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更新时间:2017-11-1 12:01:53 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

How to Be a C.E.O., From a Decade’s Worth of Them

It started with a simple idea: What if I sat down with chief executives, and never asked them about their companies?


The notion occurred to me roughly a decade ago, after spending years as a reporter and interviewing CEOs about many of the expected things: their growth plans, the competition, the economic forces driving their industries. But the more time I spent doing this, the more I found myself wanting to ask instead about more expansive themes — not about pivoting, scaling or moving to the cloud, but how they lead their employees, how they hire, and the life advice they give or wish they had received.


That led to 525 Corner Office columns, and weekly reminders that questions like these can lead to unexpected places.

由此有了525篇“角落办公室”(Corner Office)专栏文章,它们每周都会提醒我们,这样的问题可以引出意料之外的答案。

I met an executive who grew up in a dirt-floor home, and another who escaped the drugs and gangs of her dangerous neighborhood. I learned about different approaches to building culture, from doing away with titles to offering twice-a-month housecleaning to all employees as a retention tool.


And I have been endlessly surprised by the creative approaches that chief executives take to interviewing people for jobs, including tossing their car keys to a job candidate to drive them to a lunch spot, or asking them how weird they are, on a scale of 1 to 10.


Granted, not all chief executives are fonts of wisdom. And some of them, as headlines regularly remind us, are deeply challenged people.


That said, there’s no arguing that CEOs have a rare vantage point for spotting patterns about management, leadership and human behavior.


After almost a decade of writing the Corner Office column, this will be my final one — and from all the interviews, and the 5 million words of transcripts from those conversations, I have learned valuable leadership lessons and heard some great stories. Here are some standouts.


People often try to crack the code for the best path to becoming a chief executive. Do finance people have an edge over marketers? How many international postings should you have? A variety of experiences is good, but at what point does breadth suggest a lack of focus?


It’s a natural impulse. In this age of Moneyball and big data, why not look for patterns?


The problem is that the world doesn’t really work that way. There are too many variables, many of them beyond your control, including luck, timing and personal chemistry.


The career trajectories of the CEOs I’ve interviewed are so varied that spotting trends is difficult, and a surprising number of the executives do not fit the stereotype of the straight-A student and class president who seemed destined to run a big company someday. I’ve met CEOs who started out in theater, music and teaching. Others had surprisingly low grades in school.


So what explains it? Are there some qualities — beyond the obvious, like hard work and perseverance — that explain why these people ultimately got the top jobs?


I’ve noticed three recurring themes.


First, they share a habit of mind that is best described as “applied curiosity.” They tend to question everything. They want to know how things work, and wonder how they can be made to work better. They’re curious about people and their back stories.


Second, CEOs seem to love a challenge. Discomfort is their comfort zone.


“Usually, I really like whatever the problem is. I like to get close to the fire,” said Arkadi Kuhlmann, a veteran banking chief. “Some people have a desire for that, I’ve noticed, and some people don’t. I just naturally gravitate to the fire. So I think that’s a characteristic that you have, that’s in your DNA.”

“通常,不管遇到什么问题,我真的都很喜欢。我喜欢靠近火,”资深银行业高管阿卡迪·库尔曼(Arkadi Kuhlmann)说。“我发现,有些人有这种欲望,有些人没有。我是天生被火吸引。所以我认为,那是你的一个特点,在你的DNA里。”

The third theme is how they managed their own careers on their way to the top. They focus on doing their current job well, and that earns them promotions.


That may sound obvious. But many people can seem more concerned about the job they want than the job they’re doing.


That doesn’t mean keeping ambition in check. By all means, have career goals, share them with your bosses, and learn everything you can about how the broader business works. And yes, be savvy about company politics (watch out in particular for the show ponies who try to take credit for everything).


But focus on building a track record of success, and people will keep betting on you.


The Most Important Thing About Leadership, Part I


Because leadership is so hard, there is a boundless appetite for somebody to come along and say, “Here’s the one thing you need to know.”


If only it were that simple. But one thing isn’t necessarily more important than another. And people are, well, complicated. Better to understand leadership as a series of paradoxes.


Leaders, for example, need humility to know what they don’t know, but have the confidence to make a decision amid the ambiguity. A bit of chaos can help foster creativity and innovation, but too much can feel like anarchy. You need to be empathetic and care about people, but also be willing to let them go if they’re dragging down the team. You have to create a sense of urgency, but also have the patience to bring everybody on the team along.


The Most Important Thing About Leadership, Part II


Go ahead. Twist my arm.


Despite what I just wrote, if you were to force me to rank the most important qualities of effective leadership, I would put trustworthiness at the top.


We all have a gut sense of our bosses, based on our observations and experiences: Do we trust them to do the right thing? Will they be straight with us and not shave corners of truth? Do they own their mistakes; give credit where credit is due; care about their employees as people as opposed to assets? Do they manage down as well as up?


