Effective leadership is about more than just the qualities of the leader, it is also about having the right balance between one’s behaviors, needs and environment. A good leader can assess what his/her employees need, take note of the situation at hand and then adjust their behavior according to that situation. Leadership style is important as well.
Brad Smith is the CEO of Intuit, one of the largest and most successful financial software companies. They are the maker of QuickBooks accounting software. Intuit is a public company with $4B in total revenue. Intuit has been consistently ranked as one of Fortune’s Best 100 Companies to work for and most admired software companies for several years. Brad Smith, as a leader values and encourages team work, and believes the collaborative spirit of we, rather than I is at the core of Intuit’s success (Williams 2012). Brad Smith has the characteristics of a good leader. He is self-aware, honest, shows integrity, is a good communicator and is passionate about empowering his employees to be the best. According to Bauer and Erdogan (2015), “people who are effective as leaders tend to have a moral compass and demonstrate honesty and integrity.” Brad Smith believes that you should push the limit and challenge employees to step outside their comfort zone and encourage them to take strategic chances and become something great (Lockard 2012). He believes that no matter the size of a company, their CEO needs to remove the barriers to innovation and get out of the way by giving employees the autonomy to make their own decisions. “We create and foster a culture where our nearly 8,000 employees worldwide have the courage to take risks and grow by learning from success and failure” (Williams 2012). Being a trustworthy leader is important, as trust is central to all organized human groups no matter what industry one is in (Amanchukwu, Stanley, Ololube 2015). According to Smith, as a leader it’s a good idea to trust employees and ask them for suggestions when facing challenges that seem too big to handle on their own as even the most intelligent leaders don’t have all the answers (Lockard 2012). By trusting his employees, Smith in turn is also able to gain the trust of his employees.
According to Brad Smith, creating a strong company culture is key to success. He says, “the culture you create lays the foundation that enables every other part of the company to grow and succeed” (Smith 2016). He says he values and encourages collaboration within teams. Another part of their company success and culture is their customers. Their innovations are customer driven and they strive to deliver the best access to their customers anytime and anywhere, which sets them apart from competitors (Williams 2012). Besides empowering employees to step outside their comfort zone and be the best, Brad Smith believes that recognizing employees for their innovative work is important. Reward systems need to accomplish at the minimum two goals; they need to motivate individual performance and maintain group cohesion (Cropanzano, Bowen & Gilliland 2007). The way Smith’s company recognizes employees is by having annual innovation awards, patent rewards and opportunities throughout the year for employees to showcase their work. Even though rewards are great, Smith believes that “the best reward for employees is seeing their profound impact of their work on the lives of our more than 50 million customers” (Williams 2012). He also believes that it’s important for him as CEO to foster an environment where everyone’s ideas matter. His way of empowering his employees helps him to get the buy-in and trust from his employees.
According to Amanchukwu, Stanley and Ololube (2015) contemporary theories tend to be categorized under several perspectives; leadership as a process or relationship, leadership as a combination of personality characteristics and leadership skills. There are several theories that would apply to Brad Smith’s leadership style; participatory theory, relationship theory and skills theory. Brad Smith often says that he encourages teamwork and collaboration and leaders should include their employees in their decision making as no leader has the answer to everything. He includes employees in decision making and listens to their ideas. He believes that great leaders hire people who are better than them and don’t feel threatened when employees perform tasks better than they can because that’s what they were hired to do. This behavior would fall under the participatory theory, which suggests that the ideal leadership style takes input of others into account. Participative leaders such as Brad Smith “encourage participation and contributions from group members and help group members to feel relevant and committed to the decision-making process. A manager who uses participative leadership, rather than making all the decisions, seeks to involve other people, thus improving commitment and increasing collaboration, which leads to better quality decisions and a more successful business” (Amanchukwu, Stanley, Ololube 2015). Smith’s leadership style would also fall under the Relationship Theory, which says that transformational leaders motivate and inspire their employees by helping them understand the importance and bigger picture of the task at hand. These types of leaders that fall under the Relationship Theory also focus on their group’s performance and help each employee fulfill his/her full potential. These leaders are often seen as having higher moral and ethical standards (Amanchukwu, Stanley, Ololube 2015). Brad Smith’s leadership style could also partially fall under the Skills Theory, which often demands that a significant amount of time and resources are devoted to leadership training and development. This theory also believes that learned skills, a developed leadership style and acquired knowledge are inherent traits of an effective leader (Amanchukwu, Stanley, Ololube 2015). Brad Smith being CEO of Intuit for over ten years has helped him develop the skills to be a more effective leader. One of the contemporary approaches to leadership that Brad Smith uses is the empowerment of employees through job design. Through empowerment, employees are given the opportunity to make decisions and perform their jobs more effectively if managers remove certain barriers. Leaders should create an environment where employees are motivated, thrive and are given decision-making autonomy (Bauer & Erdogan 2015).
