Best Buy CEO on leadership: A comment I made was misconstrued

  • Article by: HUBERT JOLY
  • Updated: March 17, 2013 - 9:24 PM
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Best Buy stores logo.

I am not the chief executive officer of Best Buy. Yes, that is what is on my business card, but the fact is I am not the CEO. While I am honored to hold the job of CEO of the world’s largest consumer electronics retailer, I am not defined by my job. It is not who I am.

I make this point in light of a recent Star Tribune story (“Best Buy ends flexible work program,” March 5) that quoted me in a way that made it seem I was saying our employees should feel dispensable. In fact, I was not talking about our employees; I was talking about myself being dispensable.

But the story — which was harmful to me and to the employees of Best Buy — gives me an opportunity to correctly and directly share my leadership philosophy, including why I am deliberate in saying that one of my goals is to be, ultimately, dispensable.

I recently spoke on this very topic to a group of students at the University of Minnesota, sharing with them a few thoughts about leadership.

The first is obvious: Leaders are responsible for setting direction, organizing talent and resources, then mobilizing them to reach a given goal. The fundamental fact of leadership is that it requires the willingness to lead.

Second is the well-established concept of the “servant leader.” The idea is that the leader of an organization, much like the head of a city, state or country, does not just lead the people around him or her or the institution itself, but acts also as a servant of both. Power is not anointed, and it comes with a responsibility to serve the organization.

Third is my belief that a leader must lead not just for today but also for the future. Leaders must keep in mind what legacy they are seeking to build, with an eye toward creating a team to whom they can pass the baton. In the end, any good leader has to be measured in part by what comes after he or she leaves office, which, of course, ties closely to the idea of the leader being dispensable.

To be clear, I hope and expect that I will have the job of CEO for many years to come but, should my job status change, Best Buy would go on without me. Peter Senge writes in the “Fifth Discipline” that a leader who believes they are their job will inevitably make decisions that are designed to ensure they keep that job. Leaders need to remind themselves that they and their identities are distinct from their position and that they will leave someday, with the organization going on without them. That is why it is so critical that good leaders focus not on preserving their job but serving the organization and preparing the next generation to assume their role.

Finally, there is the execution of leadership. This, of course, is closely related to Best Buy’s recently cancelled Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). This program was based on the premise that the right leadership style is always delegation. It operated on the assumption that if an employee’s objectives were agreed to, the manager should always delegate to the employee how those objectives were met.

Well, anyone who has led a team knows that delegation is not always the most effective leadership style. If you delegate to me the job of building a brick wall, you will be disappointed in the result! Depending on the skill and will of the individual, the right leadership style may be coaching, motivating or directing rather than delegating. A leader has to pick the right style of leadership for each employee, and it is not one-size-fits-all, as the ROWE program would have suggested.

These principles inspire my work. While I admit to being angry when one of them was misconstrued and, I believe, misquoted, I am grateful to have had this chance to share a few of my thoughts about leadership.

As I have said, I am not the CEO of Best Buy. I am just a man honored to have the job.

Hubert Joly is CEO of Best Buy.

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