The best CEOs are good listeners.
By Gail Flower
The best CEOs are good listeners, and they look at things carefully before responding.
At the CEO panel on September 12, 2012 in Rosemont, IL, during Labelexpo Americas, Don Nolan, president of Avery Dennison’s materials group, asked some really telling questions. Most CEOs might shy away from a direct, probing question; others want lots of time to consider their response beforehand. The responses from this panel of CEOs sounded honest and deliberate. Let me give you a sample. Nolan asked what concerns kept them up at night. Here are some responses. See if you can relate to them:
“Ongoing growth keeps me up at night. We’ve got to keep developing products constantly. If we aren’t getting better, someone else is. It’s time to invest time and money in new products and to know what doesn’t work. Not everything we attempt works, but that’s OK.”
Money—that is, having enough of it—bothered every one of them, no matter the size of the firm.
“I need to invest more in the label industry while we’re in a recovering economy. Good companies flourish in tough times, and there are lots of opportunities in the print industry. Money is so cheap right now that it’s a good time to invest in your company.”
One company with 110 employees talked about being lean and retaining the best people. What kept this CEO up was considering what other good companies to acquire. Apparently good companies are those that are distressed, but still functioning. Once you buy them, you break them down further to get at the root of their problems, and then build them back up to sustainability. It sounded a bit like induction into the military to me. But I’ve been in a couple of buyouts, and that’s exactly what happened.
One CEO complained that equipment manufacturers wouldn’t design around his specific needs.
“Why can’t they design the equipment we want, not fit our stuff into their existing equipment? Just modify the darn thing!” he urged.
They all felt that structuring the sales team was important and keeping the manufacturing team coordinated took lots of their time. However, the most important thing that a CEO does is to focus on the customer and on servicing the customer. If a customer wants something new, find a creative way to structure an innovation to fit it. Trying to make it all work seems to be what all good CEOs do well.
But they don’t have to do it alone. “Keep an eye out for under-utilized talent in the organization, then mentor and teach that person. If you want to grow, you have to grow your employees first,” one panelist said.
Some key questions every CEO should ask are: What game are we playing? How do we win? Next, you need to find the leaders within your organization to help you win. The hardest thing to do is believe the numbers, face up to increased cost, be rational and thoughtful, ask others to help you when there is a problem, realize that extremely unreasonable customers are looking to seek a release, and mine your existing customers before seeking new ones you don’t know.
Many times customers don’t know exactly what they want. How many times have you heard, “I’m not quite certain what I want, but that’s not it?” On the other hand, if you are innovative and show them what’s possible, many times they will identify the printing effect, right price, delivery time, colors, or design of a final product. Keep samples of what you have done in the past or make suggestions to save the customers’ resources.
The best CEOs are good listeners, and they look at things carefully before responding. And that’s exactly what this panel seemed to do.
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