In my keynote speeches I make a point that mastery in your Job At The Top rests on two obsessions.  One is focused thinking.  About the whole of your business.  The other is conscious attention to character.

Prior installments have given you several frameworks for how to think ….. like a great CEO.  This one shifts the focus to the second half of the equation …. character.  How to handle yourself like a great CEO.

Most people get the thinking part.  But character?  That’s personal … part of who we all are.  And we’re all different.  So I never am surprised with the, “Thanks for the thinking part, but just leave the character part to me” look.

But sorry.  If that’s your reaction, it may be time to step aside.  Or to continue reading.  With an open mind.

Because your character … how you are seen by others … is the most powerful force you have for driving commitment to help you.  To propel your ship on the course you’ve set.  With zealot followers at the oars.  Because the fuel rods for the nuclear reaction businesses … are zealot followers.

So, here’s a gut check …. are your employees zealot followers?

Great company CEO’s answer those questions with yes.  But there’re far too few of them.  The difference?  It’s character …. yours!

Unfortunately, our customary models for character in positions of authority don’t spur zealous followership.  In fact, just the reverse!  They’re designed to ensure compliance.

Yet we still we believe that separating ourselves from everyone else, in big offices, stoicism, toughness, being right, intolerance for mistakes, aloofness and trappings of superiority do the trick.  We couldn’t be more wrong.

For the rest of this article I’ll outline three of nine character traits that may surprise you.  But they all work.  These first three address the general attitude you need to bring to your job.  In following installments, we’ll cover the other six that deal with how you think about your own role and how you deal with others.


Aren’t we supposed to be the most impatient person in our business?  Always pushing for more … better … faster?  My counterpoint here is, Go Slow To Go Fast.

Nothing demotivates smart people more than being told what to do without understanding why, and without leeway to think about how to do it.  The days of “do it now, or else” are over.

The best you’ll get from command and control these days is the minimum effort require to keep a job.  What you’ll miss is others’ thinking about how to help your company …. often better than yours ….. because they’re closer to the action.

Try outlining the outcome you are looking for to your team.  Explain your own ideas for why it’s important. how to get there and the constraints you see.  Then ask them to think about it, to come back to you with their thoughts and, together, decide what to do.


Aren’t we supposed to be the emotionally inert, the rock of duty for our troops?  Whom everyone fears and admires?

If that’s your mode, you already know the results.  Less than what you’d hope they’d be.

Try opening up  and softening up.  It’s no more difficult to be kind and equally respected.  And what will you be gaining by opening up?  No one wants to give anything less than their all to someone who’s continually kind to them.

Kindness in our jobs is simply your consciousness for making everyone feel better about themselves by being part of your organization.  It means thinking about what would inspire them to do more than they’re asked to do.  In order to deliver the things that you want done.  Neither fear nor coldness comes even close to delivering on that expectation.


Aren’t we supposed to be the  greatest skeptic …. the one who makes sure people earn their jobs?  And that we don’t overpay?  Yes, that’s a part of our responsibility.  But the power punch of generosity isn’t about jobs or pay.  It’s about generosity of spirit.

It means expecting people to amaze you.  Not to disappoint.  Because what you expect is usually what you get.  Your willingness to let others know that you believe in them, and are depending on them is their highest motivator.  And when, on occasion, they fall short, take the blame yourself.  Until the shortfalls are egregious enough or habitual, then simply terminate the individual and start encouraging the replacement.

Patience, kindness and generosity.  Approach your work with these ideals in mind.  Start living them consciously.  Continuously.  And you’ll be amazed at the reactions.

CharacterDick Cross is the founder and Managing Principal of The Cross Partnership III, a twenty-year-old, Boston-based, “hands-on” consulting and turn-around firm focused on improving the operating and financial performance of businesses owned by financial sponsors. Over the past decade, Dick has served as an interim President/CEO, leading successful business transitions in eight companies over the past twelve years.

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