Last month, Glassdoor released its list of the Highest Rated CEOs for 2015. It’s an insterting list: alongside tech giants like Google’s Larry Page (No. 1) and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (No. 4) sit somewhat unexpected names, like Costco’s Craig Jelinek (No. 13) and Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd C. Blankfein (No. 7).
According to Scott Dobroski, a workplace analyst at Glassdoor, this year’s list was the more diverse than the lists of past years, with 15 tech CEOs, 7 retail CEOs, 6 finance CEOs, and 4 manufacturing CEOs, among others.
Again, all of this is really quite interesting, but it’s not why I’m writing about the list. No, I’m writing about the list because Glassdoor sent me a damn good press release.
I don’t mean to say that Glassdoor’s PR team did some slick wheeling and dealing; what I mean to say is that Glassdoor’s press release did something that’s all too rare with press releases these days: it posed a really pertinent and thought-provoking question.
To wit: Why does a top CEOs report matter to HR?
Good question, Glassdoor. Other PR people, take note.
But I digress.
It’s a good question — why should HR departments pay attention to a top CEOs report? – and it points toward an issue that I don’t think we talk about enough: what role can/should CEOs play in a company’s talent strategy?
“[A top CEOs report] matters to HR because HR is on the forefront of supporting what is good for business,” Dorboski says. “Good leadership has a direct impact on recruiting and retention rates.”
Dobroski’s argument is this:
“Not only do CEOs influence the company culture — they really define it. If a company wants to preach and practice that they are transparent, that they are innovative, that they practice work-life balance, it’s actually really important that the CEO put these things into practice him or herself, too. It’s really just leading by example.”
When CEOs lead by example, their behaviors and attitudes trickle down from the top. Senior and middle managers learn from their CEOs, and, in turn, employees learn from their managers. And that’s what really matters.
“If employees — who are really doing the work of the business — are [seeing the CEO's positive example], it motivates them to be more productive,” Dobroski says.
Moreover, strong CEO leadership can also make it easier to recruit and retain top talent.
“The message this year for employers and HR audiences is, Do not ignore the impact that good leadership can have on recruiting and retention,” Dobroski says. “In fact, those employers and HR practitioners who focus … on good leadership … have a competitive edge when it comes to finding talent. No doubt about it: great talent really wants to work at companies with good leadership.”
But all of this means nothing if we don’t know what “good leadership” looks like. So, according to Dobroski, here are the top three common traits shared by the CEOs who made it to Glassdoor’s list:
1. Candid, Visible, Transparent Leadership
“The trust and support of the workforce is built on a foundation of transparency and integrity. Leaders who communicate openly and honestly create an opportunity to develop trust. By listening, understanding[,] and then acting on what is heard from the workforce, the leader builds trust and support. Not all employees will agree with every decision; however, when a leader is trusted, you will find that they are supported even amidst disagreement.”
2. Clear Communication
The top CEOs “all have a very clear vision for where their company is going, how each employee plays a pivotal role in attaining that goal, and what is next, and they clearly communicate this across geographies and time zones,” Dobroski says.
Clear communication gives meaning to the everyday work of employees; it shows them where they fit into the business and how their performance is directly related to overall success.
“When employees understand how their roles and duties support the business and impact the bottom line, they’re really motivated to work,” Dobroski says. “You can imagine, if you come to work and you don’t know why you are doing what you’re doing, you just don’t care as much. When you know your work matters, that’s really enticing for employees.”
3. Personability and Accessibility
Employees prefer CEOs who are personable and approachable — CEOs who lead by example and who regularly mix with the folks in the trenches. CEOs can’t spend all their time locked in their offices.
And, remember what Dobroski said above about communicating “across geographies and time zones”? That’s important, too. CEOs who leave their offices — but only to circulate around headquarters — aren’t very accessible to employees who work in other locations.
“There are ways to be personable and approachable outside of corporate headquarters,” Dobroski says.
For example, Dobroski says, Sephora’s Calvin McDonald — and other retail CEOs, who preside over franchises in far-flung locations — find ways to leverage technology to communicate regularly with their workforces. They’ll send weekly or monthly emails, hold video conferences, and just generally find ways to interact with even their most entry-level employees.
The foregoing traits don’t paint a full picture of the best leaders in the business world, but they’re an important starting point. CEOs who embody these traits can help to create the kind of powerful company cultures that attract and retain the best employees.
And, on the flip side, CEOs who don’t embody these traits can often harm their companies’ talent strategies.
“CEOs who are not highly rated — CEOs who don’t do this — they can lead to really sour company cultures,” Dobroski says.
And nobody wants that.