Episode 44

Leading at a Distance

with Jim Citrin

January 13, 2022

Share Episode
Share on email
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on facebook




Jim Citrin
Leader, CEO Practice, Spencer Stuart

Jim Citrin is a noted expert on leadership, executive success, and CEO succession. He is the author of 7 books, including the international bestsellers “You’re in Charge, Now What?” and “The Five Patterns of Extraordinary Careers” and the critically acclaimed “The Career Playbook.” He is working on a new book, “Leading at a Distance,” how to be the most effective leader in a virtual world.

Jim is one of the world’s foremost executive recruiters and leadership advisors and leads Spencer Stuart’s North American CEO Practice and is a core member of the firm’s Board practice as well. Throughout his 26 years at Spencer Stuart, Jim has completed more than 775 CEO, board director, and top management searches for leading media, technology, communications, consumer, financial services, healthcare, and energy companies, as well as private-equity firms and major not-for-profit institutions. He is a 19 year member of the worldwide board of directors of Spencer Stuart.

Jim graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College and served as a trustee on the Vassar Board for 12 years and of Wesleyan University for 6 years (where two of his three children graduated and where he is a Trustee Emeritus). He obtained his M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, graduating with distinction. He is an officer on the Executive Board of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and is a member of the Board of Girl Effect, the leading international organization dedicated to the health and wellness of adolescent girls.

Jim lives in Connecticut, USA.


People tend to hire in their own image and based on judgements they make in the first few minutes. These are opportunities interviewees can utilize, as well as pitfalls interviewers should avoid.



[00:00:49] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Jim Citrin is the remarkably successful leader of Spencer Stuart’s CEO practice, having placed many CEOs of the largest companies in the US and abroad. He Is well-published, has 20 years of experience in executive recruiting, and he has interviewed 15,000 candidates and clients in his illustrious career. We discuss the practical secrets behind being a good interview candidate and the pitfalls interviewers can fall into. He discusses why leadership is contextual, which explains how one person can be a superstar in one environment and not the right fit in another. A quality of the best search consultants is being able to match the right person to the right company. Jim shares insightful stories of his experience assessing potential CEOs, teasing out their greatest passions, and convincing firms to choose unconventional leaders, including a previous guest on this show, Hubert Joly, who Jim placed at Best Buy. We dive into Jim’s book “Leading at a Distance”, which explores leadership in this new virtual world. We also covered “You’re in Charge, Now What?”, which is a classic reference and read by all newly minted CEOs. You may be surprised at Jim’s update on the book. For up and coming leaders. Jim advises that you commit yourself to the success of others as much as your own.

Well, good afternoon, Jim, and welcome.

[00:02:13] Jim Citrin: Pleasure to be with you, Gary. It’s been absolutely great building on our very long standing relationship to be with you today.

[00:02:21] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Well, we’re pleased to have you at the microphone and we’ve certainly enjoyed interacting with you and Spencer Stuart, actually, through the years. You started off interviewing a famous sports athlete for us, gosh, 20 years ago, Jim, at an Academy meeting. So, great way to start our relationship. In any event today, we are here to learn. You have a remarkable ability to assess CEOs and other leaders and we’d like to see if we can apply some of those lessons to our own development as leadership. We would like to understand a bit better about how boards of directors evaluate prospective CEOs. And then we’d like to explore two of your books, the most current one, “Leading at a Distance”, which is a practical guide for leaders in our new virtual world. And then, “You’re in Charge, Now What?”, which is a classic reference and the CEOs that I know drag out book off the shelf every time they get a new posting. So we’ll explore a bit about that.

[00:03:28] Jim Citrin: Well Gary, that’s very, very sweet. And first, let me just start by saying that I’ve been at Spencer Stuart leading our CEO practice, working with leaders in companies, for over 25 years and there are really two things that have brought me enormous energy and joy. One is learning and teaching, and the second is relationships. That’s why I’m so excited to join you on the Gary Bisbee Show today, because it really brings those two wonderful things together. And that’s really a lot of the basis for those books and all the work we do with clients, is to learn, teach, have an impact, and also build great trusted relationships along the way. So thank you very much.

[00:04:09] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: We love to get to know our guests a bit, Jim. So, could we ask you to start, what was your life like growing up?

