Dave Allen
Founder, Brandpie INC



Can Leading Longer Help You Live Longer, Too? A Note To The New CEO

Even though you cost millions of dollars to replace and hundreds of man hours to bring up to speed, your average tenure is likely to be 4-5 years. Why? Because in the “Friedman” inspired world we have grown up in, profit is your only purpose and you will be judged on one metric and one metric alone: your numbers. So, if your numbers aren’t good, you are gone.

Thankfully, this single-dimensional profit view is changing. This is most likely a result of the crash of 2008 and the simple fact that governments alone cannot rebuild the trust and confidence we all need in the capital markets. Rebuilding trust is important and you have a big role to play. We all expect you to do it, particularly your younger employees.

The train has left the station and leading thinkers like Paul Polman of Unilever, Larry Fink of BlackRock and Mark Weinberger of EY are all drawing our attention to the role of business in building more stable and better societies for the benefit of all. At the core of their thinking is one word: purpose.

Purpose is not to be confused with corporate social responsibility (CSR) — corporate giving. This is about defining a purpose for your business that inspires and emotionally connects with your people and your customers in a meaningful and exciting way. Today, purpose is the route to good numbers. If you don’t believe me, read Larry Fink’s open letter to the CEO.

So, how does all this change what you need to do in order to succeed as a new CEO?

To inspire the confidence in others that’s needed to succeed as an organization, you’ll need to lead with purpose. If you clearly explain why your organization exists and where it’s going, it becomes much easier to guide it toward success. Even if your financial goals are ambitious (and they should be), your employees will go out of their way if they feel they are a part of something bigger: something that is making a positive contribution to their and their families’ lives.

When I speak to different employees, I ask them what type of reaction they get when they tell people who they work for at business or social events. They tell me that they usually get one of two reactions: “Oh” or “Wow.” You want to be leading a “wow” organization. They are often admired, have high levels of employee pride, attract the best talent and, coincidentally, are usually more profitable organizations. And surprise, they also tend to be driven by purpose rather than profit.

Your position as CEO is also no doubt physically and mentally demanding. It eats up your time, your nerves and your calendar overnight. Purpose can help here, too. There is more and more medical evidence being gathered that shows people who maintain purpose throughout their lives are living healthier and longer lives. Somehow, having purpose in life keeps us going. The Japanese even have a word for it: “ikigai.”

How you see yourself as CEO and your idea of a positive legacy will rely, at its core, on how you see yourself and how you define the role in your own terms. Surround yourself with others who share this view and have strong convictions themselves. Make sure your employees know your purpose and are motivated by it.

It can be argued that your success as CEO will boil down to how engaged your employees are. An engaged employee is a happy employee. This, in turn, creates happy customers and happy shareholders, who both make the board happy and, finally, make you happy.

That all sounds simple enough, but it’s not simply about being nice, complimenting people more or moving along employees who aren’t working out. It’s about learning to lead with purpose. It’s not just about what you achieve personally; it’s about being faithful to your people, supporting families, developing careers and creating more stable and inclusive local economies. Feeling good about what you’re doing will be much more valuable to your legacy than short-term profits.

So, it’s all going your way — the old model of strictly profit-based leadership assessment is coming to an end. The measure of success for any CEO stepping into the role today will be the legacy you leave behind and the lives you impact along the journey.

CEOs no longer lead for life, so if you plan on leading longer than the five-year average, you’ll need to lead with purpose. If you do it right, you’ll most likely create a positive legacy for your company, your employees, your customers and your shareholders. You might also have better numbers … and live a bit longer.