moody-bluesOne of the favorite sobriquet’s I have recently received was from Alison Taylor who called me the ‘rock and roll compliance blogger’. I love to listen to classic rock and enjoy live performances even more. With that moniker and passion in mind I recently caught the Moody Blues’ gig celebrating the 50th anniversary tour. It is the Fly Me High Tour which honors the first single released after singer-guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge joined the group.

Early Moody Blues music was informed by their second album, “Days of Future Passed”; which I had always thought of as the first rock concept album. However, it is seen by many rock critics as a precursor to progressive rock music. Bill Holdship, Yahoo! Music, said that the band “created an entire genre here.” Robert Christgau noted that it was “closer to high-art pomp than psychedelia.” And, finally, Allmusic editor Bruce Eder calls the album “one of the defining documents of the blossoming psychedelic era, and one of the most enduringly popular albums of its era.”

The band had its core members of Justin Hayward, who turns 70 on Friday, John Lodge, 71 and Graeme Edge, 75; all playing at the concert and I can assure you that even in their 70s, they can still rock. There were the MTV hits such as “Gemini Dream” and “The Voice” and of course the show ended with the classics “Question” and “Ride My See-Saw”. It was great night for the Moody Blues, their fans and rock and roll.

I thought about how they are still great rockers when I read a recent piece in the New York Times (NYT) Corner Office Column by Adam Bryant, entitled “The Incalculable Value of a Good Boss, where he profiled Aron Ain, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Kronos, a maker of workforce management software. It turns out that Ain was deeply informed by his parents when he said, “My parents cared deeply about people, particularly people who needed a little bit of help getting on in life. They were community activists in a very quiet way. They didn’t have a child with developmental disabilities, yet they were involved for more than 50 years with the Association for the Help of Retarded Children. They just weren’t a little bit involved; they were neck-deep involved.”

Most interestingly Ain believes a key lesson he has learned and one that he continues to try to put into practice is the following, “managing and leading people is a privilege.” He finds it so important because, “I don’t think we always understand the impact that we have as managers on the people on our teams. I talk to our managers all the time about this. Do you really understand the impact you have? And if you really understand the impact, then how do your actions reflect that you understand that?”

Moreover, his key insight is that people do not so much want to work for a nice person but a great boss. He said, “I believe that people would rather have a lousy job working for a great person than a great job working for a bad manager.” If you can achieve this as a boss, the results back to you and your organization will be the best investment you can make. Ain continued, “I believe very strongly that the single largest component of a business that adds to shareholder value is great management, and the single largest destroyer of shareholder value is bad management.”

But Ain cautioned, this will not be easy. However, I took from his comments that you can become a great business manager by working at it. He said, “being a good manager is really, really difficult. And the sooner people who are managers recognize that, the sooner they’ll start being a good manager. It takes unbelievable courage to be a good manager. It is hard to have difficult conversations with people when they’re not doing well. Who likes to do that? That takes courage. You can’t slide out of the way and hope it’s going to take care of itself.”

Ain said that at Kronos, they continually strive to engage up and down the chain. He specified, “We’ve also just introduced a new component to annual employee surveys. We’ve added about 15 new questions that are focused specifically around manager effectiveness. How does the staff truly feel about how effective their manager is at creating great teams?”

Yet Ain recognizes his role as CEO is simply more than being the boss. He said he views “my role as the keeper of the culture, and so I spend my time in a relaxed way getting to know the person. If, for example, they know someone I know professionally, I’ll say, “Let’s compare notes on that person. What’s your take?””

When hiring he believes this is a key inquiry and will “listen for whether they judge that person the same way I do, and whether we share the same values. I’ll also ask about their families, about work-life balance, about the successes that they’ve had, both personally and professionally. I want to hear how they like to work, and the expectations they have of the people who work for them.”

I found this final point not only very gratifying but an important insight into leadership. It is not only up to a business leader to set the tone but also to maintain a healthy corporate culture. He or she must ask the ‘How are we doing?’ question to a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or other corporate function which deals with culture on a day-in and day-out basis. Imagine if Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf had understood his role as the keeper of the culture at the bank instead of being the head cheerleader for the “Eight is Great!” mantra of sales.

The other key point is that you can learn to be a great boss. Leadership is not determined by genes alone. One of the reasons I founded the podcast 12 O’Clock High – A podcast on business leadership, was to communicate simply that. One can learn to be a great leader. But it does require work and as Ain reminds us, it requires constant vigilance. When you think about it, that concept is not far from any best practices compliance program. It is constantly monitoring and evolving to meet new challenges. You should be doing that too to become a great boss.


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© Thomas R. Fox, 2016