06/18/2012 10:56 am ET Updated Aug 18, 2012

What Do These CEOs Require of Themselves?

Have you ever wondered what a CEO of a company does with his or her time?

I interviewed the leaders of three companies -- small, midsize and large -- to get some answers. I asked about getting and maintaining the best teams, effective delegation and the tasks that they keep for themselves. Interestingly, the responses to my questions varied only slightly, whether the company had 10 employees or 9,600.

The first person I interviewed was Mike McNally, CEO of Skanska USA, the $4.9 billion division of the global Skanska, Inc. Skanska USA, which employs 9,600 people, has recently completed major projects on Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York and Met Life Stadium in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in New Jersey, among other projects (

When asked what tasks Mr. McNally does for his company, he stated,

I have to actually be what I want my company to be. For example, if I want my company to be interested in safety, then I better not show up on a job site without glasses. I surround myself with people I can trust. I am very directly involved in the overall strategizing of the company and I communicate that strategy to the company's leaders. It's the boss's job to engage and develop the employees.

As for how he engages and retains employees, Mr. McNally said, "Well, we figure if the reason most employees leave companies is because they don't like their boss, then we have to be a company of great bosses."

To that end, Skanska has a system for all employees called the "Great Boss Program." It's the policy of the firm that all employees turn in surveys of their boss. McNally says that if a boss gets too many bad evaluations and the issues aren't corrected, then the boss gets fired.

On hiring, Mr. McNally places more importance on a candidate's attitude than on his skills. He states, "You can train people on skills. You can't train for attitude."

My next interview was with Sharon Napier, CEO of Partners and Napier, an advertising agency of 150 employees with clients that include Kodak and Bausch and Lomb ( Ms. Napier's offices are in Rochester, NY, Atlanta and San Francisco.

About leadership in a growing company, Ms. Napier says,

As you grow, it needs to be less about you and more about the leadership you put in place. That said, I decide every day where to put my energy and how I can best communicate our vision. I stay connected to my staff through monthly webcast meetings. I also make an effort to personally get together with each of our 20-25 clients at some point during the year.

She feels that a big part of her job is to "embody the vision of the company." In other words, set the example. Hence, Ms. Napier places high priority on her own personal and professional growth, attending regular workshops and seminars, and getting together with other CEOs to exchange ideas.

As far as what Ms. Napier looks for in an employee,

I look for employees who are curious. And, I want employees who are passionate about something in their life. I tend to hire those that know the value of practicing three hours a day on something. I'm a basketball player, so I know what diligent practice can do to improve your skills.

And, finally, I interviewed Angela Jia Kim of Om Aroma and Company. This company manufactures and sells a line of organic skincare products available online and at her flagship store in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan, NY ( Ms. Kim also owns Savor the Success, a nationwide networking and mastermind organization for women entrepreneurs (

A former professional pianist turned entrepreneur, Ms. Kim applied the type of effort it took to become a virtuoso to build a successful and growing business enterprise. (I find it interesting that Ms. Kim approached the piano the same way Ms. Napier approaches basketball: with hours a day of practice and a whole lot of passion and persistence.)

As for managing her company, Ms. Kim meets with and develops a strong manager for the boutique. In addition, she creates policies and procedures to support smooth operations and sales. She receives daily reports from her store's manager and meets with her ten-person staff monthly. To motivate and retain good employees, Ms. Kim has developed incentive systems for sales, and an employee of the month program.

Ms. Kim meets with business advisors on a regular basis to further her own development as a leader and to keep current on business trends that can help her company. She also employs a personal assistant to take care of administrative duties and details so she can really focus on expanding her two companies. (McNally and Napier also trust their assistants to handle a lot of the details.)

So, from the leaders of three companies of very different sizes, serving very different audiences, we learn that a successful business requires a self-aware CEO who personally sets the example. After that, it boils down to developing strong teams of motivated employees, instituting policies and procedures, and perhaps most of all . . . having a great deal of trust.