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Followers are always watching you

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

When Paul Anderson became CEO of BHP Limited in 1998, the huge mining conglomerate’s earnings were plummeting and its best employees had quit.

An American, Anderson was put in charge of an Australian company with a workforce that largely distrusted him.

To build trust, Anderson asked his top 80 managers to write a two-page memo that answered a series of big questions: Who are you? What are your job responsibilities? What issues are most pressing? What would you do if you were me?

After reviewing their replies, he held private meetings with each executive.

In the following months, he crafted a turnaround strategy based on their input. Over the next two years, results began to improve—with one glaring exception.

The company’s safety record worsened from 1999 to 2000. Seeking to reduce employee injuries, Anderson sought ideas from his top safety official who declared, “It’s your fault.”

Stunned, Anderson let him explain. The head of safety said, “Everyone sees you ride your motorcycle without a helmet and drive faster than the five miles-per-hour speed limit in the garage.” Anderson also learned that people noticed during his field visits that he ignored safety rules such as holding handrails or wearing safety glasses.

The CEO vowed to change his behavior. Within a year, employees’ lost time due to injury fell nearly 30 percent.

— Adapted from “The CEO Who Led a Turnaround Wearing a Helmet,” Robert Sutton, www.hbr.org.

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