Keys to CEO success: Connect and collaborate

Flickr user Patrick H~

(MoneyWatch) If you are a CEO looking to help your company get ahead, focus on collaboration.

That is a key finding from IBM's fifth biennial Global CEO study, which involved conversations with more than 1,700 CEOs and "senior public sector leaders" worldwide.

The theme of the IBM study is connectedness, underscoring how collaboration is essential to the way CEOs engage with employees, customers, and new business partners. "More than half of all CEOs see human capital, customer relationships, and innovation as key sources of sustained economic value," the study states.

Metrics bear this out. According to IBM, organizations that capitalize on, rather than fight, change and leverage collaboration tend to see the benefits on the bottom line. For example, according to the CEOs of higher performing organizations, 84 percent of their CEOs said their organizations "translated insights into action better than industry peers." And 73 percent of these same CEOs said their organization "excel at managing change."

CEOs surveyed hold themselves accountable for three aspects of leadership: customer obsession, inspiration, and leadership team. No surprise on customer focus, but the attention to inspiration and teaming is worth noting. Research over the past few years has shown that employees are looking for inspiration. This is a result no doubt of the uncertainty that governs our era. The IBM study shows that CEOs are listening.

The concept of leadership teaming is what occurs in the C-suite. CEOs are expecting their senior colleagues to collaborate. More and more, they need their top people to work cross-functionally. Gone are the times when the global marketing chief can turn his back on the global engineering chief and say, "not my problem." Organizations, as this study attests, require people from multiple disciplines to work together. Collaboration rules.

There is one final note I found interesting in this study. Chief executives are very aware of their limitations. They sense they must continue to learn on the job, and as the IBM study noted, learn as they innovate. Again, good leaders have always been good learners, but as this survey shows they are verbalizing it. According to the study, CEOs "expect unpredictability. For them, there is no 'new normal.'"

The Great Crash of 2008 leveled a lot of preconceptions about what it means to be in charge. In other words, it is OK to acknowledge limitations as long as you prepare for them. Hence the need for leadership teaming at the highest level.

The IBM study advocates maximizing connectedness by "empowering employees through values, amplifying innovation with partnerships, and engaging with customers as individuals." The challenge for CEOs is to make it happen, and according to this study top execs leading higher-performing companies are doing just that.

By contrast, maintaining the status quo -- even if that state is a positive one (for now) -- is never enough. CEOs must ensure that each successive layer of management is doing what is necessary to collaborate, innovate, and engage appropriately. That requires a chief exec to set the right example for her team and for her to hold them accountable for delivering on the behaviors that will enable the organization to continue to grow and develop.

Easy to say, but it takes work. The IBM Global CEO study illuminates important factors that drive success but it falls to leaders at every level to turn concepts into practice, and practice into results that benefit all stakeholders.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Patrick H