[00:04:17] Jim Citrin: I grew up in the sixties and seventies in Great Neck, Long Island, outside of New York City. My dad was a professional on Wall Street and worked all the way until he was in his mid-eighties on Wall Street. So I grew up in a professional household. My mom was a worker since I was about 12. She was a travel agent and one of the only working moms. And so we talked about business and travel kind of around the dinner table. Older brother who was really, really, and is to this day, quite brilliant. And my younger sister who is also brilliant, but also incredibly social and I kind of was that classic middle child sorting myself out, but grew up playing sports, trying to do okay in school, which I didn’t really thrive in until college. But sports and friends, you know, a normal, I’d say, all American upbringing, very happy, very active.

[00:05:13] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Well, what was the young Jim like in the sense of, what did you think about leadership? Or when did you begin to think about leadership, Jim?

[00:05:22] Jim Citrin: I guess it didn’t really come to me, even as a notion, until college. I went to Vassar College, late seventies, early eighties. And I found myself captaining a couple of our varsity sports teams, soccer and squash, and we were pretty good. But in that time, working with the coaches and sort of being responsible for at least the morale and some of the practice and things of our team. And I remember, at some of our awards dinners at the end of the season, trying to think about recognizing others. And so that’s where the formative parts of leadership came in, but it’s definitely been something that I’ve been a student of for many, many years. And I’ll tell you really where it kicked in. The most concrete memory, which also was the catalyst for me coming to Spencer Stuart. After Vassar, I went to Wall Street. Then, I went to Harvard Business School and found myself at McKinsey. And after about five years, loving it and doing pretty well and really enjoying working with clients across industries, twice, a new CEO came in and literally took a year of our strategy work and threw it out, and basically put in their own strategy, and in one of those cases, removed all consultants. And I remember having that absolute light bulb moment to say that, hmm, leadership certainly surpasses strategy. And, you know, we all know the Peter Drucker truism of culture, eating strategy for breakfast. I remember, this is now in the early nineties, that leadership. And I wasn’t yet at Spencer Stuart, but our US chairman and one of my great friends and mentors for the last more than a quarter century, Tom Neff, who, you know. Tom led the recruitment of Lou Gerstner to IBM in 1993 and Lou famously said that the last thing IBM needed at that point was a strategy. It needed culture, it needed execution, it needed talent, it needed all sorts of things, but a new strategy was not one of them. I joined Spencer Stuart in January of 1994 and so that idea of leadership being more important than strategy really stuck with me all of these years.

[00:07:49] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Great lessons. What are the characteristics of a top-notch search executive, Jim? You’ve been at the absolute top for years.

[00:07:57] Jim Citrin: One of the articles that I wrote, and I write a lot for LinkedIn, where I’m an influence, and I think one of the most successful posts I ever did, with over half a million downloads or views was, “Interviewing to Live and Living to Interview”. And by the time I wrote, that I calculated that I conducted over 10,000 interviews. But it wasn’t only at Spencer Stuart. As I retraced my history, I went back, and this is my way of answering the question, that great search consultants, all of them share a few common characteristics of being really good assessors of talent, being able to sell an opportunity on the one hand and be able to sell a candidate to a hiring manager or a board on the other hand. And I don’t like the word “sell”, really to portray and to have a creative sense of what’s a good fit from both sides because it’s gotta really be equally correct, and right from both sides. So, having a sense, having a good listening and kind of bedside manner to build trust with clients, with candidates, and with people, and with references, and all of that. So it’s truly the ultimate relationship business. But when I wrote that article, I realized that I had been interviewing even since college. The other thing I did at Vassar was, back in the day, the admissions office had eight seniors be senior interviewers and it was a really serious role, and hundreds applied, and I was selected, and I loved it. I loved interviewing prospective candidates and having a sense of, was Vassar the right fit for them? After college, I was at Morgan Stanley as a financial analyst and I led analyst recruiting there. And then, when I was at Harvard Business School, I loved interviewing for jobs. Most of my friends on campus were like, oh my God, I’ve got an interview and all that. And I was like, are you kidding? It’s just so fun. So I really was always really good at interviewing because I have a sense of what the interviewer is looking for particularly in a job situation. And then also, when it’s the other side, how to really get through and get into the substance quite quickly, while building rapport along the way. So anyway, I’ve interviewed for many, many years and I just find it one of the great ways of interacting with individuals. Now, I don’t know if we’ll have time, but we should chat a little bit about the art of the interview because it is something that professionals all the way up to CEOs and board directors do throughout their entire life. And I’ve studied interviewing and there’s some real traps to avoid as the hiring manager. And they’re really some important insights that, if you’re the one being interviewed, you should keep in mind because I’ve seen it make the difference between CEOs getting the job and not getting the job. And there’s been a lot of academic research on interviewing, which I’ve studied as well. I’ve written, definitely, some chapters of several books on interviewing.

