By Steve Tobak, visit Inc.
Let me ask you something. Would you trust a surgeon who’s never performed an actual procedure? How about a litigation attorney who’s never seen the inside of a courtroom? Of course not.
How about if they got good grades in school and could write really well on the subject? Would you let the doctor use a scalpel on you? Trust the attorney to litigate a big intellectual property suit? Probably not.
Likewise, you shouldn’t waste your time with so-called leadership experts and management academics who have never successfully led a company or run an organization -- emphasis on the word “successfully.”
The first lesson in business is figuring out who you should listen to and who you shouldn’t.
To me, it’s a no-brainer. If you have a choice, you should learn from those who’ve actually accomplished what you’re trying to do. That’s what I’ve always done and it hasn’t failed me yet.
Looking back on a long and eventful career as a high-tech executive and strategy consultant, of all the managers, leaders, and entrepreneurs I’ve worked with, certain management qualities stand out. These are the characteristics that achieve results in the real world.
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They hold themselves and others accountable. There are no absolutes in business. You make commitments, put your butt on the line, then see how you did. Unless you complete that feedback loop and hold everyone’s feet to the fire, nothing really counts. Some managers are fearless in the way they accept responsibility and hold themselves and others accountable.
They’re not full of surprises. An often overlooked but incredibly important aspect of management is the simple fact that we’ve all got issues, some more than others. Sure, we’re all different, but if you’re overly dysfunctional, if everything’s got to be about you, if you create more problems than you solve, if you have a disruptive or abusive management style, you’d better have an awful lot of great qualities under the hood to compensate, that’s for sure.
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They fix things. A big part of running a business or an organization is troubleshooting and problem solving. One CEO I’ve worked with for years says that’s what he loves most about his job. Whether it’s a product, a customer, or an employee, every day brings new challenges and problems to solve. Every great manager I’ve ever known is a born troubleshooter and problem solver.
They have a feel for the business. Most managers just put their heads down and try to be good at their specific function. But the best managers have a solid understanding of all the key aspects of the business they’re in. They understand the products, the technology, market share, sales channels, and how to read an income statement. Those well-rounded managers make the best executives and business leaders.
They get the job done. Some people just make things happen. You give them the big picture, turn them loose and stand back. They’re like machines that are programmed to do whatever it takes to get things done. And they’ll find a way, no matter what. Those are the kind of people you want running things.
They manage up and sideways effectively. Lots of managers are good at what they do, but put them in an organization of any size and they flop. More often than not, that’s because they’re good technicians who just want to put their heads down, get things done, and go home. The best managers know how to communicate and work effectively with their bosses and peers, how to give them what they need to be successful and get the same in return.
They’re awesome decision-makers. More than anything, management is about decision-making. That’s where the rubber meets the road. The most effective way I know to do that is to ask the right people the right questions, listen to what they tell you, then trust your gut and make the call. If you’re right a lot more than you’re wrong, you’re in good shape.
They’re effective, not productive. We live and work in a fast-paced, ever-changing, highly competitive world. Maybe there was a time when process and productivity ruled, but these days, management needs to be flexible and adaptive. Sure, you’ve got to prioritize, but once you figure out what needs to be done, it’s generally more important to be effective than to squeeze every last iota of productivity out of yourself and your people.
They live for their jobs. The big management fad these days is employee engagement. But it’s even more important for managers and business leaders to be engaged, empowered, driven, and motivated. In my experience, that’s not a given. The best bosses I’ve known all live for their jobs, so to speak.
They have a sense of humor, humility, and empathy. When we’re young, we tend to be full of all the self-importance of youth. After all, children are completely egocentric and none of us grow up overnight. But time and experience usually teaches us lessons in our own limitations and fallibility. That tends to infuse a sense of humor, humility, and empathy, at least in some well-balanced adults who just so happen to make great bosses.
The thing about lists like these is they tend to be composites of all the best qualities we’ve seen in ourselves and others. That’s certainly the case here so, if you’ve got five or six of these qualities, you’re probably doing fine. But make no mistake. It’s a competitive world out there. If you want to make it, skip all the inspirational feel-good fluff and focus on what it takes to succeed -- in the real world.
