Management Principles CEOs Can Learn from Nucky Thompson
Last night I was watching Boardwalk Empire and realized there are a handful of management principles to be learned from Nucky’s current predicament. The past few years have been very lucrative for Nucky, and he has become a bit enamored with his success. As his empire has grown, Nucky has been left with less time and energy to spend with his associates. At the same time has maintained control over most of day-to-day decision making. This has left many, including Jimmy (his #2) and Eli (brother), disillusioned.
Unfortunately, Nucky’s situation is all too familiar to expansion stage CEOs. As your company grows and becomes “lucrative,” your most precious commodity — time — becomes almost non-existent. As CEO you end up having to manage way too many constituents — investors, board of directors, employees, customers, all while your company is experiencing explosive growth. It ain’t easy.
Given this time pressure, CEOs often spend too little time understanding how their management teams and employees perceive them and their performance. To make matters worse, they also end up having a hard time letting go of the reins. In Nucky’s case, these two challenges led to the unrest. Considering this is not an uncommon problem, I thought I would pass along a few suggestions on how to improve communication and create a feedback loop. While these three concepts might seem very basic; very rarely do we actually see all three implemented.
Establish and encourage open communication across the entire organization
“I’m prepared to hear your side,” Nucky says to his brother Eli. “Because in a minute it’s going to be too late.” Clearly this is not the right way to establish a open line of communication. One of the most common mistakes we see CEO’s make is his/her tendency to manage up and not down. They spend entirely too much time keeping their BOD members happy. While we certainly appreciate the constant communication, that is not how you build a lasting company and happy employee base. Keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening at every level of the organization is essential for effective leadership. Some of our most successful CEOs actually make this a physical initiative, setting up an open cube environment where they sit in the middle of the entire company. It sets an egalitarian tone and gives them the opportunity to hear and feel the company, as well as increased approachability.
Another productive way to approach this is to schedule regular feedback sessions with different levels of the organization. Set up a weekly lunch with a diverse set of team members to get a true schematic view of the different departments and issues they are confronting. At a minimum, dedicate a portion of your time every week to walk around the office and talk to people in all levels and departments of the organization. Jack Welch once said he learned more walking around the office then he ever did from management or board meetings.
Implement a 360-degree review policy
It’s rare that any of us see ourselves as others do. You review everyone in your company, but who reviews you? To get a true sense of your abilities as a leader, you need to implement a once-a-year 360-degree review process, in which both your board and your team are giving you honest feedback on your performance. (For an in-depth post about this review process, check out our podcast and transcript.)
Conducting the review is the easy part. Actually implementing change is quite difficult. Once you have collected the data synthesize it into a digestible format and share it with the broader management team. Then spend time discussing that summary with each member of the team and ask them for suggestions on how to improve. That process should result in a clear development plan with achievable quarterly goals. Make sure you are measuring your progress each quarter by soliciting feedback from all of the invested parties.
For more tips on getting effective employee feedback, check out this post.
Transparency is critical for empowered and productive teams
Transparency starts at the top. Set up an all-hands meeting at least once a quarter, possibly once a month depending on your company. Be open and honest about the company’s performance and challenges. This helps get everyone aligned and establishing priorities. Most importantly, invite feedback and encourage questions during these sessions. By creating engagement and buy-in from you employees it will feel like everyone is rowing together.
Ultimately to become a great leader and build a lasting company, a CEO needs to establish a feedback loop, create transparency and maintain an open line of communication. Otherwise you run the risk of ending up in Nucky’s predicament. “You know the funny thing?” Eli asks Nucky. “Nobody takes power. Somebody else has to give it to them.”