“If you want to lead others, you’ve got to have their trust, and you can’t have their trust without integrity,” said James Hackett, the chief executive of Ford Motor Co., who ran Steelcase when I spoke with him.

“如果你想领导他人,就必须得到他们的信任,不真诚的人是得不到信任的,”福特汽车公司(Ford Motor Co.)首席执行官詹姆斯·哈克特(James Hackett)说。

A close cousin of trustworthiness is how much you respect the people who work for you. It’s hard to argue with this logic from Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood executive:

你应该尊重和你一起工作的人,就像尊重值得信赖的自家亲戚。好莱坞高管杰弗里·卡岑伯格(Jeffrey Katzenberg)的逻辑很难找到破绽:

“By definition if there’s leadership, it means there are followers, and you’re only as good as the followers,” he said. “I believe the quality of the followers is in direct correlation to the respect you hold them in. It’s not how much they respect you that is most important. It’s actually how much you respect them. It’s everything.”


‘Culture Is Almost Like a Religion’


It’s a predictable rite of passage as many companies evolve. At some point, the leadership team will go through the exercise of defining a set of values to shape the culture of their company. These lists can be all over the place — lengthy or brief, predictable or quirky.


But the exercise raises an obvious question: Are there some best practices? I have noticed some patterns.


Shorter is generally better than longer. In fact, when I ask chief executives about their companies’ values, it’s not unusual for them to struggle to remember them all if there are more than five bullet points. And if the boss can’t remember them, will anyone else?


Granted, others might disagree with me on this point, including Ray Dalio, founder of the massive Bridgewater Associates hedge fund, who has hundreds of principles for working at his firm. But here’s a thought experiment: What if every company that has codified its values conducted a pop quiz with employees to see if they know them all?

当然,有些人可能不同意我的这个观点,包括非常成功的对冲基金布里奇沃特投资公司(Bridgewater Associates)的创始人雷·达利奥(Ray Dalio),他为公司员工制定了数百条原则。但是不妨做一个思想实验:给那些把价值观写入明文章程的公司的员工做个突击测验,看看这么多内容他们是不是都知道,那么会怎样呢?

Values need reinforcement beyond repetition. Many companies, for example, make their values part of the hiring and firing process, and hand out awards to people who bring the values to life. “The culture is almost like a religion,” said Robert L. Johnson, chairman of the RLJ Cos., an investment firm. “People buy into it and they believe in it. And you can tolerate a little bit of heresy, but not a lot.”

价值观需要不断强化,而不仅仅是简单的重复。例如,许多公司都会将其价值观纳入招聘和解聘过程,并且奖励能够实践这些价值观的员工。“文化简直就像宗教,”投资公司RLJ Cos.董事长罗伯特·L·约翰逊(Robert L. Johnson)说。“人们接受它,信仰它。你可能会容忍一点异端,但不会太多。”

Men vs. Women (Sigh)


Are there differences in the way men and women lead? I’ve been asked this question countless times. Early on, I looked hard to spot differences. But any generalizations never held up.


Sure, there are differences in the way people lead. But in my experience interviewing executives for the past decade, they are more likely to be driven by other factors, like whether they are introverts or extroverts, more analytical or creative, and even whether they grew up in a large or small family.


That said, there is no doubt that women face much stronger headwinds than men to get the top jobs. And many of those headwinds remain once they become CEOs.


But the actual work of leadership? It’s the same, regardless of whether a man or a woman is in charge. You have to set a vision, build cultural guardrails, foster a sense of teamwork, and make tough calls. All of that requires balancing the endless paradoxes of leadership, and doing it in a way that inspires trust.


I Have Just One Question for You


A big surprise has been all the different answers I’ve heard to the simple question I’ve posed to each leader: How do you hire? Even in recent weeks, I was still hearing job-interview questions I had never heard before.


Just last month, for instance, Daniel Schwartz, the chief executive of the parent company of Burger King, told me that he likes to ask candidates, “Are you smart or do you work hard?” (Yes, there is a right answer, he said: “You want hard workers. You’d be surprised how many people tell me, ‘I don’t need to work hard, I’m smart.’ Really? Humility is important.”)

比如上个月,汉堡王(Burger King)母公司的首席执行官丹尼尔·施瓦茨(Daniel Schwartz)告诉我,他喜欢问应聘者:“你是聪明人,还是勤奋工作的人?”(是的,这个问题有正确答案,他说:“公司希望录取勤奋的雇员,你会惊讶于有那么多人告诉我,‘我不需要勤奋工作,我很聪明。’真的吗?谦卑可是很重要的。”)

Their creativity is no doubt born of necessity. Candidates are so trained to anticipate the usual questions — “What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?” — that CEOs have to come up with bank-shot questions to get around the polished facades.


This has inspired a kind of running game I’ve played with many chief executives: If you could ask somebody only one question, and you had to decide on the spot whether to hire them based on their answer, what would it be?


