Allow me to direct my message today to the CEOs, or the top people of an organization (although all leaders can apply these principles). As a CEO, you have so much on your plate. There are hundreds of things you can do—and all will be helpful. But your success comes as you grow and select the top choices that will produce the greatest success. Specifically, let me share with you three must-dos that CEOs must accomplish with their actions, communications, and decisions.
- Remind us who we are.
What is our DNA? (You might want to read this article I wrote on DNA vision). What makes us who we are? What are we proud of? What are our values? Remind your people of these values. Usually what we are embodies a lofty goal. I am always intrigued when I see people standing to attention with hands over their hearts while they listen to their national anthem. We often tear up or get goosebumps when we hear it. What is it about national anthems that are so special? I love to read the lyrics of national anthems. These words inspire us to be the best versions of who we are as a people, remind us what makes us proud of who we are as a nation, and draw us back to the beautiful ideals we aspire to. Leaders, CEOs, you must do this, and do it often. Who you are as an organization, assuming that has been defined into words, and who you want to be will draw people to you and your mission.
- Remind us where we’ve been.
Review the journey. I was recently reading about how Jeff Bezos started Amazon. Early on in his journey he would put packages together himself, getting down on his knees on the floor to prepare the boxes to be mailed. Then he had the genius idea to get knee pads. But his colleague said, “What if we get tables instead?” Jeff agreed. Now that he is one of the richest people in the world and his company is one of the world’s largest, remembering his beginnings puts things into perspective and gives everyone with him appreciation for the path they walked together, which fuels their present goals and reminds them not to take what they have now for granted. Remember the stories of how you started. Remind people of them. What are the stories of your beginnings?
- Remind us where we are going.
This is about stating the vision, but it does not have to be in the form of a beautifully scripted statement. I recently heard of a very successful leader who makes his vision a few pages long. People get together to script it. They fully envision the details of their future. They want to feel it. They want to empower others to feel it with them. How can you connect with your vision and connect others to it in a visceral way?
It is said that literature and art should make us feel something, something about our shared humanity. That’s what great novels and symphonies do. I say to leaders, to CEOs, you must be in the business of making your people feel something. Beyond a fleeting feeling, give your people glimpses of the past that ground them, images of the future that elevate them, and reflections of their identity that inspire them.