5 questions to ask when hiring a CEO

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on March 9, 2015

As a former CEO and as a current director and trustee on a number of boards, I am asked to interview candidates for senior leadership positions at for-profit and nonprofit organizations. By the time I am asked to interview a candidate, they have gone through the vetting process regarding their skills, experience and the results they have achieved during their careers. Therefore, I focus on five questions that reveal a lot about an individual’s value system and leadership style, which based on my experience indicates a lot about whether the candidate will be effective and successful.

If you are the interviewer of a candidate for a senior leadership position, ask these questions. If you are the candidate being interviewed, decide how you would respond to them.

  • What does tone at the top mean to you, and what tone will you set for your organization?
  • What is the corporate or institutional culture you will nurture within your area of responsibility?
  • When hiring direct reports, what attributes do you look for, and how will you search for and select the very best people to work for you?
  • How would you describe your leadership style?
  • How will you lead, motivate and inspire every employee within your organization to achieve great results?

Tone at the top

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Silverman: A lesson in the power of networking

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on March 2, 2015

The power of networking came into sharp focus for me a few weeks ago when I was able to introduce a student of the Pennoni Honors College of Drexel University to a C-suite executive at eBay. I was able to assist this student only through a chain of events that started a year ago. One break in this chain and the introduction would not have occurred.

After speaking with a group of Pennoni Honors College students at a “lunch and learn” event on how to develop into effective leaders as their careers progress, one of the students introduced herself and shared her goal to work in Silicon Valley in the area of communications and marketing after graduation. She asked me if I knew anyone who might be able to help her achieve her goal. I immediately thought of an executive (and Drexel alum) at eBay who I met last March on my trip to Silicon Valley with Donna De Carolis, founding dean of the Close School of Entrepreneurship, her staff and 16 of her students. Had I not gone on that trip, the introduction would not have occurred.

On that trip to Silicon Valley, I witnessed the drive and energy of De Carolis, her staff and Drexel’s Close School students, and met numerous entrepreneurs starting new businesses and pushing the boundaries of what was thought to be possible. Had I not gone on that trip, I would not have been inspired to start writing a column on effective leadership in the Philadelphia Business Journal, which was at the time a new endeavor for this board member and former CEO.

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Comcast’s hard journey to customer service success

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on February 23, 2015

Recently I wrote an article on Comcast’s customer service in which I referenced the American Customer Satisfaction Index survey data published quarterly by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. That survey data indicated that Internet service providers and subscription TV providers were the lowest-ranked industry in customer satisfaction. There is much room for improvement for companies within this industry.

Companies that provide Internet and subscription TV service are very customer service intensive and their reputations are earned by the customer experience they deliver. My definition of a great customer experience is the ability for a customer to call in to the company, promptly get to the right individual to order new service, cancel their account, receive help operating their remote or fix a billing problem, and have a pleasant experience doing so. When requesting a service call, delivering a great customer experience is to fulfill the customer’s expectation that the service technician will arrive on time, know how to fix the problem and fix it in a timely manner.

Providing a great customer experience – whether it be by a company’s own or contract employees – takes the right people, the right culture and the right training. In addition, the right infrastructure and processes need to be in place so customers don’t get passed around until the right individual is found to handle their issue.

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Little League Scandal serves as teachable moment in ethics

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on February 17, 2015

Last week, the U.S. Little League championship team Jackie Robinson West from Chicago was stripped of its title because it was found that the adult leaders of the team stacked its roster with players from outside its geography, a violation of Little League rules. Their opponent who lost the U.S. championship game, Mountain Ridge Little League, from Las Vegas, was then awarded the U.S. title.

Stephen Keener, president and CEO of Little League International, stated, “We had to do this, we had no choice. We have to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. We have over 7,000 Little League programs around the world that are looking at us to provide leadership and uphold the standards of our program. So as painful as this is, it is a necessary outcome from what we finally have been able to confirm. … We just feel horribly for the kids that are involved in this. … They were kids just out playing baseball … It’s going to be hard on these kids … that’s the part that breaks our hearts.”

Community activist Rev. Michael Pfleger said in a Philly.com article, “We are asking a law group to look into this, to investigate, because we are hearing from folks all over the country that the [geographic boundary] standards Jackie Robinson West is being held to … [are not the standards to which other teams are being held] …” Rev. Jesse Jackson has accused Little League Baseball of racism for stripping the title from JRW, the first all-African-American team to win the championship. Certainly, those supporting JRW will conduct their own investigation to determine if geographic boundary rules were violated, and determine if Little League Baseball has held other teams to the same standard.