I’d nominate a question that surfaced during my interview with Bob Brennan, an executive director at CA Technologies, a software firm, who was the chief of Iron Mountain, the records-management company, when I spoke with him.

我推荐鲍勃·布伦南(Bob Brennan)接受采访时所说的问题,他目前是CA科技(CA Technologies)软件公司的执行董事,在我采访他的时候,他在记录管理公司铁山(Iron Mountain)担任首席执行官。

“I want to know how willing people are to really talk about themselves,” Brennan said. “So if I ask you, ‘What are the qualities you like least and most in your parents?’ you might bristle at that, or you might be very curious about it, or you’ll just literally open up to me. And obviously if you bristle at that, it’s too vulnerable an environment for you.”


I’ll let the human resources professionals debate whether such a question is out of bounds.


But I’m hard pressed to think of a better crystal ball for predicting how somebody is likely to behave in the weeks, months and years after you hire them. After all, people often adopt the qualities of their parents that they like, and work hard to do the opposite of what they don’t like.


My Favorite Story


I heard it from Bill Green, who was the chief executive of Accenture, the consulting firm, at the time of our interview. I asked him about his approach to hiring, and near the end of our conversation, he shared this anecdote:

这是我在采访咨询公司埃森哲(Accenture)的首席执行官比尔·格林(Bill Green)时听来的。我问他是怎样招聘的,在采访接近尾声的时候,他分享了这件趣事:

“I was recruiting at Babson College. This was in 1991. The last recruit of the day — I get this résumé. I get the blue sheet attached to it, which is the form I’m supposed to fill out with all this stuff and his résumé attached to the top. His résumé is very light — no clubs, no sports, no nothing. Babson, 3.2. Studied finance. Work experience: Sam’s Diner, references on request.

“我去巴布森学院(Babson College)招聘。那是1991年的事。招聘到了最后一天——我拿到这么一份简历,它后面附着一张蓝色的表单,上面是所有我要求填写的东西,他的简历就写在最上面。他的简历很短——没有俱乐部经历,没有运动经历,什么都没有。只有:巴布森,学分绩点3.2。金融专业。工作经验:山姆餐厅,详情请垂询。

“It’s the last one of the day, and I’ve seen all these people come through strutting their stuff and they’ve got their portfolios and semester studying abroad. Here comes this guy. He sits. His name is Sam, and I say: ‘Sam, let me just ask you. What else were you doing while you were here?’ He says: Well, Sam’s Diner. That’s our family business, and I leave on Friday after classes, and I go and work till closing. I work all day Saturday till closing, and then I work Sunday until I close, and then I drive back to Babson.’ I wrote, ‘Hire him,’ on the blue sheet. He had character. He faced a set of challenges. He figured out how to do both.”


Green elaborated on the quality he had just described.


“It’s work ethic,” he said. “You could see the guy had charted a path for himself to make it work with the situation he had. He didn’t ask for any help. He wasn’t victimized by the thing. He just said, ‘That’s my dad’s business, and I work there.’ Confident. Proud.”


Best Career and Life Advice


My vote for career advice goes to something I heard from Joseph Plumeri, the vice chairman of First Data, a payments-processing company, and former chief executive of Willis Group Holdings. His biggest career inflection points, he told me, came from chance meetings, giving rise to his advice: “Play in traffic.”

我心目中的最佳职业建议来自支付处理公司第一数据(First Data)的副董事长以及韦莱集团(Willis Group Holdings)的前首席执行官约瑟夫·普卢梅里(Joseph Plumeri)。他告诉我,自己职业生涯的最大转折点都来自偶然的会面,因此他建议:“多往外跑”。

“It means that if you go push yourself out there and you see people and do things and participate and get involved, something happens,” he said. “Both of my great occasions in life happened by accident simply because I showed up.”


Plumeri learned this lesson firsthand when he was looking for a job while in law school. He was knocking on doors of various firms, including one called Cogan, Berlind, Weill & Levitt. He managed to get an audience with one of the partners, Sandy Weill, who informed the young Plumeri that this was a brokerage firm, not a law firm.

普卢梅里最早学到这一课是在法学院读书期间找工作的时候。他挨家挨户拜访各种律所,也去了一家名叫科根、柏林德、韦尔与莱维特(Cogan,Berlind,Weill&Levitt)的公司。他设法和其中一个合作伙伴桑迪·韦尔(Sandy Weill)一起聊了聊,对方告诉年轻的普卢梅里,这是一家经纪公司,不是律师事务所。

Despite the awkward moment, something clicked, and Weill gave him a part-time job. And Plumeri moved up as the firm evolved into Citigroup, and he spent 32 years there, many of them in top jobs.


“I tell people, just show up, get in the game, go play in traffic,” Plumeri said. “Something good will come of it, but you’ve got to show up.”