Being CEO is about making stars, not being one

Bosses could learn a thing or two from Jose Mourinho, says Justin Pahl, UK CEO of agency VMLY&R.

by Justin Pahl
Last Updated: 30 Jan 2020

Speaking after his first win in his new role as manager of Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, Jose Mourinho was quick to shift the spotlight away from himself and onto his players. "I will hate it if somebody says, 'Jose made an impact' - it's not about me, it's about the players and club."

It is an interesting change of tone from the man who branded himself as 'The Special One' following his arrival in England in 2004. But this reveals more than just a shift in personal branding. 

Juxtaposing a modern Mourinho versus the one that took the media by storm 15 years ago reveals just how much modern management has changed. Today, being a leader in business is all about making stars, not being one yourself. 

Being a father to my daughter and seeing her grow, knowing that I am part of her success and the pride that I take in her accomplishments is all the reward I need. Similarly, if I can claim 1 per cent of every one of my employees' success, that is so much more valuable than my own. My success is dwarfed compared with theirs and the pride it gives me. 

It's difficult to quantify how shifting attitudes and behaviours, mixed with various cultural, historical and technological influences, have culminated in this new 21st century perspective on leadership. But it's happening - and what's more, it makes perfect business sense. 

In a world where replication is cheaper and easier than ever, the real opportunity for any business comes from its talent. It's our main - if not only - differentiator. And as a leader, you are only as good as your team. We know that people who feel valued and involved will produce better work - brilliant talent, well-nurtured, creates the conditions for business to thrive. 

Beyond making your business function smoothly, your employees are the front line of how your business or brand is experienced. They play a significant role in developing and growing our reputation - or damaging it if they are unhappy. 

Employee happiness is a crucial metric. And I believe that every business should track their Net Promoter Score and use it as a critical business KPI. Your people have a decisive impact, and it's imperative to know the extent of it. As the CEO, the buck stops with you. You are responsible for all of your people, how they feel, and how well they do.

As a CEO, I've found that one of the best ways to shine a spotlight on the talent is to make sure we're all on the same stage. When I first joined VMLY&R London, I spent the first few weeks carving out the time to sit down and have a coffee and chat with every single employee at the agency. And I may have nearly overdosed on caffeine. Still, it enabled me to develop a connection with my colleagues and gain invaluable insights into the people who are driving the business. 

It is also essential for CEOs and business leaders to have strong working relationships with the HR teams. I have a fantastic HR director who helps me understand what people need and how we can best let our talented team shine. 

It's important to remember that part of letting your team shine is letting your team fail. Sometimes it can mean doing what is right for them, not what is the action of greatest short-term benefit for the company. 

And when things go right - give people their recognition internally. We have a monthly meeting in which we celebrate the work and the efforts people have made - including giving kudos to individuals internally with stakeholders and externally with clients. And when people go above and beyond for the cause and invest their time, we always make sure to pay this back with time in lieu or reward.

We look at creating a fair value exchange between the agency and the people who come in every day; we call it our moral contract. 

It's a given in many companies these days that senior teams sit in open plan. Similarly, I sit in our communal working space as often as I can for informal meetings or to do emails. And all our senior people regularly take time to wander around the agency, say hi and check in with colleagues. It's a simple iteration of being available to chat with the team. 

Much has changed since Mourinho took over Chelsea in 2004, but one of the most pertinent realisations has been that in modern leadership, there is no such thing as a 'Special One'. 

Success comes from a highly-connected team all pulling together in the same direction - modern CEOs in particular need to understand their role in bringing people together and allowing talent to shine throughout their organisation. I am keenly learning myself from our Global CEO Jon Cook, who has an incredible track record of building successful teams and motivating people to go above and beyond. 

So, if your people are happy and the business is thriving, but no one knows your name - don't worry. You might just be doing a pretty good job. 

Image credit: Mark Leech/Offside via Getty Images

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