Today’s post is by Dr. Marilyn Jacobson, author of Turning the Pyramid Upside Down: A New Leadership Model (CLICK HERE to get your copy). Here’s Marilyn…
During a one-on-one meeting with Ann Yee-Kono, Executive Vice President of Investment Operations and Technology with Ares Management, we spoke about her prominence in the firm and her participation in Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit.
She asked me what attributes I thought were needed to be a truly outstanding CEO. I replied with a few points, but I have continued to think about her question ever since. She is a rare example of how leadership adds value in a dramatically growing and changing organization. Her emphasis on both individual and team development is what smart leaders must adopt.
Ann started her career at Ares by implementing a global technology platform. While the system proved to be highly effective, it was the thorough, dedicated manner in which she conducted the project that won her praise. As a positive agent for change, she has built a multi-skilled team that is entrepreneurial, disciplined, and accurate. She cross-trains people so that they are continuously learning and being challenged. Her reports describe her as someone who motivates them and differentiates the way she works with individual team members.
She is very conscious of being a leader with all the responsibility that it entails, especially in a company like Ares, which consists of many separate and distinct businesses. As a private equity firm, Ares has several partners, each with unique staffing and team requirements. Being knowledgeable and staying on top of all aspects of the firm is critical. Ensuring that each of her team members is capable and reliable in their effort to support their partners’ increasing demands is also a constant challenge.
The dynamic growth of the firm has necessitated a continuing search for new employees. Training them to get up to speed quickly is essential. They must be qualified to answer partner questions with confidence and accuracy. She delegates, empowers, encourages and models collaboration.
She stays ahead of the curve by accessing new technology, reducing processing time and predicting talent that will be needed. One of her techniques for accomplishing this is a Service Survey completed by partners regularly to learn ways to improve.
Ann is attentive to organizational nuances and quick to see implications. Knowing the industry and reading the environment is enhanced by her networks outside the firm. As part of a consortium of asset managers, attendance at conferences plus watching what competitors are doing helps her to maximize what she can achieve in her position.
While her question regarding the attributes of a CEO suggests she is thinking ahead, it is also evident that what is sought is not power or influence but more interesting and challenging work in the arena where decisions with the biggest risks and rewards are made.
Giving up power by empowering others is a hurdle for some who equate leadership with “being on top.” Advancement to the C-Suite connotes both title and role. While turning the pyramid upside down is a major paradigm change, one current leader said “I never had so much power until I started giving it away.”
Empowering for Ann is:
– Preparing those who report to her to anticipate and be ready to answer the toughest questions partners or senior executives might ask so thoroughly and accurately that they do not need to go to Ann. Three benefits occur—the recipients’ questions and issues are resolved, they believe that Ann is doing a great job developing her people and Ann has freed up time to concentrate on strategy with peers and partners.
– Empowering teams by presenting them with an issue and asking them to define the problem and determine an action plan. Typically, teams are charged with an already formulated problem. Given the opportunity to reframe so that choice is not just between doing this or that but doing both presents an opportunity to explore far better courses of action. This happened at Encyclopedia Brittanica when senior executives framed the issue dividing this formidable company as book vs. technology. That led to its demise. It takes an empowered team to see the real issue. The benefits are teams that can be trusted to think as well as execute and might even be sharp enough to save the business.
Each firm has its own culture, but some individuals deliberately work at shaping their own path to leadership in their division. Building high-functioning teams is one way that leaders free themselves to think, act and contribute strategically. Flexible, agile and cross-trained team members are also learning that they can play a critical role not only in developing themselves but their peers. This reduces competition and encourages a united approach to advancing the business and themselves. While most teams are designed to be implementers, not decision makers, increasingly the promise for teams is to take their knowledge and experience to the next level which is analysis, project design and delivery.
What Ann emphasizes is the importance of networking. She claims this connects her to people with expertise and mindsets outside her organization and industry. She is exposed to alternative ways of visualizing the future and addressing common problems. Creative solutions surface. Through association memberships and participation in formal or informal discussion groups, individuals begin to think outside of cultural mores and open up to new ways of framing issues that can lead to less biased and more informed decision-making.
– Dr. Marilyn Jacobson has had a wide-ranging career in both academia and management consulting. As a PhD. from Northwestern University, she has taught in the MBA programs at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Loyola University. Over two decades, she has consulted with organizations ranging from AT&T Solutions to the Republic of Indonesia. She now holds a private practice as an executive coach, and is the author of a new book, Turning the Pyramid Upside Down: A New Leadership Model (CLICK HERE to get your copy).