While in a Queen’s course on strategy and change management a few weeks ago they played a video from MIT where Anne Mulcahy of Xerox shared her ‘Leadership Lessons from the Firing Line’.
She walks through her introduction to the CEO position while Xerox was under siege with the future of the company in the balance. One of her first stories being a desperate attempt to get Warren Buffet to go back on his famous ‘I don’t invest in technology companies’ philosophy and invest in Xerox. He didn’t change his mind, but he did invite her for dinner and he gave a great piece of advice:
“Focus on your customers and lead your employees like their lives depend on it”
Mrs. Mulcahy then goes on to discuss her experience during the Xerox turnaround and the leadership lessons that defined her tenure. The highlights from my notes:
· Good leaders listen, with a bias for action.
· Trust your management instincts. Companies love data, but sometimes you must trust your experience and gut.
· Create clear accountability and good aligned goals to guide the organization.
· People need a vision. Even though Rome was burning, people wanted to know the future. Her team wrote out an article of what Xerox would look like in 5 years, which built optimism.
· Invest for the best of times, even at the worst of times. Critics wanted Xerox to cut R&D, but they didn’t. Now 2/3rds of revenue comes from products that are less than 2 years old.
· Keep communicating, don’t go underground. Nothing beats face to face communications, aligns people to the goals and do not go underground.
· Remain customer focused. Spend time with customers, and continually ask ‘Would the customer pay for this?’
· Seek out the critics and look for critical feedback. Search it out, it is a blessing to find issues early on.
· Find the best talent. Hire people who are different, who have skills and views that are different then leverage those people to educate you.
· Lead by example, give credit to others and be humble.
An inspiring leader with a great story. Well worth the 30 minute investment to watch.
As a fan of Ann Mulcahy’s leadership I compliment you on this fine post. Warren Buffet’s advice seems so perfect.
Thanks for sharing. I invite you to read my article on CEO Succession Planning in my blog. A comment will be most welcome as my students would love to learn from it.
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