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Leadership Work Culture

Leadership Starts Before You’re a Leader

It’s somewhat painful listening to a CEO on a quarterly earnings call thanking everyone “so much” for all of the “hard work.” It sounds hollow, and it often is. But I’ve been at two companies where it didn’t feel hollow because the CEO took time to make an appearance and learn some names. 

When I was at Midmark, CEO John Baumann took a few minutes a day to walk the floor and learn everyone’s name and their job function when he started at the company. He’s a CEO. He’s BUSY, and it’s a big company. But he made time to take 10 minutes to walk around the building every now and then. When he spoke, I didn’t just listen. I was engaged. I was more engaged with the company as a direct result of one person at the top acknowledging our existence. (I loved this company for many other reasons, but that was a big one!)

At PR Newswire Europe, the global CEO at the time, Ninan Chako, would sometimes visit the London HQ. He knew my name! He even referenced a conversation with me during a quarterly staff meeting. Because that was my first job, I didn’t yet realize it wasn’t a given that executives take the time to get to know the people in the trenches. Still, I felt “famous.” I was highly motivated to do a good job, because I thought I was on Ninan’s radar! I wasn’t, but he made me feel seen. 

I read A Higher Loyalty by James Comey last year and one of the main themes was that leadership starts long before you’re a leader. He talks about taking note of great leadership qualities from the time when he was a teen working in a grocery store. What made him feel motivated, trusting and committed? What made him angry? 

I’ve always thought the same thing, and as time goes on certain characteristics have stuck with me, such as Ninan Chako taking a couple minutes out of his day to talk to me and digesting what I said to the point that he mentioned it during a global meeting. I want to be intentional about carrying these traits through my own leadership in the future.