Author Edward Hess Shares His Insights on Business Leadership

MLEK wanted to get inside the mind of successful business leaders and find out what sets them and their companies apart and why.

We spoke with Edward D. Hess, author of Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses, published by Stanford Business Books in 2012. Hess’s research shows that the idea that companies must “grow big or die” is a myth with little bearing in truth or reality. His research shows that companies must work towards continuous improvement to grow and that growth is both good and bad.

MLEK: What would you say is the one quality that separates a good business leader from a great business leader and why?

HESS: Having a humble mindset: be inspirationally and intellectually humble. A humble mindset means it is no longer about “you” but rather, it is about “others”. A humble mindset is a service stewardship mindset that propels one to build something with enduring quality. Inspirationally humble means one can engage meaningfully with others in a positive energizing uplifting manner. Intellectually humble is the opposite of arrogance – being truly open to considering and accepting different facts, views and judgments.

MLEK: What do you think is the most important core value that a business leader can and should instill in their corporate culture and why?

HESS: A meaningful purpose. Why do we exist? Why should we exist? What value do we add to the world? The meaning of work is under appreciated by many leaders.

MLEK: Your books on business are profound. What would you say is the most important thing you learned when you were researching these books? Why?

HESS: Wow – a tough question. My research has been so fascinating and enriching. I have had the opportunity to meet so many interesting people. Let me start by saying that all my answers to your questions fit here, too. Additionally, business success is fundamentally about people. Strategy, finance, accounting, operations, and marketing are just tools. Most great business builders are like painters that are constantly repainting his or her previous picture as they learn. Underlying each picture is personal authenticity and harmony: consistency among feelings, beliefs, and behaviors. Finally, high employee engagement and constant improvement in one’s value-add to stakeholders are mission critical.

MLEK: How important is it for great business leaders to mentor others? Why?

HESS: Great business leaders by definition role model and teach in a positive manner.

MLEK: When talking about a company, what does being a “good corporate citizen” mean to you? If you had to choose two companies that exemplify being a “good corporate citizen” which two companies would they be and why?

HESS: A good corporate citizen is one that adds value to multiple stakeholder groups. Stakeholder groups are customers, employees, society, and owners. A good corporate citizen adds real value to at least two different stakeholder groups. A great corporate citizen adds real value to at least three stakeholder groups.

The challenge for good corporate citizens is to ‘fight slippage” daily. Examples of some companies that have served multiple stakeholder groups positively for years include the following: Room & Board, Patagonia, Southwest Airlines, SAS, Whole Foods, Starbucks, UPS, Sysco, Levy Restaurants, Costco, & TSYS.

MLEK: You write, “Be good. Do good.” to your business students. What does that mean to you?

HESS: “Be good” refers to your heart, soul, mind, and body – take care of yourself. It is an internal focus. “Do good” refers to living with a meaningful purpose and having a positive impact on others and the world. It is an external focus.

Edward Hess is also a professor of business administration and the Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business, University of Virginia.

MLEK provides training, consulting and strategic advice to the public, private, not-for-profit and academic sectors. The firm specializes in leadership, communications, innovation, management, ethics and emotional intelligence. The MLEK team connects client needs to leading-edge best practices.

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