What's Your Executive Leadership Style and Why Does It Matter?
There’s a universal truth that claims that “people like to do business with other people". The need to deliver a personal touch is more prevalent than ever.
There’s a universal truth that claims that “people like to do business with other people.” This used to refer to the old-school lunch-and-a-handshake method of sales; you had to have some face-time with your customer, to build that relationship with them, to close the deal. And while the practice of sales has changed somewhat (WebEx anyone?), the need to deliver a personal touch is more prevalent than ever.
We see this strongly in the Marketing Technology sector, as consumers demand a personal approach to campaigns and communications that are tailored to them. But we also see it in the ‘cult of personality’ that emerges around leaders. A CEO's job, of course, is not to go about looking for praise or flattery, and even admitting to awards and recognition feels a bit foreign to my nature - as those who know me well are aware, I tend to shun the spotlight.
But recent events at Adestra started me thinking about leadership: what it is, why it matters to one's company and culture, and how it can have a knock-on effect on happier clients.
Honored by Owler and Glassdoor
I have been quite fortunate lately to be the recipient of two different forms of this kind of approval, having been named a winner of a Top-Rated CEO Award by Owler, a business news and competitive intelligence website, and then as a CEO with a 100% approval rating on the employment site Glassdoor.
Owler’s Top CEO Award is important in that it's independent, anonymous feedback, recognized by independent bodies, and it reflects on the company as a whole. You're being voted on by your peers and employees, as well as clients, competitors and even other people who come across your brand. Knowing that Adestra ranked highest among the brands in our competitor set is another feather in our cap and another indicator that we're doing something right.
The same is true of the Glassdoor rating, which is also anonymous. It would be easy for someone to give you a bad rating and negative feedback, but the lack of it, and the overall high rating for Adestra as a company, indicates again that we're a good place to work. In fact, Adestra won the Hays Employer of the Year Award and our culture translates into our relationships with our clients and I believe that’s why Adestra has recently won the Silver Award at the 2018 Stevie® Awards for Sales & Customer Service and we’ve been listed in the Top 25 UK Tech by G2Crowd.
I take these not so much as a referendum on my leadership but as a reflection of what the company has accomplished and the culture we have built since our founding in 2004.
Collegial, collaborative leadership
My leadership philosophy has always been to treat both our staff and customers well. We need them both to be successful, and the positive relationships with both groups feed off each other. As a business, we would be nothing without our clients, and without our clients we would not have our wonderful staff. And on the flip side, without the strong team we have, we wouldn’t have the high client retention rates that we do.
I believe a successful leader should be good at moving people around, knowing when to bring in resources and where to place them to produce the right results. Human resources should not be dependent so much on qualifications or expertise but in determining that the right person is on the right team to deliver on the company’s objectives.
I would also recommend keeping in mind that everyone is important and everyone contributes to a company's growth. People who are fresh to the business should be able to bring ideas to the table, not just board members.
Personally, I think of myself as a collaborative and collegial leader within our company. I have an open-door management style, and I don't believe in stratification. Someone isn't greater or lesser in our business because of the size of the paycheck.
Management styles and corporate culture
A different leadership style is the top-down approach in which all power and authority emanates from the CEO, who interacts primarily with executives, a board of directors, financial advisers and the like.
While this style of leadership works for the CEO of, say, Unilever, with its multiple brands and divisions located all over the globe, it doesn’t really suit the culture we've cultivated at Adestra, whether in our headquarters in lovely Oxford or in our expanding North American or Asia-Pacific offices.
It simply wouldn't work, for one reason:
When I co-founded Adestra back in 2004, I didn’t have all the answers. I was the sales guy. I was the right guy for starting the business side, but I didn't have a clue about the technology side. This is where it’s important to recognize the strengths of those around you to push the business forward. You won’t be the best person for all jobs, and even if you were, you can’t do everything yourself – it just doesn’t scale.
But also, to make sure those who work for you really give it their best, you need to empower them, which would go against a top-down approach to leadership. This means they will strive to find solutions that work for their departments or clients instead of waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
As a leader, I don't expect everyone to get things right all the time. I much prefer to see our teams try things that might or might not work. If something doesn't work, did we at least push our boundaries?
The "fail fast" concept: You might say that we are a "fail fast" company in a "fail fast" business. Email is "fail fast" because we can try new things and, because we measure our outcomes, we know quickly if we succeeded or failed.
At the end of the day…
Collaborating with employees and empowering them is also reflected in the way we work with our clients – as a partnership rather than a hands-off "call us when you need us" style. Our job is to make our clients look like heroes to their companies, and to do it in a way that's appropriate to their business.
I’ve met many companies that say they have spent half a million dollars or more with their suppliers but never met their account managers. So often the only contact they might have is at renewal or when someone tries to sell them additional services. On the contrary, we spend just as much personal time with our clients now as we did in our early days in the UK.
I'm pleased to see that looking after our clients properly and developing relationships with them is resonating with the awards we've been winning. Personally, I was flattered, but I wanted to speak out because these awards add up to a recognition that all our staff share.