From the November 3, New York Times and the Corner Office column by Adam Bryant and his interview with David Cote, chairman and chief executive of Honeywell,
What are some leadership lessons that you’ve learned over the course of your career?
I have a reputation for being decisive. Most people would say that being decisive is what you want in a business leader. But it’s possible for decisiveness to be a bad thing. Because if you’re decisive, you want to make decisions — give me what you’ve got, and I’ll make a decision. I’d say that the lower you are in an organization, you can get away with a lot of that and you’ll be applauded for it.
But with bigger decisions, you can make bigger mistakes, so you have to really think about the kind of decision you’re making. Is this the kind that’s easily reversible? Or is this one where, if I make a decision and I’m wrong, there can be significant ramifications? Then I’ve got to think about it a little differently. As itchy as I might be to make a decision, what I’ve taught myself to do is to tell everybody that this is a preliminary decision, and we will go through it again in 48 or 72 hours, or however much time I think we have. It’s important to get it right.
I’ve also had to think about the kind of people I put around me. If I’m very decisive and I surround myself with people who just want me to make decisions, then we’ll go off the cliff at 130 miles an hour, because at some point I’ll be wrong. What I need are people who want to come to their own conclusions and are willing to think independently, and can argue with me in the right way so that I will internalize it and keep it objective as opposed to emotional. There’s this phrase I use a lot when I teach leadership classes at Honeywell: Your job as a leader is to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the beginning of the meeting. It’s your job to flush out all the facts, all the opinions, and at the end make a good decision, because you’ll get measured on whether you made a good decision, and not whether it was your idea from the beginning.
What are the most important points you try to convey in those leadership classes?
We have 12 behaviors that we talk about at Honeywell, but people often ask: What’s the most important one? They’re all important, but I finally said: “O.K., I could pick two and say that these two drive everything else.”
The first one is you have to get results, and you have to get them the right way. Because I don’t want to just make the numbers this quarter at any cost. I want to make the quarter, but make it with the right kind of disciplines in our processes so that we make the quarter three years from now and five years from now.
The second one is that you have to be self-aware and a learner. I’ll tell them that as you go from one job to another, there are usually two failure modes. One is “this is what I did in my last job, so this is what I’m going to do in my new job.” The other is “boy, this is all new, I don’t know anything, and I’ve got to build consensus and just get everyone to agree.” The trick is in the 80-20 rule. Eighty percent of what you did is still right. With the 20 percent, you have to adjust. But figuring out which part is the 80 and which is the 20 is the tough part. You’re going to have to adjust, and you’re going to have to figure it out for yourself.
Here is the link to the entire article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/business/honeywells-david-cote-on-decisiveness-as-a-2-edged-sword.html