[00:10:57] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Jim, I’d love to follow up on that right now, if we could. What are the key insights that you’ve learned in yourself from these 10,000 interviews that you’ve written about? What are those key insights?

[00:11:09] Jim Citrin: I’ll say these are two sides of the same coin because your audience on this show is very senior executives, often hiring, and the insights really create some guard rails for the hiring manager. But then again, if you are the interviewee, having these insights will allow you to be as successful as you possibly can. And sometimes, perhaps when opportunities that would be close, close calls. So. It is really human nature and it’s been documented that people tend to hire in their own image. And so as the job seeker, and this is true if you’re a summer intern, or a MBA, or going to be a CEO, finding common grounds of the person that you’re being interviewed by is really important and establishing bonds. And now, in the LinkedIn and the Google age, there’s a lot of opportunity to find out who you’re meeting with before you do that so you can say, oh, I didn’t know you were on the board of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. I played college tennis. And then you have that bond where it’s like, oh, I see you were, you know, Epicurean, you know, I’ve done all of that stuff. So people hire in their own image. The other thing is that people, and Daniel Kahneman and Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this also in “Blink” or in “Fast and Slow”. People make decisions more with their intuition and with their, let’s call it their, feeling brain than with their thinking brain. People make judgements extraordinarily quickly, three minutes, five minutes, and then they spend the rest of the time looking for data to support the decision that they’ve made intuitively already. So that’s why having a really strong introduction is really important and having the first couple of minutes, you know, when we’re in person, a good handshake and all those interpersonal signals while you’re sitting down is essential. And the first question is really by far the most important one. Now as the hiring manager or board, it’s really important to keep that in mind because you don’t want to hire in your own image. It creates mistakes. It also limits the breadth and diversity of your candidate pools. And it really propagates more sameness and that’s really not a formula for success. So you really have to push beyond your comfort zone to find ways to be alert to that phenomenon, it’s a very human thing, but also to find ways to look for things away from, you know, oh, I play tennis, you know, I’m a big cook, or I’m a big traveler. The other thing is to be aware of that, psychologically, it’s very natural to make snap decisions, to not make snap decisions. Use a process. And when we lead CEO successions at Spencer Stuart, when we lead CEO searches at Spencer Stuart, we really work hard with search committees and boards to really have many steps and multi-methods to assess so that, at the end of the process, you’re not just making it on those impressions. So being aware of the natural proclivities, guarding against them as the hiring team, but also being able to exploit them as the interviewee, that’s really something that I’ve learned.

[00:14:30] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Terrific lessons, Jim, there for all of us. Even if we think that we are being objective, as you point out, lots of times, we’re probably not. Just hiring in our own image, as you say. Could we move then to how you would look at a potential CEO candidate for the first time? I know you’ve done a lot of research before you actually meet the individual, but when you’re meeting a potential CEO candidate, how are you assessing him? What are the several things that you think about first to assess a candidate?

