CEO discovers the secret to leading others

August 7, 2018

Case Study: CEO of a US automotive supplier discovers that leading others, first starts with leading oneself.

INTRO: Like every company experiencing change,  strategic direction must be rethought and redefined. See how this automotive firm turned to DPMC to grow great leaders and activate purpose within their organization. 

Joe was recently promoted to CEO of a fast-growing automotive supplier. He had been groomed for years to take the helm from the founder and now it was his turn. At the time of his appointment, the company was going through significant growth. Joe had spent the better half of 6 months wrestling with the various strategic options and progressively gaining coherence around the company’s business model and plan. As he contemplated paths forward, it became clear that while a coherent strategy was critical, it wasn’t the whole answer. Because if Joe was unable to empower his team, those around him, those who were entrusted to his leadership, his chances of success would be limited at best. Joe’s priority now needed to be placed on his team members. He needed to figure out how to unleash their collective full potential so they could rise to the challenge ahead.

A few years prior, the company had spent significant time articulating their guiding statements. One idea, in particular, rose to the top. It was the idea that people were not merely “resources” at the disposal of the business but rather were the ultimate priority of the business. It was what the founder instilled in him: “put the priority on the person before all else.” With the idea that the value of a person does not come simply from what they do, but ultimately from who they are. Joe was convinced that building on this foundation was the key to sustainable success.

So, he set out to do just that. His first order of business was to gain unity within his team around the idea of “priority on the person”. As the team developed this further, it became clear that this concept was actually the companies “why”. It was their purpose of existence. Shortly thereafter, the team refined this idea into a purpose statement, that being: “to be a platform for growth to those who aspire to personal and professional excellence”. A platform in which, when fully engaged, the person would excel. The company’s purpose was ultimately based on the belief that focusing on the person first means giving each person the opportunity to flourish through their work.

But there was an elephant in the room. While this sounded good to all, no one was quite sure how exactly their purpose would play-out in the day-to-day chaos of an automotive supplier. Simply being a platform where people might find meaning didn’t seem to address all the challenges his leaders would face as the company grew into the future.

Joe felt in order to address the ensuing challenges, it would be necessary for his team to define first, what he felt, was most important in leadership- the concept of ‘leading self. Through his experience, Joe came to know that this was indeed a key attribute of great leaders. The idea stemmed from Joe’s belief that leading others effectively, first started with leading oneself.

So, Joe focused on three initial factors, he felt, were needed for the idea of self-leadership to start to take root:

 Personal Commitment 

The company was intentional about asking its team members to make an emotional commitment to their work and the business. Knowing that commitment is what transforms a promise into reality, they set out to increase commitment by creating a ‘safer place’–a more transparent and positive environment where everyone was equally dignified. This was foundational in gaining the emotional commitment of the team.

“Best Self” 

In an effort to help team members accept responsibility for personal and professional excellence, leaders started talking about the idea of bringing their “best selves” to work. To be clear, this was not an exercise in perfection, but rather a way of instilling a culture of bettering oneself through hard work and diligence. This set the tone for their expectations around self-leadership.

Discover purpose 

Finally, leadership recognized the discovery of personal purpose to be the most important self-development task one could undertake as a leader. From that point forward, all team members were offered a 2-day workshop to help discover their personal “why” and more importantly, connect it to their work. They found this final ingredient to be transformational because it gave meaning to the individual’s work.

As Joe started to see the positive results from his first move, he began to outline even more ways in which the company could translate their talk into action and help leaders better lead themselves. Ideas such as, encouraging healthy lifestyles, training for growth mindsets, and fostering the practice of transparency and vulnerability also became important in helping the team embrace and understand the idea of ‘leading self’.

For Joe to succeed in his new role he needed to build his team and give them the means to become better leaders. This meant helping them reflect inward before taking on the important responsibility of leading others. It also meant discovering and outlining the conditions needed for all in the organization to become their best self. And by helping team members uncover their personal why and align it with their work, he found a way to not only unleash but sustain the full potential of his team.


-DPMC Team

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