Chief Executive Officer
I’m reading New York Times columnist David Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character, which explores how some of our greatest leaders and most admired thinkers have built strong moral characters. The book reads like a long but excellent commencement speech, and it blew me away. What struck me most is how closely the character traits that Brooks praises: kindness, courage, honesty, and faithfulness, are the same ones that I look for in senior management in our portfolio companies. Here is an excerpt from the book:
They radiate a sort of moral joy. They answer softly when challenged harshly, they are silent when unfairly abused. But they get things done. They perform acts of sacrificial service with the same modest everyday spirit they would display if they were just taking out the garbage. They are not thinking about what impressive work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all. They just recognize what needs doing and they do it.
While Brooks didn’t write this book for business leaders (he wrote it because he wanted to emulate his heroes of great character), I think there is something here for business owners looking to improve their chances of success. I have worked with a few CEOs who are joyful, self-possessed and highly effective. These are the ones who scale great heights. I have also worked with, and in some cases really enjoyed, the fun-loving, self-promoting, highly charismatic CEO—I suspect many of us are more familiar with this type (who often appear in newspapers and magazines on their way up and down). Many of these CEOs flame out quickly. Their tendency to over-promise and over-spend (because this character type is often terrific at raising money), combined with their knack for self-promotion, eventually brings them to a crossroad with their board and their employees.
The number one reason humble and self-disciplined CEOs outperform more ego-centric CEOs (read Jim Collins’ Good to Great if you have any doubt on this point) is their ability to hire and retain great people. These leaders are not blindly driven by their need to be flattered and praised and they don’t believe they are more intelligent than everyone else. They recognize, praise and value others, and are praised and valued in return. They don’t need to be the most talented person in the company, and therefore they look for other outstanding leaders who will help make the company better. As a result, their team is made up of players whose individual skillsets often exceed their own. They also delegate readily, own up to their mistakes, and, most important, roll up their sleeves and get things done. Who wouldn’t want to work with this kind of business leader?
At Connecticut Innovations, we have more than 100 portfolio companies, almost all of which are looking for talent. They have produced some of the most exciting, game-changing innovations I’ve seen, among them inventions that are helping to define the future of the Internet of Things and medical diagnostic devices poised to drastically reduce horrific diseases such as tuberculosis.
The inventions are transformative, the teams are talented and passionate, and the companies are poised for growth. Now they just need other committed, emotionally intelligent people to help them carry out their vision. If you possess the traits Brooks (and I) so admire, check out our portfolio and let me know where you think you’d be a fit. We would love your help.