The CEO wears multiple hats professionally and personally.
When the responsibilities pile up, it can be hard to prioritize the most important jobs.
Brad Smith, Executive Chairman and former CEO of Intuit, lays out the most essential jobs of the CEO.
Here’s what we’re unpacking today:
- The CEO’s #1 job
- Being in the business of people
- Building an all-star team vs. a team of all-stars
- Learning what’s most important in life
This post is based on a live podcast with Brad Smith. You can listen to the full episode here and below.
A CEO’s #1 job
What’s the most important job of a CEO?
Brad: I think the most important job of the CEO is to first recognize what your job is not.
Your job is not to put greatness into people. That greatness already exists. Your job is to create an environment where that greatness can emerge, where people can be authentic to who they are.
When I came out of college, my first employer sent me to New York and took me to a course called Communispond and I got a vocal coach to try to get rid of my Southern accent because my boss felt that it didn’t make me sound as educated as I should sound. You can see how successful that was.
About three years into my public presentation career, people would come up and say, “Who was that kid with that Southern accent?” I decided it wasn’t a bug it was a feature. So, I made it a feature for the rest of my life. I say let your freak flag fly.
It’s important for leaders to create that environment where people can be authentic to who they are because if they don’t spend time filtering who they are, they can put all that energy into serving customers and being great team members.
That’s the most important job of leaders. Create an environment where people can be authentic and true to who they are.
Understand you’re in the business of people
How do you think about culture? How do you think about core values in a company?
Brad: First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that when I talk about creating an environment where people can be authentic to who they are, that’s also a synonym for culture.
It is the environment in which you create where people feel like they fit, they belong. It’s an inclusive culture.
Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice, and you have to make that explicit choice to create an environment where everyone’s voice matters and everyone has a way to impact the outcomes that you’re trying to create.
It’s critical for us to recognize that we’re in the people business. It’s been very hard the last four or five years to be a public company CEO or a private company CEO when there are so many socio-economic and political divisions happening around the world. Employees want to know when you’re going to stand up for something.
What you have to recognize is you may have an individual point of view, but that can’t be the point of view that you represent. You have to represent the collective point of view.
It’s really important to say, this is what we stand for as a company. These are the values that we adhere to. We’re for human rights, civil liberties, and equal protection under the law.
If any of those are violated this is how we will take action. Then, as an individual citizen, this may be how I feel about that particular issue, but when I actually look at my customer base and employee base, we’re on all sides of these issues. I have to be very thoughtful about reflecting the collective “we” and not just the individual “me.”
This is not an absence of courage. I have a willingness to say, if you want to know how I feel personally, this is how I feel. If you want to know how collectively we’re going to operate, this is how we’re going to operate. If you’re not explicit about that and you don’t create the room for debate, you’re going to have division.
Build an all-star team, not a team of all-stars
How did you build a great team that led to phenomenal success?
Brad: I inherited a great company and I tried not to screw it up.
I think it was Warren Buffet who said that you should invest in companies that have business models so strong that they can, someday, endure a monkey running the company, because if you wait long enough a monkey will. My company tested that for 11 years, so we’ve done OK.
There’s a difference between having a team of all-stars and an all-star team. Most people managers try to get the absolute best A-player in every position. That does not build an all-star team. That builds a team of all-stars.
To build an all-star team, you want to find a player that makes the team great because that’s more important than just a great player.
You have to find people who have the qualities to say, I’m here to make the collective “we” successful. If that means passing the shot when it’s time for the buzzer-beater and I don’t take the shot but my teammate does, that’s what you’re looking for. Someone who plays as a “we” as opposed to a “me.”
You have to really test for humility. That is the most important thing.
Do they lead with questions? Do they seek to understand before they seek to be understood?
The other thing that I interview for is humility. The willingness to admit mistakes, to talk about things they learned from their failures. Those are the things that I think help build an all-star team.
Learn from life experiences
What has parenting taught you about being a leader?
Brad: One is to be present. When you’re with them, be with them. Truly invest in listening to what you want them to be able to express and give them the attention they deserve.
For me, the most important thing is to be present.