Articulating and sharing a well thought out vision certainly contributes to success, but it’s not enough. It also takes a leader who knows how to effectively engage and connect employees with the leader’s vision.
Professor Emeritus Stephen W. Brown, former director of Arizona State University’s Center for Services Leadership, describes this type of leader as one “who leads from the front, not the top.”
“Too often in traditional hierarchical organizations, the people who make the product never see the people ‘upstairs’ who manage. They can’t feel the passion of their leaders, understand their commitment to quality, or see their dreams for excellence because they’re not visible.”
I experienced such a leader earlier in my career. In my first job with a regional bank, the president, who came from outside the community, led from the top. He maintained an office on the sixth floor of the main headquarters/branch and was rarely seen by front line and operational employees. His contact with corporate customers took place mainly in executive offices and country clubs.
So it was culture shock for me when I changed employers to work at another regional bank whose president was much more visible. His office was on the second floor of the bank’s HQs, just off the escalator from the main branch lobby, where he was accessible to all customers and employees. He was also a major presence at all-employee meetings and social events. As a former teller who worked his way up to become bank president, he loved the bank, and his passion for the bank’s brand was contagious. This was an executive who led from the front.
You might think that the difference between these two CEO’s backgrounds — outsider vs. insider — might account for their different leadership styles. That was my thinking until I moved to a third regional bank where the president also had started as a teller, yet he led from the top. So being “home-grown” wasn’t the common denominator for leadership style.
All three CEO’s were professional and respected; all three banks were successful. Among all the banks, the most engaged and engaging corporate culture belonged to the second bank. It was also the most exhilarating and satisfying organization I ever worked in — all because I was caught up in the vision and success of a CEO and management team who led from the front.