If Little League geographic boundary rules were violated which favored one team over another, action must be taken. Just think how patently unfair it would be to the other teams if the team which violated the rules was not disqualified, even if the violation was not caused by the kids, but by the adults managing the team. If a team does violate the boundary rules and is not disqualified, what precedent does it set?

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In Selecting Your Next Leaders, Here Are 4 Things More Important Than A Great Resume

Perhaps the most important thing every leader must do is to select and prepare his or her successor, or at least to create a leadership culture where budding leaders have the best opportunity to flourish.

However, even in a thriving leadership culture, sometimes it becomes necessary to look outside the organization for its next leader. When that is the case, often the board and its search firm scour resumes to find that one person with a blue chip line of experience together with a storied body of successful experience in just those areas most important to the organization. But don’t stop there. Although experience and expertise are important, we believe there are four characteristics that are even more valuable:

Honesty – a natural inclination to do the honest thing, in both positive and negative situations.

A Listener – someone who automatically listens first and even has the skill to draw out the positions of others in the organization before voicing his/her own.

Optimism – not a Pollyanna, but a person who approaches life from a positive perspective and reflects a positive outlook and environment.

Respect – for people and their ideas, no matter what their status is.

For best results, create your short list based on resumes and then make your final selection based on these 4 qualities.

Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com

As A Leader, Are You Communicating Your Expectations To Your Employees?

Years ago, as the new CEO of my company, I set out to tour our divisions once our business strategy and plan had been finalized. I wanted to present it so everyone would be on the same page. After a presentation to one division in particular, I had an opportunity to sit down with their divisional management team to chat.

After a number of their questions relating to where I saw product growth from their division together with an appeal for the allocation of capital resources to support that growth, it soon became apparent that there was a major disconnect here. This division’s product line was in a highly mature category where cash generation from them was our corporate goal and it was critical to supplying capital to other high growth areas of the company. Once I explained that to them, they actually seemed relieved – they knew what was expected of them. I pointed out the change in tenor of our conversation to which they remarked, “no one had ever taken the time to explain their place in the business plan.” “We were stressing over growth when the company just needed us to provide as much cash as possible.” Once they understood their assigned mission and the role they played, they could focus on their part in making it a success.

Don’t make your employees guess what their role is and what your expectations are of them when communicating the company’s plan. To maximize results as a leader, everyone must understand their roles. To accomplish this:

1) take time to present your big picture plan directly

2) clarify everyone’s role in achieving the plan

3) reinforce their worth and value in achieving organizational success.

This will help create a sense of ownership in your employees, and increase the probability of achieving the plan.

4 Powerful New Year’s Resolutions For Leaders

As the calendar flips to 2015, many people will be making New Year’s resolutions. Many of their goals will be personal, some will be professional, but regardless of their nature, creating goals is often an innate characteristic of an effective leader. Here are four suggestions for New Year’s resolutions to better create and maintain an effective leadership culture at your organization:

1. Become a better listener. Resolve to listen to new ideas and approach every suggestion with an unbiased and open mind. Your employees and peers will appreciate it, and it will make everyone better at their jobs.

2. Respect! They say that respect is not given, but earned. Have you earned the respect of your employees through effective leadership? Perhaps. But just as importantly, have your employees earned your respect through hard work, smart ideas and great initiative? If so, and you haven’t communicated it, the new year is a great time to start.

3. Re-evaluate. Are you rubber-stamping another similar plan for 2015 or will you try some things that are new? For most organizations, complacency can be a death sentence. Have confidence in testing some new things, even if some might fail. Especially if things are going well, don’t be content to sit back because business is fickle and things can change at any moment.

4. Stick to your principles. Even as effective leaders maintain an open and honest dialogue about the goals of their organization, it’s crucial that these goals happen through the prism of your own—and by extension, the organization’s—core values. When was the last time you thought about your core values? If it’s been a while, re-establish them. Employees appreciate and can rally around a leader and an organization with a strongly communicated mission and goal.

Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com

On Valuing A Leadership Culture

Throughout my life, I have been a student of leadership. In the business and non-profit world, I have worked for leaders and have observed leaders, both good and bad. I have been a leader myself. Leadership fascinates me. Perhaps it fascinates you too. What makes an effective, or even a superlative leader, has been both a personal and professional quest for me.