True leaders will never proclaim “it’s lonely at the top.” People will follow them there. Some bosses earn their status as leaders as a result of their titles. Others gain respect from the people they lead based on things they’ve done for those people or for their company. John Maxwell, a leadership expert and author, stressed these points this week during a keynote speech at Sage Insights, Sage Software’s partner conference, in National Harbor, Md. He shared a story of meeting mountain climber John Whittaker. When Maxwell asked him what his biggest accomplishment was, he felt certain Whittaker’s response would be that he had climbed Mt. Everest. Instead, he responded that he had taken more people to the top of Mt. Everest than any other climber. “Leaders are known by what they get others to accomplish,” Maxwell said. “If it’s lonely at the top, get off the top and go down to where the people are.” Likely not coincidentally, his speech followed that of Sue Swenson, Sage Software’s new CEO and president for Sage North America, explain how she, herself, was out there among the people---visiting her employees in their own offices across the nation and in Canada in order to learn what they do and how to make the company better. She’s got a lot to learn, having only started the job six weeks ago and admittedly not knowing what the company did before receiving a phone call asking her to interview for the position. But she has served in leadership roles in the telecom industry for more than 20 years and she believes in communicating with employees and customers to figure out how to improve things. She doesn’t know all the products or acronyms yet, but she’s identifying problem areas and ways to fix them. She didn’t outline a grandiose vision for the future of Sage, but she says employees are telling her she’s asking all the right questions—even if they don’t know the answers. And as Maxwell pointed out, right now she has a title; it takes time to earn a following. “Leaders develop daily, not in a day,” he said. Swenson is the first executive at Sage who I’ve seen give a keynote without reading off a teleprompter.One employee told me that Swenson refused to rehearse because she wanted to speak from the heart. Some people may be holding out, waiting for the “real” Sue Swenson to emerge, the CEO said. “The challenge is to make people comfortable with my approach and [believe] that I’m sincere,” she said. “I’m different than what the organization has seen so far.” Given her eccentricity and approachability, I’m betting this is one leader who will not be lonely at the top.
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