People & Culture

Why do we tolerate invisible and unaccountable leadership?

Leaders just need to be naked and visible. That's all. Is it really so hard?

Right now I’m doing better than average in the leadership league table. I’ve got a 99% “Approve of CEO” rating on Glassdoor from 96 reviews and people keep telling me that I’m a good leader and they wish their CEO was more like me.

But what am I doing thats so special? Am I giving everyone pay rises? (No- sorry.) Am I making work an easy and relaxing place? (Afraid not – I run am ambitious company with tough targets.) Am I just riding the crest of a wave because our company is doing everything right? (No again – I run a successful business but we have good days and bad days just like everyone else so that’s not it.)

No, it’s because I’m working hard on being visible and accountable. And surprisingly, no-one expects it.

The bar we seem to have on accountable leadership is really low. So when I do what I think should be normal it really amazes people.

There are three things I’ve done in the last couple of months that seem to have really resonated.

  1. At our April staff conference I was interviewed on stage with questions submitted by staff and I answered them honestly without preparation or seeing the questions in advance.I can’t tell you how much goodwill this generated.In the two weeks running up to the staff conference we asked everyone at Reward Gateway to submit questions for me to answer. We’d had a tough couple of weeks internally –  we’d withdrawn our most popular employee benefit from staff in the UK and we’d announced a restructuring for sales and service too, disrupting lots of reporting lines.Liam Jones, one of our writers, was my interviewer and he expected to brief me on the questions in advance. But I said no.

    If you’re running a business honestly and with integrity you shouldn’t need to prep or be warned for questions from staff. If you’ve nothing to hide, there’s nothing to rehearse.

    I felt this was fine and straightforward but in the hours leading up to the event I realized from comments everyone was making that it was a bigger deal to everyone else than it was to me. People were genuinely amazed that I would put myself on the spot. I think some were actually worried about it.

    But it was fine, I answered every question honestly and in detail and those I didn’t know the answer to I said we’d find out and publish the answers online. No sweat.

    After, in the break, so many people told me how great it was that I did that and how unexpected it was. But it was easy, and it makes me wonder how many CEOs and leaders are hiding from their people?

  2. I made a commitment to answering every review we get on Glassdoor personally and within 24 hours.I’d been a bit slow on the uptake with the concept of responding to Glassdoor reviews. It’s easy to feel paralyzed by the idea that its a public review and you don’t know what to say. But it all clicked for me when I realized that first and foremost I should think of each review as a personal email from one of my team to me. One of the 330 staff that I employ somewhere in the world, or occasionally someone who has just left us.

    By remembering there is a single human on the other end of that review, someone that your company hired and paid and in most cases is still the employee and is still being paid, then replying is easy.

    They are telling you about your business as they see it and your job is to listen, understand, explain decisions or correct misunderstanding and make changes or commission more discovery work where its needed.

    I’m hitting my goal currently of replying in 24 hours, I write them myself and I reply in a detailed way to the feedback.

    Again, the response is really strong. I’ve had lots of feedback about how important it is to be heard and for everyone to know that they have a voice that is listened to. Why can’t all CEOs do this? What is it they are doing that is more important?

  3. I published a document explaining who I am, how I think and what I value. It’s my CEO’s User Manual.
    I was given this idea by Adam Bryant who runs the Corner Office column in the New York Times. We’d met at a conference back in the spring and I’d been intrigued by the idea.Adam told me that a good CEO’s user manual should educate people about what the CEO values, explain what they think is important and share something about the person and their failings and inconsistencies (because we all have them – even or especially CEOs).So my CEO’s user manual is public now on SlideShare and I also wrote a about why I hope it might help to bridge the trust gap between people and their companies.Again, the feedback was great. People want to know and understand their leaders. Maybe its more than that, maybe they have a right to know and understand their leaders. Maybe they have a right to know, understand and judge their leaders. We’re CEOs, not gods – should we not be judged by the people we lead?

These three things were not hard to do. I’ve managed to do them whilst keeping on top of the rest of the demands of my job and the world hasn’t ended. In fact the world feels significantly better as a result.

I’d love us to be in a world where simple actions by CEOs like the ones I did weren’t seen as remarkable but were expected, demanded. I think we’d all be better in a world where openness, accountability and transparency of leaders was the new normal.


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