Finance & Operations

As a CEO, How You Do Anything Means Everything

April 7, 2011

During my 30 years in the software industry, I’ve been an operationally focused executive in major software companies like Oracle, an independent board member for expansion stage businesses, and a venture partner for a firm that invests in those kinds of companies. Over that span, I’ve worked with a lot of executives.


Some have been good, others were bad, and a few were great.

Looking back, I’ve recognized one trait of truly successful companies: they have executives and senior leaders that are at least very good and preferably great. Those businesses’ CEOs and executives understand that everything they do has a significant impact on the business, its people, and its future.

I came across an article on Business Week’s website that led me to think about the difference between the great executives and all the rest. The article was an interview between Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, a successful author who is a well-known authority on helping successful executives become better, and Dov Seidman, the author of Why How We Do Anything Means Everything in Business (and in Life).

In the article Siedman says that a great leader is a model of behavior. They self-govern by a set of principles and inspire others to do the same thing. They embrace the conditions of the new world and turn it to their advantage.

Everyone should aspire to improve their skills so they can transform from a good boss into a great one. As I think back, the great executives I knew were great not just because of what they did, but also by how they did it. The common phrases I heard from those executives include:

  • It is not what you say, but how you say it.
  • It is not what you do, but how you do it
  • Lead by example.
  • Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Sure, they’re simple concepts and we’ve all probably heard them before. But they also collectively point to the fact that employees watch how company leadership behaves and take cues from their executive’s behavior.

So, what kind of boss are you?

That’s a question that Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback addressed in a Harvard Business Review article titled: Are You a Good Boss or a Great One?

The article argues that most managers, at some point, fail to continue working on themselves. As a result, as their professional development stagnates, so too will the development of their employees.

Here are some questions that Hill and Lineback suggest executives ask themselves:

  • Do you understand what’s required to become truly effective?
  • Do you understand what you’re trying to attain?

Once a CEO can answer those questions and attach goals to their management style, it’s important to cover the 3 Imperatives needed to achieve performance from a group of people. These three imperatives are what management is all about:

  • Manage Yourself
  • Manage Your Network
  • Manage Your Team

The Harvard Business Review article offers a tool to help you measure and assess your performance against those three imperatives. As you begin to better understand how well you’re doing in each of those categories, it’s important to discuss what you can do right now to perform better and then get into a daily rhythm to maintain that performance. That rhythm includes: Prep, Do, and Review.

There’s Always Room for Improvement

When we invest growth capital in an expansion stage company, we spend a lot of time helping the founders, CEOs, and management teams improve their skill sets.

So, now is the time to begin looking more deeply at your management ability (check out The Lonely CEO by OpenView founder Scott Maxwell), assess your skills (read Time to Look in the Mirror), and determine how you can improve them (a nod to my colleague, Firas Raouf, who wrote Mr. CEO: Would You Hire Yourself).

Executing against a strong mission, vision, and set of values is extremely important, too. As the company’s leader, if you’re able to convey those things and then consistently act with them in mind, your employees will begin to do the same thing. In the end, that will help develop the kind of corporate culture that builds truly great companies.

Remember, as the CEO you’re setting the example for the rest of the company to follow. How you do anything will mean everything to your employees.

Venture Partner

<strong>George Roberts</strong> is a Venture Partner at OpenView. He enjoys partnering with companies and helping them achieve their goals through strategy, focus and operational execution. From 1990 to 2003, George spent 13 years at Oracle Corporation, most recently having served as Executive Vice President of North American Sales. While at Oracle, George was responsible for over $1 billion in revenue and more than 2,000 employees, reporting directly to the company’s CEO and Chairman, Larry Ellison.