When Scott Cook presented his keynote speech at the end of the final day of Intuit’s QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions conference in San Diego last week, he asked the audience how many among them had ever had a boss. Of course, everyone raised their hands. But then he inquired how many of them who had ever thought their boss wasn’t doing a good job in certain areas actually sat down with those bosses to suggest ways to improve? Only a select brave few. “If you’re the boss, you’re getting a rose-colored view and not feedback on things you need to fix,” Cook says. “I’m the only person in the company who doesn’t get a formal personnel review.” Once someone establishes a position of power within his or her company, it’s that individual’s responsibility to ask for feedback in order to constantly improve, because most employees aren’t going to give that criticism unsolicited. It’s a phenomenon Cook refers to as “revolutionizing the way leaders lead,” and he’s fighting on the front lines of that internal battle. Cook participates in 360 reviews in which an independent outside party comes to Intuit and interviews employees at various levels about certain leadership qualities. Agreeing to this kind of research is one thing. Listening to the observations is quite another. “Every instinct I had was to disagree, or agree but not understand,” Cook admits of his reaction when he learned what employees felt he wasn’t doing well (He didn’t admit the specifics to the San Diego crowd, however.) In order to break old habits, Cook had to “design interventions,” posting sticky notes next to his desk and forcing himself to read those reminders prior to conducting meetings. Just like in other recovery programs, acknowledging the errors of your ways is the first step toward recovery. “I told the people who work around me what my problems are and how I’m going to change,” Cook says. “I told them ‘I need your help.’” It became clear through this honest discourse that the company he founded 24 years ago continues to enjoy success not solely because of his team’s ability to drive sales, but because of a constant drive for self-improvement, which trickles down from the top. Effective leaders shape great companies. Cook chose to check his ego at the door and give his subordinates permission to critique him in order for him to improve himself and his company. In doing so, he set an atmosphere for his entire staff to continuously strive for self-improvement, thereby always raising the bar as to what truly defines greatness.
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