In case you didn’t see it, check out the excellent interview with Gordon Bethune, ex-CEO of Continental Airlines, in last Sunday’s New York Times. I’m not sure why such an apparently high-performing leader would be attracted to the perennially low-performing airline business, but Bethune successfully lead Continental from 1994 to 2004.
For me, Bethune embodies what Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, called “level five leaders” — CEOs who are self-effacing, quiet but aggressive, always ready to “share the stage” with their employees. These are traits that will be at a premium as companies (particularly financial services firms) re-build trust with their customers, employees, and society at large, post-recession.
Here are a few of my favorite quotations from the interview:
“…being good at your job is predicated pretty much on how the people working for you feel.”
“…pick good guys, give them the training they need and let them use their own judgment.”
“You know [good judgment] when you see it. Somebody who knows what they’re doing, who has a good track record, they come across as very articulate, bright and looking for a challenge — that’s absolutely my kind of hire.”
“I did a weekly voice mail [to the whole company] every week for 10 years, a three-to five-minute message.”
“[Employees] had direct access to me, and direct access to the information.”
“And we never lied. You don’t lie to your own doctor. You don’t lie to your own attorney, and you don’t lie to your employees.”
“You need to take the time to show the people around you who work for you that you’re interested in them. So I would schedule my time like that.”