The New York Times‘s Adam Bryant interviewed 525 CEOs for his Corner Office column and compiled two excellent books, The Corner Office (2012) and Quick and Nimble (2014,) on leadership and management advice. Foremost among the themes common with successful leaders, Bryant says, is “a simple mindset”—the ability to synthesize the simple from the complex and create organizational priorities.
There’s a really important quality [in great CEOs] that I call a “simple mindset,” which is the ability to take a lot of complicated information and really boil it down to the one or two or three things that really matter, and in a simple way, communicate that to people.
In big organizations—frankly, in any company—there are always a dozen or more competing priorities. And it is the leader’s job to stand up in front of the troops and say, “These are the three things that we are going to focus on this year,” or “These are the goals and this is how we are going to measure them.” If you really want to galvanize people and get them operating as a team, you’ve got to create a simple scoreboard that everybody understands.
The communication style, to me, is secondary to getting the content right. And what I’ve been so often impressed by is leaders who can essentially boil down the company’s goals and operating model into, literally, less than a page.
This is a real trick to leadership—creating a simple structure so that everybody in the organization can understand how the work they are doing contributes to the broader goals.
Rob Andrews, CEO of the executive headhunting firm Allen Austin, underscores this “boil the complex into the simple” approach in his leadership manual, High-Performance Human Capital Leadership (2015,)
I have found that when I go into a company to lead, it is important to have a plan and to make that plan a simple one that everybody can understand. I am constantly asking the question,—What are the two or three levers that, if done right, if pulled correctly, will really turn this business? What are the two or three things that really matter? And I find that most leaders do not really do that often.
Idea for Impact: One of the essential attributes of a modern leader is the ability to cut complexity everywhere. Develop the ability to take large, complicated things—and information—and make them very simple.