Being able to influence one’s organization in a positive way is important to an organization’s success. Creating a company culture that appreciates their employees’ hard work, cares about them and fosters an environment where team work rules, is a culture that many want to be a part of. According to Brad Smith, “to create a strong company culture is to create something people want to be a part of, and encourage their friends to join. The cornerstone to creating such a culture begins with an aspirational purpose, backed by an environment where employees’ ideas matter as much as yours, and where people can get things done. Then to keep you honest along the way, constantly diagnosing your progress—or lack of progress—by conducting front-line employee chats. If you do all these well, your culture will speak for itself” (Smith 2016). By creating a strong and positive company culture Brad Smith can influence his whole organization. Smith also believes that a CEO’s job is to articulate and communicate purpose across the company so all team members have something to rally around. By having a strong mission statement and communicating the company’s message, he is able to get the buy-in from his employees. According to Naylor (1999), for organizations to be effective: leaders need to share information with their teams regularly; they need to have open communication and provide adequate information and they should have face to face discussions with employees when sharing complex information. Another way Brad Smith is able to influence his followers is by having regular one-on-one meetings with his employees. He’s a strong believer of regular chats, which he thinks are a great way to learn if his people feel empowered. When he has sit down chats with his employees, he normally asks them three questions: “What’s getting better than it was six months ago, and why? What is not making enough progress, or is actually getting worse than it was six months ago, and why? What is the one thing you think I need to know that will help you be more effective? The first two questions are the 90 percent diagnostic. The last question is the 10 percent inspiration. When I learn something about the company I didn’t know, it’s a surprise that I savor” (Smith 2016). As a leader by showing empathy, that he cares about his employees’ wellbeing and wants to help them progress in their careers, Smith is able to get their buy in. Brad Smith uses transformational leadership as a way to manage. This type of leadership has a strong influence over a leader’s effectiveness and employee satisfaction (Bauer & Erdogan 2015). Transformational leaders improve the intrinsic motivation of their employees, build stronger relationships with their teams, increase individual and team performance and creativity and create stronger levels of commitment to their organizational change efforts (Bauer & Erdogan 2015).
A current approach to motivating employees through job design is by empowering employees. Brad Smith is a strong believer of empowering employees in their jobs. He believes that leaders should empower employees to contribute ideas, make an impact and set goals that challenge them to step outside their comfort zone. He also believes that no matter the size of the organization, it is very important to remove any barriers to innovations and to get out of the way so that employees can have the autonomy to make their own decisions (Williams 2012). According to Bauer and Erdogan (2015), if leaders remove certain barriers and empower employees, they give them the ability to make their own informed decisions and to perform their jobs effectively. Rather than dictating how one should do their jobs, organizations need to create a work environment where employees are motivated, thrive and have the discretion to make their own decisions about their jobs. Brad Smith says that leaders should create goals that challenge their employees to step outside their comfort zone and to push themselves to be the best at something. If a leader is supportive and goals are set to create “demand characteristics in that they are an implicit expression of the leader’s confidence in the person that the goal can and will be attained. A vision provided by a leader that galvanizes and inspires people is likely to increase goal commitment to the extent that the goal leads to concrete action steps toward the attainment of the vision” (Latham 2004).
