Recently, Glassdoor announced the Highest Rated CEOs of 2014 for both large companies and SMBs. The third highest rated CEO on the large company list, Richard Edelman, president and CEO of public relations agency, Edelman, wrote an inspiring post detailing 10 leadership lessons he’s learned over the past 18 years. Edelman’s words serve as a great reminder for any CEO who wants to win the support of his or her employees, which can also carry valuable recruiting and employee retention benefits. Here’s what Edelman had to say in his own words:
Glassdoor and the Joy of Leading
I have been meaning to write this blog post for the past week. I have a good excuse — my youngest was home for a week from college. I took the opportunity to spend as much time as she would allow with me; going to museums, taking long walks and just talking. So now she is back on campus and I am back to reality (and my blog).
It was truly stunning to learn that I was the third ranked CEO of a major company in employee approval ratings, behind the CEOs of LinkedIn and Ford. To all of the Edelman colleagues who said in the Glassdoor survey that they approved of my leadership, thank you. Your enthusiasm, dedication and desire to excel get me out of bed every day determined to do better than the day before. It is a family after all, Team Edelman, with a 62-year heritage of client service, creativity and commitment to growth. I will give you a few of my leadership lessons, which I have accumulated over the past 18 years.
1. Call and Write—I am in touch once or twice a week with most of the members of the Edelman Executive Committee. I am a phone person… I would rather have a chat than exchange emails. My emails tend to be cryptic and to the point (one person at Edelman describes them as a haiku). Calls allow the serendipitous, the inference, and the sense of confidence or lack thereof.
2. Get Into the Field—My two week trip to Asia and the Middle East was an invaluable reminder of the simple truth that personal connection is required in business. I see clients, listen to our teams, visit with the media. You cannot do the CEO job from behind the desk (not well, anyway).
3. Remain Humble—I take the subway to work and Southwest Airlines to Chicago (all coach). This is not an imperial job; it relies on others telling you the truth, especially when you as emperor have no clothes on. This only happens when you are approachable and human. I don’t agree to do many interviews unless the stories are related to the Edelman Trust Barometer or to our annual financial results. It is not about me, it is about us. The greatest balm in my recent loss of both parents was the outpouring of support from Edelman people all over the world. My sister, brother and I did videoconferences with the entire team just after each parent passed away (my mom was there for my dad’s passing) from the Chicago office. It was raw, it was deeply human and it was hugely cathartic.
4. Have a Sense of Humor—When Edelman became the largest PR firm, I went deep into the creative reservoir to create Captain Morgie, a take-off on the pre-historic Morganucuadon, a rat-like character than eventually led to Homo Sapiens. The big idea was that our firm could out-think and out-last the giant dinosaurs of advertising. My new tradition is the selfie from a ladder with the local office colleagues, with due warning to the insurance company.
5. Give Your Senior Team Real Latitude—You cannot grow if you run a company in a circular fashion with you in the middle, as if all roads must go through Rome. You agree on a strategy, watch the implementation, then ask for course correction as needed. And don’t jump to conclusions based on six months or even a year of negative results; change takes time and patience. Delegation of authority is an art that also requires accountability; in our business, watch the quality of the work and the satisfaction of the team more than the numbers. Be generous with praise and careful with criticism.
6. Be Recruiting All of the Time—I have been thinking about a senior executive whom I met nearly two decades ago when I was running Edelman Europe as a possible addition to the team. When somebody leaves the firm whom you rate highly, you begin the wooing process right away. And to retain your top talent, you must again have a personal link. In my case, I go with them for long walks or bike rides. I am not so good over drinks and dinner (low tolerance, early to bed).
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Admit Error—I was the one who agreed to implementation of a global accounting system without adequate testing, which prevented us from sending out bills for a few months and sent our credit line sky-rocketing. I got a new CFO, we fixed the system and we got back on track. But when it came time to update the system about four years ago, I had the experience to insist on installation in a relatively small market (Canada— sorry to my pals up North) to work out the bugs before going live in the U.S., our biggest market.
8. Ambition—When I moved to New York City, I remember walking up Park Avenue, looking at all of the skyscrapers and thinking, how can I get these companies to use Edelman, a little-known firm? So I made up a list of companies I wanted us to work with and did cold calls. One of them was on Lever Brothers… which took us on to do the launch of a detergent. Now Unilever is one of our largest clients. The truth is that in your 20s, you are too green to know what you cannot do. And by the time you reach your 50s (I am almost out of runway on that decade) you have to maintain that boldness and determination to network and hustle.
9. Lead from the Front—Of all of the advice, this is the most important. If you do not serve clients, if you do not pitch media, if you do not go to new business pitches, you have no right to run a PR firm. It is easy to second guess, but harder when you are the quarterback with five giant people bearing down on you and you needing to deliver the big pass. Strategy must reflect reality, facts on the ground, intelligence gathered from experience.
10. Be an Omnivore—I have taken this week off, in part to be with my youngest, in part to recharge my batteries. I went to a Council on Foreign Relations event on Clean Cookstoves (did you know that seven million people a year, largely women, die from after effects of cooking with coal in enclosed homes). I have read Simon Schamaa’s Story of the Jews. I have gone to the Neue Galerie to see an exhibition on Degenerate Art (the lovely term used by the Nazis to describe the Bauhaus School including Beckmann and Kirchner) and to the Frick Museum. When you travel overseas, go with your locals to understand the culture, as I did with Ross Rowbury to an ancient Shinto shrine outside of Tokyo this fall.
There is a special responsibility for a person entrusted with leading a family company, to maintain the crown jewels for the long term while improving competitive position in the industry. I have come to consider that a privilege and a competitive advantage. Thanks again to our clients and to our Edelman team for all you do every day.