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8. Jeff Weiner
<strong>Company:</strong> LinkedIn Corp. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nyse/linkedin/lnkd">NYSE: LNKD</a>) <strong>Share price YTD:</strong> +72% It could easily be said that LinkedIn is the most successful of all the Web 2.0 initial public offerings. That universe includes Groupon Inc. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nasdaq/groupon-inc/grpn">NASDAQ: GRPN</a>), Zynga Inc. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nasdaq/zynga-inc/znga">NASDAQ: ZNGA</a>), Facebook Inc. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nasdaq/facebook/fb">NASDAQ: FB</a>) and a number of other smaller companies. While the shares of many Web 2.0 stocks have dropped since they went public, LinkedIn shares trade at $114, trouncing its IPO price of $45. Weiner joined LinkedIn as interim president in 2008 and was made CEO in June 2009. More recently, at the end of the third quarter, the company had 187 million members worldwide. LinkedIn has done a strong job in monetizing its user base. Third-quarter revenue rose 81% to $252 million. EPS was $0.02, up from a loss of $0.02 in the same quarter a year ago. The primary reason Wall St. is enamored with LinkedIn is that it has more than the single revenue stream, such as many Web 2.0 companies do. LinkedIn has three money-making products: the recruiter-centric Talent Solutions, which accounted for 55% of revenue in the most recent quarter; the advertising platform Marketing Solutions, which accounted for 25% of revenue; and Premium Subscriptions from those with LinkedIn profiles. Wall St. might argue that the business model has made Weiner’s life as CEO easy. The remarkably poor management at companies such as Groupon and Zynga proves that is not the case. Even with a strong model, execution counts. Read more at <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/12/18/best-ceos-of-2012/#ixzz2GNvkaPlq">24/7 Wall St.</a>
7. Howard Schultz
<strong>Company:</strong> Starbucks Corp. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nasdaq/starbucks/sbux">NASDAQ: SBUX</a>) <strong>Share price YTD: </strong>+18% Starbucks early December announcement that it will open 3,000+ net new stores in the Americas region by 2017 and increase its penetration in China is the culmination of the comeback of Starbucks that began in 2008 when founder Schultz returned as CEO. Schultz cut 12,000 jobs and 600 stores as Starbucks entered the recession. Overexpansion and new competition, which included McDonald’s Corp. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nyse/mcdonalds-corp/mcd">NYSE: MCD</a>), made some investors believe Starbucks was in a permanent retreat. More recently, however, in a little over the past year, the company has launched Refresher energy drinks, K-Cup packs, and the Verismo System — a single-serve brewing machine. Starbucks earnings show that most of these initiatives and the company’s base business are doing extremely well. For the fiscal year that ended on September 30, revenue increased 14% to hit a record $13.3 billion. EPS increased 10% to $1.79, compared to the prior year EPS of $1.62. Starbucks also opened 1,063 net new stores worldwide. Read more at <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/12/18/best-ceos-of-2012/#ixzz2GNv6LlVX">24/7 Wall St.</a>
6. Brian Roberts
<strong>Company: </strong>Comcast Corp. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nasdaq/comcast-corp/cmcsa">NASDAQ: CMCSA</a>) <strong>Share price YTD:</strong> +58% Roberts, who has been chief executive since 2003, is credited with two major achievements that were critical to the ongoing success of Comcast, the largest cable company in America. First, Comcast continued to hold off competition from telecom and satellite TV companies intent on taking market share in the television and broadband markets. Second, Roberts also bolstered the financial performance of NBCUniversal, in which Comcast owns the majority position. Revenue at the company rose 15% during the most recent quarter to $16.5 billion. EPS rose 39% to $0.46, when special items were excluded. Cable revenue was up 7% despite the competitive market, aided by a 9% improvement in the high-speed Internet business. The Olympics helped NBCUniversal’s revenue, which rose by 31% in the latest quarter to $6.8 billion. While it might be tempting to argue that Comcast’s fortunes were based largely on the Olympics, the company also boasts a 24% improvement in revenue from its film entertainment business and a 9% increase in revenue from its high-speed Internet products. Those improvements are based on more than just luck. Read more at <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/12/18/best-ceos-of-2012/#ixzz2GNttJI64">24/7 Wall St.</a>
5. Marc Benioff
<strong>Company:</strong> Salesforce.com Inc. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nyse/salesforcecom/crm">NYSE: CRM</a>) <strong>Share price:</strong> YTD: +65% Benioff co-founded Saleforce.com in 1999. Despite growing competition from larger companies such as Microsoft Corp. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nasdaq/microsoft/msft">NASDAQ: MSFT)</a> and Oracle Corp. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nasdaq/oracle-corp/orcl">NASDAQ: ORCL</a>), Salesforce.com has maintained a torrid growth pace. Last quarter, revenue rose 35% to $788 million. Revenue for the first nine months rose 36%. Management forecasts that revenues for the entire fiscal year will be higher by 34% than they were last year. And this growth rate likely will not slacken. Salesforce.com expects to surpass a $4 billion annual revenue run rate during the 2014 fiscal year. Salesforce.com was one of the earliest companies into the cloud computing market — what has become one of the most important factors in the migration of information from data centers owned by corporations to those operated by outside companies. As Morningstar recently pointed out, “Customers have been able to avoid heavy capital investments they would have used to deploy on-premise software.” Forbes named Salesforce.com the “Most Innovative Company in the World” for 2012. Read more at <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/12/18/best-ceos-of-2012/#ixzz2GNtPRfsf">24/7 Wall St.</a>
