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The merits of being hands-off

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills,Management Training

Ray Gilmartin faced a daunting task in 1994 when he signed on as president and CEO of Merck & Co.

At the time, Merck was producing thousands of pharmaceutical products in more than 20 therapeutic categories, each a hotbed of market competition, and was adding new products all the time. The company was also expanding internationally.

Gilmartin saw at once that he couldn’t be hands-on with everything taking place beneath him. Instead, he:
  • Pushed decision-making as far down through the ranks as possible. “You’ve got to have a management style that allows the organization to assume more responsibility, make more decisions through delegation of authority,” he explains, “so that the people who are making decisions are close to the action.”
  • Set a direction for the company and made sure it was being implemented. “My job is really to set the overall strategic direction of the company,” says Gilmartin, “to ensure that we are organized to carryout that strategy, and that we have the right management processes in place. I see my task as one of mobilizing an entire organization.”
That comes from a leadership style that inspires trust and confidence. “It doesn’t have to be charismatic,” Gilmartin says.

“It can be pretty low-key. But it has to be there.”

— Adapted from Lessons from the Top: The Search for America’s Best Business Leaders, Thomas J. Neff and James M. Citrin, Currency Doubleday.

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