CEOs need to be emphatic

While many CEOs make the claim of having an open door policy, all too many fail to deliver on this in practice and thus they insulate themselves from the very people, ideas and concepts they need to transform their organisations.

Rob Otty, managing director at Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa, says being approachable is a key to transforming a business.

“Leaders in the current environment, and even more so in the future, are going to have to be approachable.

“Businesses have a range of diverse views, opportunities and ideas that CEOs must at least consider when they are deciding how they will position their businesses.

“People must have confidence that you are approachable and feel that they can talk to you openly and directly about issues that they believe are relevant,” Otty says.

He says instead of people being shut down, they must be welcomed and supported in their effort to communicate their ideas and views.

In the past, there have been many leaders who have held the view that only their ideas were relevant and organisations have often paid the price for this narrow perspective.

“Today you have to make the transition to being a team leader and invite and encourage opinions from all your people.

“You and your team must also listen and hear the opinions being advanced from all levels in the enterprise. An open mind is essential so you give due consideration to views that may even run counter to those prevailing in the organisation at the time. Organisations that take this route soon reap the rewards when opportunities are uncovered as a consequence,” Otty says.

He says when people in the enterprise come up with ideas that add value to the business they must be recognised and tangibly rewarded.

At the same time, being approachable and open minded does not mean being wishy washy and indecisive.

CEOs need to be emphatic.

“If you get to the point at which you cannot make a decision it is time you stepped away because you are not doing anyone any good.

“Once you have the facts and understand the issue, you have two options turn left or turn right, but you must turn, you cannot carry on vacillating.

“Being emphatic is a critical strength for any good business leader or you will have a team that stagnates, loses confidence and is paralysed by uncertainty.

“However, being emphatic is not arrogance and decisiveness must be complemented by approachability,” Otty says.

In other words, he says if someone puts forward a good idea, make the change and begin leveraging off the value the idea has to offer.

Being proactive is another essential attribute for a good leader. However, historically South Africa has tended to have too few managers dealing with too many responsibilities and all too often corporate leaders spend all their time running around putting out fires, an approach that does not lend itself to strategic thinking and positioning the business for the years ahead.

“You have to be ahead of the game to be proactive.

“There will always be a measure of crisis management because that comes with any sizable organisation and team. However, if you are only managing crises you are being purely reactive and you are not able to move people and the enterprise in the right direction.

“At best you will be stationary but it is even more likely you and your organisation will slide backwards,” Otty says.

Further, he says being proactive must not be confined to the CEO but instead, a winning CEO delivers an organisation that allows people within the enterprise to be proactive.

“People should have sufficient flexibility and freedom so they are empowered to make proactive changes within their areas of expertise rather than being forced to fight their way through a bureaucratic, red tape jungle,” Otty says.

Otty will open his corner office to an MBA student as part of the Odgers Berndtson CEO For A Day programme in September. CEO For A Day works by connecting some of the country’s top CEOs with MBA students.