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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Driving Positive Leadership

Bob Kidder is the newly appointed chairman of Chrysler.

Here are his thoughts on what drives positive leadership:

Think big picture

“You need to think big picture. Ask yourself: what is the greater organisational objective? A good leader needs to have the ability to think like a generalist, to broaden the lens beyond the current scope.”

Hire top talent

Kidder sees people at the core of any organisation’s success. “Starting with my days at McKinsey, it is tremendously powerful to work in a high density of smart people, it is absolutely infectious and drives peak performance.”

Cultivate team spirit

“People in an organisation need to feel like they are part of something special. Similar to my experience at McKinsey where, once joined, people embrace a lifetime fraternal bond, it is key for an organisation’s success to nurture these connections.” Starting with the board, Kidder led his group of new directors through a 3-day intense orientation program. Interestingly, for the first day, the board did nothing but drive every model that Chrysler makes, with engineers in the passenger seats who would explain the details.

Focus on opportunities

Human energy plays a central role in a positive change agenda. Focusing on strengths, optimism and opportunities, Kidder confirms: “Sergio Marchionne’s (the ceo of Fiat and Chrysler) mantra is: ‘everything is up for change’. I personally support his notion that nobody is supposed to be locked in, lifting artificial constraints put on people.”

Effectively listen

He applauds Sergio Marchionne’s ability to deeply listen to concerns and ideas that subordinates and stakeholders share with him. In line with this, as chairman, Kidder regularly sets out to speak with decision-makers in the firm to see what changes need to be made and checks whether there are any strategic disconnects or red flags: “I am an additional pair of ears, here to support Sergio in his role.”

Clearly communicate

Kidder emphasises the importance of having open communication between an organisation’s leadership and its employees and stakeholders: “We need to let our people know what our vision is, where our priorities are and what we strive to achieve.”

Empower people and hold them accountable

When Kidder became CEO of Borden, then a very bureaucratic and highly diversified structure, one of his first decisions was to decentralise the firm. Kidder gave individual CEOs decision-making power, encouraged them to take risks, to succeed and also to fail. Also new to the firm, these business leaders were held accountable for their results, which drove a cultural change and ultimately had a positive effect on bottom line.

Engage leaders who possess ‘the guts to make a decision’

A proponent of participative leadership, Kidder is strongly opposed to the concept of shared governance, a model under which all constituents need not only be heard but also have to agree on next steps before action can be taken: “This, to me, is really the absence of leadership. Such an approach lacks clarity and it slows down decision-making unnecessarily.”

So why does a 64 year old executive who has accomplished everything prefer helping Detroit to kicking back in the vineyards of southern California? Because – for him – the rewards of positive leadership make it a journey worth pursuing.