For the new generation of CEOs, insight by Michael Kaufmann, the former CEO of Cardinal Health Company
The CEO job is prestigious and well paid. The CEO makes an effect on people and the environment. Yet, the job is highly demanding, often stressful. It is not for everybody. If becoming CEO is what you dream of, this article might help you get better prepared.
I have the privilege of talking to Michael Kaufmann, the former Chief Executive Officer of Cardinal Health. He had been a tremendous leader during his tenure at Cardinal Health.
Mike agreed to share his leadership insights to benefit a new generation of CEOs.
During over 30 years with Cardinal Health you have served a wide range of leadership positions, including CFO. Did your leadership style need to change when you became CEO?
Michael Kaufmann: I think all great leaders must be great learners in order to adapt their strategic thinking, their execution playbook and how they lead. As your company’s circumstances and your roles change, you must change.
Having the opportunity to work in different roles helped me learn how to become a better leader and work more effectively with investors and maintain positive relationships with all stakeholders including investors, partners, my community and employees.
What should the new CEO do before starting day? During the first quarter?
Michael Kaufmann: As a new CEO, get to know a company’s culture and don’t criticize it before you really understand it. Spend time not only with your new direct reports but also with people of all levels and backgrounds. Review employee surveys, talk with consultants that have worked with the company and talk with customers.
Each company’s culture is unique, has strengths and areas to improve and will be hard to change. And, to make any changes, you must be able to articulate why the changes are necessary.
For me, while there are many critical components to a healthy and successful culture, the most important one is honesty. Business is hard and environments can change quickly. Having a culture where people can speak up and be open and honest is critical for long term success.
Many successful CEOs have divorced. How can CEOs maintain the life-work balance?
Michael Kaufmann: If you have a family and children, it is important to discuss with your partner realistic family obligations before you accept the CEO position. You want your spouse to be your biggest support for the long term. You need to have complete alignment at home with the realities of what you are going to be doing, and the sacrifices that will need to be made. Decide how your family operates in the challenging scenario. It is always easy to adjust to a better life.
One key I found for maintaining work life balance is to put your personal life activities in your calendar. Book your board meetings, industry events and those activities where you have little to no ability to change the dates. Then, book 3-4 weeks of vacation, a few long weekends with your spouse, key family events and holidays before you open your calendar for any more work activities. You and your family will be glad you did.
Does the CEO need an executive coach? How do you choose a coach that is right for you?
Michael Kaufmann: Yes, you need an executive coach not at the time you have some problem. Instead, get a coach early so you can avoid problems and build stronger leadership.
Which coach is right for you is a personal choice. Decide what you want to work on with your coach. Search, ask for references from other executives and meet with three or more coaches. That will help you to decide which one works the best for you.
You don’t want a “Yes” coach, the one who agrees with you all the time. You need one who can challenge you, keep you on the edge. Yet, you need to respect and trust the chosen coach to develop a fruitful relationship.
What would be your advice to the younger generation looking to be CEO?
Michael Kaufmann: I could give you many suggestions that I believe would be helpful, but I would prioritize these three:
- Do the job you are currently in very well. This seems simple but I have seen many people get so focused on their next role they forget to do the one they are in really well and they take big steps back in their career.
- Choose knowledge over pay. Don’t hesitate to take a lateral move that will help you develop new skills even if there is no increase in pay. I did that three times in my career and all of them were invaluable.
- Be a great teammate. Having people who are working with or for you like and respect you are best for the long term … and you will sleep better at night.
Looking back, what, if anything, would you do differently in your career?
Michael Kaufmann: Sure, there are always things you wish you could have done sooner or differently. But I feel thankful, blessed and honored to have had a long career where my hard work and sacrifices paid off and that I feel I made a positive impact on peoples’ lives.
There is a great possibility for you to become the CEO.
Get inspired and use all potential to learn. Focus on becoming a servant leader. After all, people want to follow someone who goes above and beyond to serve those around them. As you assume new leadership roles, you’ll be ready to take over the role of CEO, finding the transition easier since others will have already bought into you as a leader.
Written by Olga Artemenko.
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