[00:15:07] Jim Citrin: Well, we’re always assessing individuals in a context projecting into a situation that we’re hiring into. So, both I believe, and I’ve studied it in one of the other books that we won’t talk about, I was really able to document the fact that the same person can be an absolute superstar in one context and a failure in a different context, even if they do the same person doing roughly the same things. And so it’s about matching the right person to the right context. That creates success. So before you assess the individual, you really have to have a good understanding of the hiring situation. And you’re working with a board and with a management team with your own expertise to understand what a strategic, competitive, organizational, financial context that you’re working in. One of the first steps in a succession, or a search process, as you well know, is developing the position specification and the key criteria. And that’s really the forward looking strategy. It’s really the management and leadership implications of the strategy that a board is looking for. But the cultural piece really cannot be understimated. It’s extraordinarily important when you’re assessing an individual and I’ll tell you very clearly kind of how I do it and how we do it because, again, it’s this combination of left brain and right brain. We really like to understand what a person’s greatest passions are, what their greatest achievements are, and how they’ve done that, in what cultures they’ve been really successful and what cultures they’ve been less successful. And, you know, since we work on not only one thing at a time, oftentimes we’re working on several assignments and if you’re meeting a great individual, often I’d be calling you Gary, oh, I’m working on this big healthcare CEO succession, would you be interested in this? We’ll talk through it and you might say it’s not quite right based on some questions. And then I’ll say, hmm, here’s a crazy idea. How about X? I mean, I’ll give you a perfect example of that and also tell you back to the interviewing point. I guess if there are two questions to ask, I’ll tell you what the two questions are. But first, in a kind of a first candidate meeting, you know, just getting to know someone, hearing about their story a little bit, you really want to ask them, say, over the last two or three years, pick out two accomplishments that you’re particularly proud of. How did they come to be? And just sort of stop there. And so you don’t say one, you don’t say three, you say two. And they’ll say, hmm. And they’re going to be doing a calculus instantly in their brain of the 20 things that they should pull out, but what they pull out and how they pull it out is actually huge data for that. And based on what they say, then you can really determine if that achievement and how they’ve done it fits into what you’re looking for. Perfect example. Again, it’s not a healthcare example. But a number of years ago, I was doing the CEO search for the New York Times Companies. It was actually 2012 and I was doing a courtesy interview with a very senior British executive who I had never met before. We had talked once or twice on the phone. And it was a gentleman named Mark Thompson who was just leaving the BBC, where he was CEO and Director General. And we were chatting about, what have you done? And this was in New York in March or April of 2012. And I remember having a nice chat. I asked him that question. I said, Mark, over the last two years, what are the things that you’re most proud of achieving at the BBC? And he said, well, for one, it was leading the creation of the BBC iPlayer. I said, well, what’s that? He goes, well, it’s sort of like the Netflix. Oh, interesting. He said, we have this notion that, at the BBC, every person in the UK should be able to have what they call catch-up TV. And I said, how’s the utilization on that been? He goes, unbelievable, about 80% uses that. I said, well, how’d you do that? And he pointed to this whole story about digital transformation on very limited budgets. And I had this impression of the BBC as this big kind of bureaucratic thing. And he described it as having to go through basically this bureaucracy buster, and it was an incredible story. And then I said, Mark, I got a crazy idea. But before I ask you this, let me ask another question. Would you ever consider moving to New York? And he said, actually, yes. He said, my wife is American and our daughter is going to university in the Northeast in the fall. So, for the right thing. He said, what do you have in mind? I said, well, this is crazy. I said I’m leading the CEO search for the New York Times Company. And he laughed. He said, oh. He goes, they’d never hire a Brit. And he said, I’m a journalist and I know that the newsroom doesn’t report to the CEO at the New York Times Company. I said, yes, but it’s all about digital transformation with commitment to journalism. Anyway, so I called the Chairman at New York Times after that breakfast and I said, Arthur, I said, I think I found the ideal candidate for us. He goes, who? And by the way, we had developed the specs and the specs was for a Silicon Valley digital transformation leader, ideally an engineer who would transform products. And we had plenty of candidates like that, but I said, Mark Thompson. He goes, Mark Thompson of the BBC? I said, yes. He goes, Jim, you’re actually way off base and that’s not even close to what we’d agreed we’re looking for. He’s not an engineer, he’s a journalist. He’s not a newspaper guy, he’s a video guy.

I said, yes, but I told him the iPlayer story and he was like, hmm, that’s really interesting. So they met with him and he blew them away. And long story short, came in, started in the fall of 2012, and led a brilliant, massive digital transformation of the New York times Company over eight or nine years. And it was the way he did. It was very similar to how he created that. So, that was, I think, in that little story, a lot of things about what I believe and being open-minded, being relationship-based, asking that kind of key interview question, being able to sell an opportunity, why actually the New York Times could be right for him, and then presenting Mark to the Chairman, and then ultimately the board, and letting the process run to a successful conclusion. And then, as a P.S., we helped lead a fantastic CEO succession last year where his COO was the successful internal successor, Meredith Levien, who’s brilliant and one of the great CEOs, and I think is going to be one of the great CEOs in America over the next five years because she was a key part of the digital transformation. So anyway, that’s a bit of a long story, but I think I really instructive one about how we approach it, how I think about it, and how the impact can sometimes be huge, but also unexpected.

[00:22:19] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: That’s a terrific story, Jim. We interviewed Hubert Joly a couple of months ago on this show and he made a specific reference to you approaching him about the Best Buy position and his initial reaction is, no way. But after he talked more and more to you, he looked into it and ended up, of course, taking the position and doing a terrific turnaround there. But could you kind of work your way through the process? Why did you think he’d be right for that job and kind of how you went about approaching him?

