It’s the million dollar question, what is the one key indicator of management potential and executive talent? It’s a question long debated and discussed but perhaps the answer is as simple as spotting the ‘early bird’. Put another way, who gets into the office first in the morning and is still there long after close of play?
The idea that early starters have an advantage in business is hardly new. I often refer back to the 17th Century Bronte tragedy, “Wuthering Heights,” and Heathcliff’s assertion that “if you don’t have half your day’s work done by 10am, chances are the other half won’t get done.” This resonates with my own background in dairy farming where most successful farmers are in the milk parlour before 7am, seven days a week, for their entire working lives.
The ‘nine to five’ job is a bit of an illusion in the grand scheme of things; especially for execs or business owners. Business literature is full of examples of exceptional leaders who are amongst the first at their post in the morning, decade after decade. These include the likes of Warren Buffet and Sir Alex Ferguson, the most successful manager ever in European football. I’ve also recently finished reading a detailed history of Goldman Sachs from the mid 1800s to date, and every CEO or Chairman of the firm through its illustrious history was a notable early riser.
However, my time in NYSE Euronext really drove the point home. Duncan Niederauer, the current CEO, is legendary for being on the ball early, known for 6am or 7am meetings with executives when he is on the road, and always at his desk for 7am when he is in 11 Wall Street. Larry Leibowitz, the COO and his number two, is the same when it comes to early starts.
Their leadership proved infectious, just before I left the NYSE I dropped into the 100 Wall Street NYSE Technologies office at 7am on a weekday morning. Stanley Young, the CEO, was at his desk, as was the CAO, Global Sales Head and Global Presales Head (and we went for dinner at 7:30 pm that evening). The head of the SFTI business was there by 7:15 and the top ranking Sales Exec over the previous three years was already on a customer call. Otherwise things were pretty quiet. It wasn’t difficult to spot the common trait amongst the top performers!
Of course, for every early bird there are half a dozen executives that drift in late and drift out early - and think no-one notices, but everyone does.
From my perspective, it can become extremely cancerous if leaders drift in a few hours after the troops and / or leave early; not only does it communicate that they are not fully engaged (“do as I say not as I do”), but it also means that they don’t actually know who the ‘early birds’ are, leading to frustration in the ranks. The grafters come to learn that their endeavours aren’t noticed by management; so why bother?
The message is simple, if you want to be successful in business in the long term, get into the office bright and early every morning!