Reflections on Year 1 as Siemens USA CEO: Three key leadership traits for the future of business

Reflections on Year 1 as Siemens USA CEO: Three key leadership traits for the future of business

By: Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens USA

About a month ago I wrote a post that got a big response. It was the anniversary of my appointment as CEO of Siemens USA, and here’s what I shared:


I used to hear in the middle of my career that I wasn’t ‘executive material’ … What’s changed? It’s the idea of who can be a leader and what it means to lead.


The comments on my post included some questions:


How has leadership evolved? And what does business truly need from its leaders right now?


We’re in the early stages of a Fourth Industrial Revolution that’s changing markets, customer expectations and how we compete. In fact, this change has the potential to impact society as a whole.


The pace of change is accelerating. We need leaders who actually thrive on change and want to drive it. In order to achieve the best results, what this transformation requires is optimistic, positive leadership that inspires creativity. And collaboration is key. It’s clear that we can no longer solve problems by viewing them in win-lose terms.


Over the decades of my career, businesses have been driving the shift from management to leadership. From command-and-control to empowerment. From revering ‘the smartest person in the room’ to valuing team results. We’ve come a long way.


I think these three leadership traits are critical to the future of business.


1. Creating alignment with a common sense of purpose.


What aligns people throughout an organization is a larger mission. Combine that with an ownership culture in which safety, security and compliance are bedrock behaviors and a performance culture that delivers outstanding results for customers, shareholders and employees.


Siemens’ ‘why’ aligns with my own, personal ‘why’ that was ignited at the start of my career when I worked on technology that enhanced global security. At Siemens we bring our know-how in electrification, automation and digitalization to tackle the world’s toughest problems. I’m proud of our ownership culture and our ability to deliver on our commitments.


The economist Milton Friedman once famously said that the only social responsibility of business is to maximize profits. But today the world expects more. Leaders need to be focused on the value a company creates for society. As our global leader Joe Kaeser puts it, “If you aren’t creating value for society, why do you exist?”


2. Fostering a culture of NOT doing things as they’ve always been done.


We often hear how it’s important for leaders to possess both a strong intelligence quotient (IQ) and emotional quotient (EQ). When I started my career in the early 1980s, EQ and the ability to empathize with others was typically far less valued than IQ. But today, in addition to IQ and EQ, we also need to focus on DQ, a digital quotient.


What really matters now is a willingness to get involved in the digital economy. DQ is not about mastery. It’s about an openness to new tools and a passion for learning new things. It’s about encouraging others to shape the future and exploring new ways of serving customers.


3. Inspiring collaboration across functions and disciplines. 


The future is networked, not hierarchical. We need people with diverse capabilities and perspectives to get the best results in our businesses.


My early days as a software programmer taught me the value of teamwork. As we wrote programs, an important step was an ‘inspection’ to find the inevitable software bugs. We found that a team of people meeting together to review code found more errors than anyone working individually.


The same was true as we worked on designs for new functions. We got our best results when we brought different teams into the same room and then asked the simple question: “How are we going to do this?”


So while the old way of leading was endeavoring to put the smartest people in the room, the new way – and the future – is trying to put together the most diverse team and unleashing their creativity.


Imagine a team of experts joined by a common sense of purpose. They feel empowered to innovate and change the status quo as they tap into a range of perspectives and experiences. That’s how we’re going to shape the future.