[00:22:54] Jim Citrin: It’s a very similar story and it came when we were having lunch that particular day. He was just asking for some advice and we didn’t set it up for me to present the Best Buy opportunity for him. I actually knew Hubert for many years before that. We were at McKinsey together. We were in the Paris office and we worked a little together and I just knew, back from 1989, how truly brilliant he was. But over the ensuing 13 years, he kind of morphed and we did some work together and we stayed reasonably close, but I saw him evolve from the proverbial smartest guy in the room, which he literally was, to not only being brilliant, but also being much more of about the human side and that really blossomed. And I’m sure he talked about “The Heart of Business” on your show and it really was absolutely authentic. But, it was a work in process by the time he was the CEO of Carlson. The Carlson Group, also in Minneapolis, which had restaurants, TGI Friday’s. It had hotels. It had a lot of data businesses and travel businesses. We also recruited him to the board of Ralph Lauren and I also knew, back when he was at McKinsey he’d also done some work and he was the leader of the technology practice, but also did some work in retail. So I knew more than was obvious that he had some interesting multiunit experience in the hospitality business, but also some retail on the board of Ralph Lauren. When we were talking about what he loved and his transformation at Carlson, and the combination of figuring out what the right strategy is in a really dramatically changing global hospitality context at Carlson, but also trying to bring a culture along. And he was like, you know, now I’ve been here for a long time, you know, it could be interesting to do something outside. And I said, well, here’s an idea. I said, it’s a huge need of strategy and a huge need of talent and culture. And I said, and that’s the benefit of being around the corner. And he said, well, what are you thinking of? I said, Best Buy. And he literally said, Jim, comma, you’re crazy. And in fact, that’s the opening line of his book, “The Heart of Business”, “Jim, you’re crazy”. And he literally said that. I said, well, hear me out. Earlier on this conversation. I said, you know, strategy wasn’t as important. But in the case of a company like Best Buy, strategy is really important because it was not obvious to anybody how they were going to survive. Circuit City, their biggest competitor, went bankrupt. Amazon was crushing them. They had this gigantic real estate footprint. They had no economic model. It was really unclear and the board didn’t really have a clear view of what the right strategy should be. They wanted, they figured, it needed to be a retail insider who could bring good operational discipline and reduce costs. That was kind of what their assumption was. And the more we chatted about it, I said, I don’t know this, but it seems to me that, in a world where technology products are getting more and more complicated, you know, are we all just going to buy them on Amazon without even trying them out? And what if you can’t, like, turn it on or put a television on. That’s complicated. I said, you know, they do have Geek Squad, you know, that seems like a good idea. And so he did a lot of research on it and that process, you know, we used the process. We had really really good candidates on that. And one thing we often do it toward the very end when you have finalists, and it’s a CEO process, is we have the candidates write a three to five page vision paper, a written prose memo, we do this now all the time, where they would say, here would be my vision as CEO of Best Buy, and here’s how I would go about implementing that vision. And that process is really instructive and we’ve probably done it now in over 200 CEO successions. And in many cases, it has helped a board determine, because these are great people. Everybody is really good. It’s back poison. It’s back choice in the beginning of the context. Basically, boards make a decision of who should be the CEO, two really criteria at the end of the day: what is the vision that they want to buy into, discounted by their confidence in this candidate’s ability to successfully implement that vision. They’re buying a vision as much as they’re buying a person. Behind those, there’s huge amounts of things, and a lot of assessments, and references, and all of the things. But that’s also why 80% of CEO appointments are inside candidates, because there’s a lot greater track record and boards really have a much greater sense of the facts, of their ability to exercise that vision. But even for internal candidates, if you have just internal candidates, asking them at the end to prepare, what is your vision for the company, you’ll get dramatically different things communicated in different styles. And then that paper, which is distributed to the board three to five days in advance of the meeting basically creat es the final round of an interview process, of a CEO search process. So they can talk about, okay, Hubert, you said that, you know, at the Best Buy, one of the foundations of the strategy needs to be price matching to Amazon, but we can’t afford that. And he said, well, without that, Best Buy will be out of business because there’ll be no basis that a customer will ever do that. In electronics, it’s very price competitive. So that is a must. Okay. Well, how are you going to do that? Well, we’ll need to dramatically change the retail real estate footprint to reduce costs. Okay. But that’s not enough because that’s only- He said, and this was his genius idea, I believe that it is in the interests of Apple, Microsoft, Panasonic, Sony, all of these suppliers, it’s in their interest to have Best Buy be a viable alternative to Amazon. So why don’t we try and explore stores within stores just like they do in, like, department stores on the ground floor of Bloomingdale’s, you know, that real estate is paid for by Estee Lauder, and L’Oreal, and all of that. So he applied that concept to say, why couldn’t we ask Microsoft and Apple, and all of those two to do that. And they did. And that was the key in unlocking the financial model to allow them to match prices. But then, even more important, he said, the whole customer experience, and he had done mystery shopping as part of this process and it was horrendous. And when he got in, he said, we need to have the customer feel like they’re being taken care of, not just sold. And so he overhauled the complete incentive system. He overhauled training and he invested a huge on the employee side and sort of the engagement and the pride. And then the customer experience went through the roof. And when they had a financial model that started to work, it really became a virtuous cycle. So he laid a lot of that out as hypotheses in his vision back in that process. And so he was the successful candidate, and again, he led the hugely successful, more than anybody could have expected, implementation of that vision.

