November 3, 2010 Culture, Executive, Leadership

Is it bravery or just great leadership?

Do you ever wonder how you are really doing as a leader?  Who does the judging?  Meet a CEO who lets employees vote him in or out every year. 

ING Direct is a large European banking operation that does business in the United States with a very interesting twist. When ING first entered the country, they hosted focus groups to find out what people hated about their banks, and then they did the opposite. The first rule of ING’s code of conduct is a simple concept: “We will tell the truth.” Great businesses often start from this premise.

The company’s CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann puts himself up for election by secret ballot among his company’s employees every year. “All my colleagues think I’m nuts, and the board thinks I’m nuts,” Kuhlmann told the New York Times.  “But I don’t want to serve here unless I’ve got the commitment of people genuinely wanting me to serve.”

Kuhlman says he is not asking to win a popularity contest, but he wants to know that employees have faith in the mission, the company and his abilities. Even though the shareholders, the board, and the customers seem to be happy with him he wants to know how the associates feel.  There are two messages he wants to send by doing this. One is that he doesn’t take the job for granted. And, No. 2, that he’s willing to be accountable to them, not because he works for them in a broader sense, but he feels that if he’s walking around saying that his associates are so important, then why don’t they have a say in terms of whether or not he’s leading them.

It takes courage and confidence to ask those who work for you how you’re doing as their leader.  But after all isn’t that what leadership is all about.

For the entire interview with Kuhlmann go to