“A leader should never be the bottleneck,” he says. “When you have too decisive leadership, then everything ends up on your desk and gets delayed and not decided. For me, it’s a case of either taking decisions on the spot (or in a very short period of time), or I delegate to someone else.”
If leaders don’t set the right priorities, he adds, “your day can last 72 hours and you still don’t get things done.”
Be more Buddha… and less Hercules
There is a balance between the “Hercules” and “Buddha” approach to behaving as a leader, Jenisch says, citing a concept created by Martha L. Maznevski, a former IMD faculty member who is now Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the Ivey Business School at Western University, Canada.
In the Hercules scenario, a leader tends – in complex or crisis situations – to lead harder, leveraging characteristics such as mental strength and stamina and using a “mute button” to block out other voices. But this leader is less effective at empowerment and finds it hard to make choices in ambiguous situations. By contrast, the Buddha leader listens, tries to understand and seeks advice from others by spending time with them.
“I think I’m in the Buddha mode more than 80% of the time,” Jenisch says. “I think you have to be aware as an older executive that you gain experience, but you also gain a bit more Buddha. You are able to stop the Hercules side, and don’t push the mute button too often, and instead listen to and work with people, as well as develop them.”
“But you still have to keep that ambition and energy,” he says. “That’s the challenge, and you have to watch it very actively.”
Part of keeping those team energy levels high means focusing on keeping people motivated by avoiding making “emotional decisions”.
“The biggest demotivator is unfair evaluations of people or unfair decisions. I try to be a very sound and fair observer and performance evaluator,” Jenisch says.
The 56-year old German took over as CEO in 2017, after five years leading Sika, a diversified Swiss company involved in building resins, automotive adhesives and textiles.
Inheriting a complex acquisition, creating a company with 70,000 employees and net sales of nearly CHF 30 billion, Jenisch’s priority was to restore Holcim’s financial strength and position it for growth.
Jenisch had the advantage of being an outsider at the time of his arrival at the newly merged company, giving him a fresh perspective. But he was not a sector outsider given his experience at Sika, which has a construction-related business. This made Jenisch something else: a “company outsider”.
“I remember when I arrived, the number one priority was to make the merger a success and basically have a new operating model, make people comfortable, make sure we had the right leadership team, to make sure we got a bit leaner, put a strategy in place, and most importantly, put financial performance to work,” he says.