[00:30:38] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: That’s a terrific story with all kinds of wisdom. I know, as a director, one of the things I find the hardest to do is to evaluate a potential CEO candidate and their ability to react to or manage a crisis. Any tips for a Board of Directors on how they can assess an individual’s capability to handle a crisis when it comes up?

[00:31:04] Jim Citrin: Well, up until COVID, there haven’t been that many truly universal crises. There was the global financial crisis in 2008, and then there was the dotcom bust for those of us who were around long enough and all of that. Now it’ll be easy for directors and for hiring managers to really talk to anybody how they’ve adapted and how they operated in the crisis that started in the beginning of 2020. But I think an even bigger point when a board is hiring a CEO, and especially when considering internal candidates, who by definition, haven’t done the job before, is that, what you really have to bet on is there potential to grow into the job. And yes, we all know that past behavior is a great predictor of future behavior and all of that, past results. But I’m not a believer in that exclusively at all. I’m a huge believer in potential and aligning someone’s absolute strengths and passions with the context at hand. But it’s really hard when you’re evaluating. If you’re a board and you’re evaluating, let’s say, an external proven CEO, who’s got a 10 year track record of success in delivering shareholder value, but in a different culture and a different context. With an internal candidate who, let’s say, is a COO, or CFO, or a division CEO, it’s totally apples and oranges, and how do you actually try and even those tables? One of the techniques is the vision paper exercise at the end. But then also, and this is something we had Spencer Stuart do, and we think we are the best in our industry at this. But our esteemed competitors all have very good methodologies to do executive assessment and multi-method, obviously, references, understanding where they’ve had some crises and how they’ve done that, but also having, whether it’s case studies or other kinds of strategies to try and understand how they would do something that they haven’t done before.

[00:33:06] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Your new book, “Leading at a Distance”, explores life in a new virtual world for leaders and the question is, how will that factor into your assessment of CEOs and other leaders?

[00:33:19] Jim Citrin: I think it changes on a number of levels. It certainly changes the process. But it also changes a bit of the substance. And like you said a moment ago, crisis management. But also I’ve learned, and I do believe, that some aspects of leadership are changing in this new remote or hybrid world. And so, when I share about that, and that goes based on a huge amount of research that went behind “Leading at a Distance”, which came out in the Spring, and it’s done really, really well because we caught it just right. My co-author, Spencer Stuart partner, Darleen DeRosa, she actually has a PhD in remote workforces and virtual leadership. And so she’s a real domain expert on that. And I brought in, you know, seven prior books and a lot of access at the top of corporations around the US and Europe. And we interviewed over a hundred CEOs and CHROs about what they were doing. From the summer of 2020 all the way up until, well, the book came out in May of ’21, but I’ve continued to talk about it and meet with companies and advise on it all the way. So it’s still very much of a learning journey on that. I think that when it started, really in March to July of 2020, boards, everybody, kind of went into crisis mode. And are businesses going to survive? And could we move to work from home, and all of that. That worked better than most people expected. It just makes you think, what might’ve happened had this happened back before broadband, and Zoom, and Teams, and all of that. What we helped clients figure out, really starting in March and April is that, you know what, you could keep these processes going and go to doing it remote. And then we encouraged boards to keep doing that. And a number of our big searches, CEO searches, got completed completely virtually in the spring and summer of 2020. And in fact, we’ve done followup research. Some of the decision-making, and this is not just related decision making to hiring. Some boards have made big strategic and transaction decisions all virtually or hybrid virtually. And there are some proven advantages to group decision-making on Zoom or on Teams. And that is that it tends to be done right. With the right facilitator of a conversation, you can actually have more democratic decision making. And if you think about the physicality of a board table, usually oblong or rectangle, and where someone sits, and people tend to play different roles in person than they do on a Hollywood Squares version of Zoom. So through a lot of that work and encouragement, we were able to keep that going along. And then we did the research over the course of summer of 2020 all the way to the end of 2020. And we had to make a judgment call about where we saw the future of work. And we had to basically decide, is this really a short-term COVID management book? Is it timely or is it something, do we believe, that there are going to be some structural changes to how work is done and do we want it to be more timeless? And we opted for the latter because we really did believe, even if the pandemic is completely far behind us, both the advantages, when managed right, but also the freedom and flexibility that we all know, and that many employees really enjoy, there wasn’t any to be going fully back to the office. And the leadership management implications, obviously the real estate and also the layoutimplications, are quite massive, but we focused on the leadership aspect of this. And so there are things in managing in a hybrid or in a remote world that are quite distinct than managing physically, you know, classically managing by walking around. But, keep in mind, it’s not always been in person management, certainly at the CEO level, anywhere anyway. Most companies have distributed workforces. Certainly, global companies have international offices. So, kind of the idea of hybrid or remote management and leadership has happened forever. But there’s the technology overlay now that we’ve all become quite accustomed to. And there are certain things about it that can be turned into an advantage. But there are also some things that you really have to watch out for to not fall into traps about selecting people, about getting creative work done, about culture building, mentoring, apprenticeship, a lot of the things that particularly a lot of the big banks, you know, talk about as a rationale for bringing people back to a physical office.