A leader that is effective needs to be passionate about the work they do, be visionary, creative, innovative, inspirational, flexible and needs to be able to initiate change when necessary (Amanchukwu, Stanley and Ololube 2015). Companies can operate either with an open or closed system. An open system allows information to flow in and uses that information to interact dynamically with its environment. Having an open system allows for better communication and in turn will lead to a better functioning organization (Ololube 2012). Brad Smith as CEO has an open-door policy and encourages his team to come to him with several proposed solutions to their questions, as majority of the time employees have the answer and are just looking at their leader to empower and support them in their decision making (Williams 2012). A big part of leading successfully across an organizational setting, is by empowering employees to make their own decisions, to be innovative and not afraid to make mistakes. According to Judge and Piccolo (2014), good leaders attend to the needs of their employees and act as mentors and listen to their employees concerns and needs. Brad Smith is a strong believer of empowering his organization and setting goals that are challenging, and then following up by rewarding his employees for their hard work. By having an open-door policy and regular chats with his employees, Brad Smith is leading by being a mentor and coach to his team. According to Bell (2013) transformational leaders, also known as charismatic leaders inspire excitement in their teams and are enthusiastic about motivating their teams to move forward. This excitement and commitment from employees benefits organizational productivity and goal achievement.
A part of being a great leader is to be able to adapt to different environments and to be able to adjust one’s leadership skills depending on the situation at hand. The Situational Leadership Theory talks about the level of directive and supportive behaviors that leaders exhibit. This theory states that in order to be an effective leader, one needs to use the correct style of behavior at the right time in every employee’s development (Graeff 1983). Depending on the stage of his employees’ careers and development, Brad Smith as a leader should ensure that he adjusts his management style when having one on one chats with his employees. According to Graeff (1983), individuals who are at the early stages of their career development require a leader to be more directive and less supportive as they have a lower competence for their tasks, while employees that are further along in their careers require more coaching from their leaders and once they are at higher competency levels, employees require more supportive and delegative behaviors from their leader. Smith is a great supportive and participatory leader, but also needs to ensure that he is more of a situational and directive leader when dealing with employees of different development levels.
Brad Smith uses The Path Goal Theory of leadership to successfully lead his organization. The Path-Goal theory is based on the expectancy theory of motivation. This theory suggests that individuals are motivated when they expect that their hard work will lead to high performance, that their performance will lead to rewards and that those rewards are valuable to them (Mitchell 1974). As discussed, Smith believes that employees need to be empowered to make their own decisions, need to be innovative and rewarded for their hard work. Leaders also need to remove any roadblocks along the way for their employees and create a work environment where employees feel motivated and empowered (Mitchell 1974). Again, Smith as a leader believes that individuals want to be a part of something big that impacts the world positively and want to be a part of a purpose driven culture and they want to be given the autonomy to make their own decisions. He believes that employees are innovative and successful when barriers are removed and they are given the autonomy to make their own decisions and mistakes they can learn from and in turn use those experiences to become great at what they do. The path-goal theory also identifies four leadership styles: directive leaders, supportive leaders, participative leaders and achievement oriented leaders (Mitchell 1974). Smith leads by being a supportive and participative leader.
Brad Smith believes that a strong company culture is needed for success, you want a culture that employees want to be a part of and encourage their friends to join them there. He believes that in order to create that type of culture leaders like himself need to lead with an aspirational purpose, strong mission statement and create an environment where individuals’ ideas matter as much as their leader’s does and an environment where employees can get things done (Smith 2016). He also thinks that in order to stay honest and humble along the way, a great leader needs to constantly look at their own progress and performance or the lack there of, and the way they can do that is by having face to face chats with employees and getting their feedback.
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