CEO’s Weigh in on Company Leadership Styles


It’s no coincidence that successful companies are led by those with developed leadership skills. Leadership comes from the top and trickles down the chain of command. But what is the recipe for leadership success? When we take a look at international companies that are successful, we can learn from the leadership styles of CEOs to see what qualities and styles are necessary to run a company. While each brings their style and experience, it is easy to see commonalities among leadership styles. We can glean what qualities are required from CEOs of companies like Johnson and Johnson, LinkedIn, and Zappos to learn how successful companies are built and maintained.

Johnson & Johnson is headquartered in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the consumer division being located in Skillman, New Jersey. Johnson & Johnson creates products like Talcum Powder and other Baby Powder products. The corporation includes some 250 subsidiary companies with operations in 60 countries and products sold in over 175 countries. Chairman and CEO of Johnson and Johnson, Alex Gorsky says that his leadership success was rooted in his time spent as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. As the chief of a $372 billion company, Gorsky said that corporate success is often driven by three key things: Innovation, execution and hiring the right people. “It’s about great leaders and great people, and I could not be prouder of the 145,000 employees at Johnson & Johnson who bring the credo, the value system every day to work to do their very best,” Grosky stated.

Gorsky added that Johnson & Johnson takes pride in hiring veterans. “How do you have an attitude where, no matter how high that wall, no matter how thick, you’re going to figure out a way to get the mission done? That’s what veterans represent, and that’s what this place is all about,” he said.

It’s no surprise with Grosky’s military background and commitment to hiring veterans that the company has taken on a new campaigned that is set up to help Veterans. To help combat that statistic, Johnson & Johnson and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have joined forces to launch the new #BeThere campaign aimed at supporting active and retired service members in need of help and resources.

“The #BeThere campaign, which highlights the importance of engaging our communities to help support veterans and returning service members who may be struggling with the transition back home,” adds Gorsky. “I’m confident that, together, we can give back to the brave men and women who have given so much to our country.” The first step is learning to recognize and reach out to people who may be suffering silently in communities across the country.” Gorsky is a CEO who walks his talk and is invested in those who work around him and is fully aware where his leadership style comes from. He takes the time to give back to worthy causes and support those who serve the country. His brings a holistic and transparent approach to leading. Gorsky’s main leadership lessons for the West Point cadets are the following, find something to do that you’re passionate about, and take care of yourself. “When you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re going to be better, and your people will know that,” he said. “And what’s key in addition to your leadership is making sure that you’re healthy, that you’re fit, and you need to do that not only in the military but in a civilian career so that you can be your very best.”

Another example of flourishing company culture due to great leadership is LinkedIn. Jeff Weiner, The LinkedIn chief executive, knows there is a difference between leadership and management. He defines a manager as “someone who will tell you what to do, while a leader inspires you to do it. According to Weiner, that inspiration is derived from these three things: the clarity of your vision, the courage of your conviction, and ability to effectively communicate those two things. ”

Weiner has also talked about empowering, listening, appreciating, and inspiring as key components to a successful business. These are easy enough to understand, but to implement a company culture can be a real challenge. Weiner has figured out a way to successfully see these company values play out in his company.

Empowering means the flexibility to work remotely, wherever and whenever they can produce the tools they need to do their best work the freedom and psychological safety required to explore new ideas, to experiment, and to express dissenting opinions. Listening as we all know is an art. Not thinking of your next sentence while someone is talking is challenging. Active listen takes intention and practice. To be appreciated is about more than giving credit where it’s due, or telling someone: “Job well done.” Nor is it about flattery or praise for the sake of praising. “True appreciation is looking for the good in others, getting sincere and specific about what you appreciate, and why. It means seeing their potential. To be inspired take time out of your busy schedule to help them with a problem, remain open-minded, happy to try out new ideas, get down in the trenches and join in the dirty work, show your people you’ve got their backs by staying by them even when they make mistakes, do more than tell people where they should go — set the example and show them the way.” Don’t we wish all managers and CEOs had this mentality. It’s no wonder that people who work there have high job satisfaction. Weiner’s style earns raves from his staff. His Mountain View, Calif.-based company, with more than 3,000 employees and 200 million members, consistently ranks as one of the best places to work, earning a 92 percent employee-approval rating in an anonymous survey last year by The adopted mantra of Weiner is “next play,” a phrase borrowed from Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who calls it out after every sequence on offense or defense. Weiner explains it as: “Take a minute to celebrate success or reflect on failure, but then move on.”

Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh takes a different approach to leading than the two CEOs mentioned above. Hsieh’s success came to him in 1999 when his company LinkExchange was acquired by Microsoft in 1999. Hseish takes a little more non-traditional approach to leading and influencing company culture.

Hsieh joined Zappos shortly after the Microsoft buyout. As the company grew and he took over as chief, he worked with his staff to develop the Zappos Family Core Values. They include not only a commitment to customer service, but also the creation of “fun and a little weirdness” and the building of a “positive team and family spirit.”
Jamie Naughton, known around the company as “speaker of the house” at Zappos, says “Our culture was inspired by how he does business and the people he hires and how we all are as a group.” Naughton says Hsieh takes a hands-off approach to leadership that requires effective delegation. “He likes to say that he is more of an architect; he designs the big vision and then gets out of the way so that everyone can make the things happen,” she says.

Although Hsieh brings a more hands-off approach, he is still respected among colleagues. Alex Wilcox is CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based private aviation company JetSuite, in which Hsieh has made a $7 million investment. Even this CEO is learning from the way that Heish leads and works. Hsieh is “an incredible leader,” Wilcox says. “If he is delayed by an external issue or something that we have overlooked, he never raises his voice. He lets us know about the issue and lets us solve it, and is always very receptive to what we have done to solve it. In that way, he has taught me a lot about how to be effective without getting upset, without raising your voice. He’s very quiet, which means that when he does speak, you pay extra attention.”

What we can draw from these CEO’s is a level of investment that is beyond completing a job or keeping a promise. It is about inspiring, reaching, and leading by a dedicated and thoughtful position of power and influence. Creating a company culture where it is okay to make mistakes but to learn and reach higher heights. People in any business need to be encouraged, appreciated, and ultimately nourished to keep the entire engine moving forward. While we can have motivation posters and everyone can repeat the companies’ values, it takes hard work, persistence, and intentionally to put these into action and create a culture that is productive and motivated.

These CEO’ have figured out what makes their people tick, and how to encourage, motivate, and execute. Other company leaders can learn from the words and styles of CEOs like those at Johnson and Johnson, LinkedIn, and Zappos. While these are the framework that the CEOs work from, there is probably so much more going on behind the scenes to put these ideas into action and see them play out in an influential way. And we can also learn that different leadership can still produce impressive results. However, these CEOs know that it is about hiring the right people that they can effectively lead. Because they are aware of their leadership styles, the know how to hire people they can direct, or hire those who are a self-directed, but give them a framework to work within. While these leaders are focused on their business, they are highly invested in the people who work at their companies.

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