Hidden Lessons in Leadership #27

In a New York Times interview Jack Dangermond, founder and president of Esri, explained his role as CEO is one of support.  More specifically, to “support getting work…support doing work…ensuring the work is financially sound (i.e. support getting paid) and he approaches these guided by four priorities.  The first two of these priorities rests with people—in the form of customers and employees.  Jack’s third priority is to ensure “a very strong business that supports the first two priorities”, and the forth priority is to work seriously with business partners, of which there are about 20,000 worldwide. 


By leading the business in service to people, and not stockholders and Wall Street, Jack’s decision-making is not influenced by the short-term and irrational demands of the financial market.  As a result decision-making is always focused on meeting the needs of customers and employees, not pleasing or appeasing Wall Street. In this way Jack—or any other CEO—is able to keep his focus of attention on his market (his customers) and his organization (his employees) and not concern himself with what would make Wall Street happy.  Even the casual observer notices that Wall Street becomes euphoric upon hearing that a corporation is laying off thousands of people, rewarding such corporate decisions with an increase in stock value.


Taking care of people says a lot about what guides Jack’s leadership approach.

In other words, the business serves customers and employees: It is not the other way around, as is the case in most organizations (especially those publicly traded).


Also it is far easier—and quite natural—to relate to customers and employees as people and not mere instruments of the business when you don’t have Wall Street dictating the criteria for decision-making which influences how the business is run. Focusing on the customer as an individual—and not just on the individual customer—enables you to show that you sincerely care about them and their needs—and the same holds for employees.  This pays dividends in trust and loyalty; two essentials so critical for viability.


On relating to employees Jack doesn’t see it as a superior-subordinate relationship but rather sees it as a relationship among equals.  In fact he said that, “part of my management style today is not being elitist, but rather being involved with the people doing the actual work.”  In this respect Jack Dangermond’s approach to leadership is about partnership; recognizing that leadership is inseparable from the very nature of good management.


In regards to focusing on employees, relating to them as people, Jack understands that his responsibility “is to make his company a really great place to work.“   This means not creating practices and processes, such as a sales “bonus and commission system that robs people of their dignity.”  Clearly Jack is very much attuned to the importance of intrinsic motivation for all employees in relation to the work of the company.


Furthermore, in regards to his hiring process Jack said he seeks those “who really want to do what I want them to do.”  He focuses on hiring those who are passionate about the work of the company and he then sees to it that he doesn’t squelch that intrinsic motivation.  You might say that he knows that when you do work that you care about, you can’t help but to care about the work you do!


Obviously Jack’s leadership approach illustrates the fact that caring is central to leadership.  Caring about the work, taking care to hire people who are passionate about the work of the organization, and caring to ensure (by your very actions) that people know that you truly care about them as people.

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