The “Corner Office” column in the New York Times is back! Over the years, the column has provided valuable insight into the way key leaders think. The column was discontinued. It has now returned featuring a respected leader of one of our customer companies. The Questions/Answers are addressed to Kenneth Frazier, CEO at Merck. His answers are helpful for people at all levels in any organization. I quote (with my emphasis):
Q: “How do you prioritize your time?”
A: “There are three things that the CEO should be focused on. Number one is the sense of purpose and direction that the company needs, making sure that it’s always clear, and that people know what we’re all about. The second thing is capital allocation. We only have so many resources. Making sure that you’re putting those resources where you have the greatest opportunity. And the third, which I think by far is the most important, is to make sure that you have the right people in the most important jobs inside the company.”
I appreciate the clarity of his message and also see his advice being applicable for all leaders. Knowing the direction, and setting clear EXPECTATIONS, is key for ourselves personally and for those we lead. Resources will always be scarce. Properly allocating those resources, including your personal energy, is a key to success. Putting the right people in key positions is one of the most important roles we play as leaders. In addition, personally being in the right position to maximize your value is also a high priority.
Q: “What advice would you give to college graduates?”
A: “I think people should seek adventure in life, as opposed to just allowing their ambitions to drive where they want to end up. Lots of people say, ‘Tell me what are the steps to get from here to the CEO’s office?’ I can say honestly I never sought to be a CEO, but what I’ve always wanted was a new challenge, what I call an adventure. Seek adventure. Seek excitement in what you do.”
Being open to new challenges builds skill and experience. You can have ten years of experience, or one year of experience ten times over. Go for the new experiences. I have even seen assignments that looked like a high career risk turn into great opportunities. It is key to enjoying the journey. If you are not enjoying the journey, you will not enjoy the destination. Many people think happiness is arriving at some position in an organization (CEO or another position). It is a myth. Steven Covey refers to it as “Climbing the ladder and realizing the ladder is against the wrong wall.”
Frazier sees leaders as the keepers of the soul of the company, “The most important role of a leader is to safeguard the heritage and values of the company.”