4. Christopher Connor
<strong>Company: </strong>Sherwin-Williams Co. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nyse/sherwin-williams/shw">NYSE: SHW</a>) <strong>Share price YTD: </strong>+63% Connor took over as head of 146-year-old Sherwin-Williams in 1999. Some of the improvement in the company’s performance in the past year could be attributed to luck. The housing market has improved substantially, and Sherwin-Williams has 30% of the domestic paint market. The company has used the leverage that its own store network gives it to great advantage. In the most recent quarter, same-store sales rose 8.9%. More impressively, earnings per share (EPS) rose 31.0% to a record $2.24. Connor’s most important decision this year was to increase the share of the company’s international operations so that it is not as reliant on the U.S. market. In November, the company announced it would buy Consorcio Comex, based in Mexico, for $2.34 billion. Its business operations in Mexico mirror those of Sherwin-Williams in the U.S. Last year, Comex had revenue of $1.4 billion. Wall St. applauded the decision, driving its share price to a 52-week high within a week of the buyout announcement on November 12. Read more at <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/12/18/best-ceos-of-2012/#ixzz2GNsAQuZH">24/7 Wall St.</a>
3. David Nelms (Pictured Right)
<strong>Company: </strong>Discover Financial Services (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nyse/discover-financial-services/dfs">NYSE: DFS</a>) <strong>Share price YTD:</strong> +63% Discover’s greatest challenge is that it is second in its industry to American Express Co. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nyse/american-express-company/axp">NYSE: AXP</a>) and competes indirectly with bank cards connected to Visa Inc. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nyse/visa-inc/v">NYSE: V</a>) and MasterCard Inc. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nyse/mastercard-inc/ma">NYSE: MA</a>). Nelms took over as CEO in 2004. One of the most critical strategic moves he made is the takeover of smaller rival Diners Club in early 2008. The consolidation helped keep Discover competitive because it expanded the company’s market share overseas. More recently, but just as important, is the extent to which Discover has evolved into a lending company, with sizable student and home loan businesses. “Discover Home Loan” was launched in June. Nelms also has buttressed international operations with a deal to move the company more aggressively into China and Russia. Read more at <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/12/18/best-ceos-of-2012/#ixzz2GNr30afX">24/7 Wall St.</a>
2. John Donahoe
<strong>Company:</strong> eBay Inc. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nasdaq/ebay/ebay">NASDAQ: EBAY</a>) <strong>Share price YTD:</strong> +61% Donahoe became CEO of eBay in early 2008. Wall St. questioned whether eBay’s core auction business could survive competition from online giant Amazon.com Inc. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nasdaq/amazoncom/amzn">NASDAQ: AMZN</a>) and an army of smaller online auction firms. Most investors admired eBay’s PayPal online payment system, while the legacy auction business hampered overall corporate earnings growth. That has changed. In the third quarter, the results of the renewed drive into the auction business showed. Marketplace revenue rose 9% to $1.8 billion of eBay’s total revenue of $3.4 billion. The company also has had success in the critical mobile market, which has taken on additional importance as more and more e-commerce is done on smartphones. In the most recent quarter, 800,000 of the company’s new users came from mobile as, according to the company, downloads of eBay’s suite of mobile apps have surpassed 100 million globally. Read more at <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/12/18/best-ceos-of-2012/#ixzz2GNqaAbYi">24/7 Wall St.</a>
1. Daniel Hesse
<strong>Company:</strong> Sprint-Nextel Corp. (<a href="http://247wallst.dailyfinance.com/quote/nyse/sprint-nextel-corp/s">NYSE: S</a>) <strong>Share price YTD: </strong>+137% Hesse, who has run Sprint since late 2007, finally saved the company after a long trail of failed attempts. He did not accomplish the task by improving operations. Rather, Hesse found an investor willing to buy a majority interest in the company — not an easy task given how badly positioned the third-place cellular company in the United States has been. Sprint’s third-quarter results are ample evidence of the difficulty the corporation would have as an independent operation and without outside financial support. While revenue rose 5% to $8.8 billion, Sprint lost $767 million. On October 15, it was announced that SoftBank would invest $20.1 billion in Sprint for an approximately 70% stake. SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son is expected to invest aggressively in Sprint’s expansion. Read more at <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/12/18/best-ceos-of-2012/#ixzz2GNpsjYJl">24/7 Wall St. </a>