them; so that also meant she had a communication issue within her organization. How many of you can relate to this?

Azzarello realized that this information was not reaching her through management, and had she not taken the time to inquire, explore, dig in and ask the right questions, she would have never known and her company (and stakeholders) would have been negatively impacted. Think about the cost in time and other resources because people failed to communicate accurate information to her.

What is her answer to those of you who say you are too busy, too bogged down with other responsibilities to step outside of your box and get down to the lower levels to find out what is really going on in your organization? Azzarello said that, “You don’t have time NOT to do this.” Even when her roles grew and she had thousands of people within her organizations to lead, she still made time in her schedule every week to talk to the people doing the work, either one-on-one or in groups.

“It is always very sad when I talk to an executive or GM who tells me “everything is fine,” and then people above, below, and around them tell me they are concerned the GM is failing because they are focused on the wrong things and have lost track of reality,” she wrote.

“Sure you will face some conflict and learn issues that make you uncomfortable as a leader. But better to know them and choose what to fix, than to assume everything is fine and get further and further out of touch with reality,” Azzarello continued.

Great points. Interesting article. Definitely practices that Foreman & Associates, LLC follows in our own way internally and with our clients. It’s never a good time to find out there is a mechanism that isn’t working efficaciously within your organization, but the worst time to discover this is when it fails and causes other mechanisms to fail.

To learn more about what we do at Foreman & Associates, LLC and how our firm can help your business grow and succeed visit our website at:

To read Azzarello’s article in its entirety visit:

To learn more about John Hope Bryant, his Love Leadership book, and his organizations where he serves as Founder, Chairman, and CEO visit:

Copyright 2011. Foreman & Associates, LLC. Some Rights Reserved.

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