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Lighten up to add impact

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

It’s almost impossible to climb into the CEO’s chair at a big company while maintaining humility. The trappings of power—from the corporate jet to the bevy of aides—can inflate your sense of importance.

Joe Scarlett, the former CEO of Tractor Supply Co., calls runaway egos one of the biggest obstacles that successful leaders face.

“If you have one, keep it in check,” he says. “If you allow it to take charge, you become ineffective because you isolate yourself and people won’t talk to you.”

Scarlett joined Tractor Supply in 1979, became CEO in 1992, retired in 2007 and founded the Scarlett Leadership Institute as an educational resource for rising executives.

Unlike many super-serious CEOs, Scarlett injected a dose of good humor into his daily business interactions. Rather than just scribble his name, for example, he developed a signature that conveys his sense of fun. “I often include a smiley face,” he says.

It started slowly. Initially, he signed a note with a smiley face because he noticed that his wife did the same.

Over time, it became a habit. Now he’s known for his uniquely friendly signature and his eagerness to “spread smiles.” Even his emails include a bright yellow smiley face.

He reinforces his warmth and cheeriness through his communication skills. Recording his voice mail, he makes sure his greeting is enthusiastically conversational. He doesn’t want to sound robotic, and he doesn’t want callers to think he views them as an unwelcome intrusion.

— Adapted from “CEO Interview: Joe Scarlett,” Margaret Reynolds, www.breakthroughmaster.com.

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