HERD Mentality – How to Make It to the C-Suite
There is an old cartoon that features a mathematician who appears to be creating a very important, complex equation. He has almost filled a blackboard full of numbers and symbols and the drawing shows him just in the process of finishing his work. However, right in the middle of the equation there is a statement that says, “Then a miracle occurs”. To those wondering how a person can get to the top positions within a company, it often seems like some kind of magic is needed.
(Reproduced by License from Sidney Harris)
Over the years I have spoken to many people who’ve expressed interest in becoming senior leaders. Many of them want to know how to manage their careers in order to achieve a position in the C-Suite. From these conversations I have distilled a “recipe” for how people can achieve their goals.
Before getting into the process, I must first list a disclaimer. Just like sports coaches cannot teach height or speed, not everyone is born to be a CxO. The first and most important step on that journey is to be honest with one’s self. Upon self reflection each of us can make that true assessment – “Am I built to achieve that role and do I really want it?”
Given that a person has the “right stuff”, I have developed a process that I call HERD. Since becoming a senior leader is the opposite of following the “herd mentality”, this acronym adds just the right level of tongue-in-cheek flavor to make it stick. HERD stands for:
· H umility
· E ngagement
· R espect
· D iscipline
While different opinions abound, these qualities are consistently found in those people who want to ascend to the highest levels of the corporate ladder.
Humility – In order to gain the skills and opportunities to get to the top you will have to learn a great deal of information. Even if you graduated from the top of your class at Harvard I can guarantee that there is a taxi driver out there somewhere who knows more about relationships than you do. A person who shows humility opens up opportunities to learn from anyone. I grew up in a farming community where most people, to this day, come home from work covered in dirt and grease. Although I have two Master’s degrees, to this day I can ask any of these men and women about how to solve problems and will get great answers. If you can’t be humble, you will only succeed in closing off to yourself whole parts of the global community. When you can look everywhere for answers, your needs are met more quickly, more often.
Engagement – It has been said so often that I’ll just repeat the common lore. You must get involved with the people and the material that are key (and specific) to the goals you’re trying to achieve. Get to know other people and find ways to learn and share their interests. In case you didn’t know, great leaders are those people whom others want to follow. If you show that you’re interested in others, they will reciprocate. I remember when I first became a director, responsible for several hundred people. In order to understand the culture I walked through the work areas of the staff engineers, many of who had been there for 25+ years. I spent time learning from them the important aspects of the corporate dynamic. Yes, I engaged heavily with my staff and leadership, but I also took the time to get different perspectives. My engagement with those engineers paid enormous dividends.
Respect – This topic should be a no brainer yet we all see people in traffic and the office every day that are completely lacking. A great motto by which to live could be summarized, “Everyone deserves your respect until the day they prove to be unworthy.” As I educate my own children I emphasize certain points about respect. One of them goes like this:
Everyone that you encounter is going to play some part in your life, be it large or small. We all know what life would be without the star athlete, the movie star, the President of the United States, or our doctor. But imagine life if the janitor stopped cleaning the bathroom or the day laborer stopped stocking shelves at the grocery store.
Showing respect is a great way of demonstrating that you deserve respect. Try finding a great leader anywhere who does not respect the people she leads. In case you need a book to better understand the importance that respect has in creating success, try reading this one.
Discipline – In order to achieve great things, one must be willing to consistently put forth the effort required. Goal setting is part of this process as is the need to achieve things that others would simply not attempt. Early in my career I learned the power of setting goals. One day I was discussing with another colleague all the things we had each set to achieve. He told me that he wanted to earn $70,000/year by his 30th birthday (he was 25 at the time). Over the next few years I watched him doggedly put into place all the pieces that would position him to realize that goal. He got up early, went to bed late, and generally attempted to outwork any barrier that he encountered. Because my colleague was determined and had discipline, he beat his timeline by two years.
At the same time, I made a decision that I wanted to reach the position of CIO as early as possible. From personal reflection, I concluded that my educational credentials were lacking. Knowing that I needed to set goals to “stretch” my capabilities, I went on to earn two Master’s degrees, a six sigma black belt, a project management certification, and several other interesting distinctions over the proceeding five years. I am not saying that my achievements should be your goals. Rather, you must be willing to discipline yourself to do whatever it takes, work as hard as necessary, and more likely than not your success will follow in a requisite manner.
Just as every person is unique so will be his or her path to the top of the corporate ladder. By following the HERD process you will have an idea of what it takes to achieve your goals and be the type of leader that is in such demand today.