[00:38:25] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Yah, and one of the research items indicated basically the 80/20 rule. 80% of the people were either neutral or positive about it. 20% seemed to be somewhat negative about it. So the bulk of the people seem to be accepting, which I would think, from a leader’s standpoint, is a good base to build on. Is that the way you would view that, Jim?

[00:38:48] Jim Citrin: Yes. And by the way, that research is being updated every week. And now with the Omicron variant, people now are less comfortable than they were a month ago to go back. So where people are is a very dynamic day to day, week to week phenomenon. But if you step back, most people really prefer to have the combination and our estimate was that 75 to 80% of organizations, whenever we come out of whatever phase this is, will find a different model of a hybrid kind of workforce again, which seems quite obvious right now. And there are certain huge advantages and there are some pitfalls to be aware of, which I definitely want to share. Let me comment, Gary, on couple of ways that we believe that leadership needs to change in a Zoom or in a hybrid world. And it’s not just this. It’s also in the sociopolitical economic climate environment that we’re all kind of living through right now. I think it’s become quite clear that employees and customers kind of are voting with their hearts. Do they want to work for companies and leaders who have the values that they espouse and are they standing for issues that they really believe in? And where are they on certain things? So the leadership implication of that is that authenticity and transparency is more important than ever before, but so is purpose. And again, most companies and most people know this, but the reason why purpose and transparency is even more important now, and this has been growing for 10 years. 10 years ago in CEO searches, kind of alignment to purpose wasn’t really something we talked about much, but now it’s in every CEO spec: alignment to the mission, the vision, and the purpose of the company. But the reason why it’s that much more important in a hybrid world is that when ,people are not in the office and being managed, kind of by walking around or micromanaged, they’re essentially being self-motivated. And the difference between solid and great performance is that discretionary effort. And people only invest that discretionary effort if they believe in what they’re doing, they feel a part of it, and they really respect and really want to deliver for their manager, for their boss, for their leader, as well. So linking to purpose and being transparent and authentic. And the other thing is that, one of the benefits has, you know, everybody has seen their leaders Zoom and seen their bookshelf, like you in the background, or, you know, their mom, or their dog or their kids, you know, running around and that makes people more human. I think it actually brings the barriers down and makes for more effective leadership if you can engage as the real full person.

[00:41:49] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: I found the book to be easily readable, very chock full of good tips, so congratulations on that. It’s definitely a must read. Can we turn now to “You’re in Charge, Now What?”, which is another book that you wrote, an older title, but gosh, every CEO that I know who takes a new position pulls that book off the shelf and reads it. So just amazing. What was behind your thinking when you wrote that book initially, Jim?

[00:42:20] Jim Citrin: This was kind of the holiday period of whatever year it was in the early 2000s. And we had placed a CEO who was coming in to start after the new year. And he had asked me, he said, Jim, you know, you place people all the time. Can you kind of share some thoughts about how to get off to a great start? I said, okay. And then, over that vacation, I just wrote him a memo based on just my observations and my thoughts about what to do, how to build trust, how to develop strategy, and all that, just like a three page memo. And he loved it. And I said hmm. And at that time, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo was huge. I was a contributor for Yahoo Finance, and I turned that memo into an article, “How to Get Off to a Great Start”, and it got massive traction. So then I said, okay, this is actually a great book, but one of the things I wanted to do for the book was to study the best and worst CEO transitions.

