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The Corner Office

Page history last edited by Chris Yeh 5 years, 7 months ago

The Corner Office

by Adam Bryant


Smart Interviewing

  • Tim Brown (CEO, IDEO): "I always find it helpful to ask who they did things with.  How did this project happen?  Who actually worked with you on it?  And if they can quickly give you lots of, 'I did this and this person did that,' then you've got some hint about how collaborative they are.  If, however, the answer is 'I did this and I did that,' then I worry that this is somebody who probably isn't very collaborative, probably isn't very good at promoting the ideas of others, probably isn't going to bring talent out very effectively."
  • John Chambers (CEO, Cisco Systems): "Who are the best people you recruited and developed, and where are they today?"
  • Vineet Nayer (CEO, HCL Technologies): "I ask about the three or four people they interviewed with before they got to me. I say, 'Today you are their boss?  Which one will you hire and why?'  That's a question that has gotten me the right person all the time, because I know the people you've interviewed with, and it gives me an idea how quickly you can find out their strengths and weaknesses."
  • Shantanu Narayen (CEO, Adobe Systems): "My first question [to a job candidate] is always. 'Tell me what you think this job is about.'  I've found that allowing them to speak about what they want to do, and what they think the job is about, is actually very, very useful, because it illuminates what they think they want to do in the company.  I typically also end an interview by asking them how they can make a difference.  When candidates speak more to what they want to accomplish and how they think they can make a difference, those are clearly "right" answers.  If they talk about specifics as it relates to title and people, I would say those are headed in the wrong direction."



  • Drew Faust (President, Harvard University): "Michael Porter said to the deans of the individual schools, 'How does being part of Harvard University give you an unfair advantage?'  It was just the right question for what I wanted to accomplish, because it allocated to the deans both a self-interest in buying into the larger university purposes but also the aspiration of thinking about how we can all be better together through making schools more integrated."
  • CEOs believe they can win loyalty not only through a paycheck, but also by treating employees like voters or volunteers.


Type A to B

  • To reach the corner office, it certainly helps to have a few of the classic traits of a Type A personality. But once they've won the top job, many CEOs said they've had to learn to pull back and listen more so that they are not dominating every conversation and meeting.  He has to signal to his subordinates that their input matters (even if the CEO feels he knows the answer already), to let them stub their toes occasionally so they can learn the lessons themselves, to quiet his own go-get-em personality so that others can emerge as leaders.



Creating a Culture

  • Tony Hsieh (CEO, LinkExchange, Zappos): "From the outside, LinkExchange selling to Microsoft looked like it was a great acquisition, $265 million, but most people don't know the real reason why we ended up selling the company.  It was because the company culture just went completely downhill.  By the time we got to a hundred people, even though we hired people with the right skill sets and experiences, I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning.  I just didn't look forward to going to the office.  And if I was feeling that way, how must the other employees feel?  I didn't want to be part of a company where I dreaded going into the office."
  • Vineet Nayar: We started having people making their presentations and record them for our internal Web site.  We open that for review to a 360 workshop, which means your subordinates will review it.  Your managers will read it.  Your peers will read it, and everyone will comment on it.  What happened?  One, because your subordinates are going to see the plan, you cannot lie.  Two, because your peers are going to see it, you are going to put your best work into it.  Third, you didn't learn from me.  You learned by reviewing somebody else's presentation."
  • Daniel Amos (CEO, Aflac): "My theory is that when you start telling people what to do, they no longer are responsible; you are.  I'll give them my opinion and say; 'Look, this is my opinion, but if you choose that and you fail, you're not blaming it on me. It is your fault.' I think it makes them stronger."
  • Stephen Sadove (CEO, Saks): I think some of the best ideas come from people who aren't stuck in their ways.  I always tell people new to my organization when they come in, 'I want you, in your first three or four weeks, to jot down every time you have an idea or question about how things are done, and then stick it in your drawer.  I don't care whether it's good or bad; I don't want you to even talk to anyone about it.  Just write it down and stick it in a drawer.  And at the end of three or four weeks I want you to look at the sheet.  Then I want you to sit with me and we're going to talk about them.; Invariably, I find some really good ideas that make you say, 'Why are we doing it this way?  It makes no sense at all.'"


What is Leadership?

  • George Barrett (CEO, Cardinal Health): "Trust has a couple of dimensions.  It starts with competence.  People have to believe that you really know what you're doing.  They really have to trust your judgment because the data are so complex out there that they have to believe you can see through all the silliness and have some sense of the right course.  People have to trust that you have a point of view about what this enterprise is going to look like.  What do we seek to be?  And they have to trust that you understand them, that you get them.  Not necessarily that you know them personally, but you understand what it's all about to work here and that you have their interests at heart.  I think that when you can do those things, it can be a powerful combination.  I think people sometimes equate leadership with charisma and decisiveness.  I think those are powerful tools, and I hope I have both, but they're not to be confused with leadership.  I know a lot of very charismatic people who lack judgment and competence, and they're not great leaders.  They're just fun to be around.  And I know some decisive people who lack judgment, which is terrifying."
  • James Rogers (CEO, Duke Energy): "I think as the years have gone on, I've really honed my ability to listen and understand everybody's story, and to help them build a story around their capabilities--a story that's open-ended, that plays to their strengths.  One of the biggest things I find in organizations is that people tend to limit their perceptions of themselves and their capabilities, and one of my challenges is to open them up to the possibilities."

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