And so we did research into saying, what were the hundred best and worst CEO transitions. Because as I learned from my not close friend, but Jim Collins, who I hugely admire and all of his Built to Last and Good to Great. It’s all in the contrast. And so studying the best and worst. And so I went out and interviewed all these people and studied case studies of the best and worst and put together this eight point plan and it was a lot of what was in that original article. But those points are absolutely timeless and they work to this day. And then we had a great friend. We were trying to find a title. Titling books is the hardest thing. And she said, she goes, well, how about this? You know, “You’re in Charge, Now What?”, It’s like, that’s kind of, hmm. So anyway, we went with that and it’s stuck all these days.

[00:44:16] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Brilliant.

[00:44:16] Jim Citrin: Now what absolutely rings true from then, and to now, is there a certain number of pitfalls that people have to avoid, you know, coming in and over promising or being the smartest person in the room, or all those things. But also, listening and learning. Back in those days, you really had more time. Right now, in a social media era, when it’s announced, people, employees, customers are gonna Google the person and they’re going to make judgements right coming in. That was always the case. But now that window of, like, saying, well, okay, what’s your plan, Gary, for coming in to lead this company. And, you know, for years, people quoted Lou Gerstner: well, you know, I’m going to spend the first 100 days listening and learning, and then we’ll deliver the strategy. You don’t have a hundred days anymore. You have to come in with at least some vision. And this is where the vision paper exercise, and all that calibration that you’ve done with the board. So you have enough to talk about, but you don’t want to lock in to what it is, even if you know for a hundred percent sure what the right direction and strategy is, which you don’t. You have to bring others along. And so building the team, understanding how to work with the board, understanding how the culture really operates if you’re an outsider. If you’re an insider, how to go from a peer to a boss. All of these kinds of things are are really, really important. And those have really stood the test of time.

[00:45:44] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Jim, this has been an absolutely terrific interview, as expected, just chock full of goodies here for those of us who are studying how to be better leaders. Could I ask one last question? And that is we have a number of up and coming leaders, younger leaders, in our audience. What advice do you have for a younger up and coming leader at this point?

[00:46:08] Jim Citrin: Two pieces of advice. Irrespective of what your long-term goal might be, just on a day-to-day basis, a proven formula for success and happiness, actually, in the workplace is to think and focus as much about the success of those around you as your own success. If you genuinely say, how can I help you? And you is anyone who you’re working with on your team, caring as much about them, then you will build trust. You will help them develop. They will support you. Your team will be a high-performing team and you’ll be hugely successful. So think about and commit yourself to the success of others, as much as to your own. If your upcoming leader does that and says, okay, well, I really want to be a CEO. I’d say that, if I boil down what it takes to be a great CEO, great leader of any organization, it really comes down to two things. It comes down to thought leadership and people leadership. Thought leadership. Where would I take the company? Where would I lead this organization? Why? How would we do it? What would our business model be? And boards really, as I said earlier, they’re buying a vision. So what is your vision? So to be a great leader, you really have to be the thought leader. It doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers. It doesn’t mean you have to come up with it in isolation. But you have to be able to catalyze the right direction or the best direction for the organization. And then secondly, and this relates to caring about the success of those around you, is having the credibility, and the trust, and the people leadership, the ability to attract great people, to align them to do great work. And that comes from reputation, but it comes in every different package. You can be an extrovert, could be an introvert. You can be any style. But if you genuinely care, then you’ll be very successful on the people leadership front as well. At the end of, now, 15,000 interviews and doing this for over a quarter of a second. I’ve really boiled some of these principles down to those things that are really easy to say. They’re really hard to do. But if you do them consistently over time, you’ll absolutely differentiate yourself, bring others along, make your organization successful, and really have the satisfaction of creating value for all your stakeholders.

[00:48:36] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Jim, we’ve benefited enormously from your wisdom today. Thank you so much for your time.

[00:48:41] Jim Citrin: My pleasure, Gary. Thanks. Great to visit with you and thanks, and appreciate you having me on the show, and look forward to a great 2022.

Subscribe for Updates​

For exclusive access to Think Medium content and program updates, subscribe here.