These 3 business secrets made Ken Chenault the most successful CEO of American Express

Stephen Nartey June 30, 2023
At the time of his retirement, Ken had earned his place as one of the successful four African Americans who run a Fortune 500 company. Photo credit: Ken Chenault via LinkedIn

Ken Chenault is considered one of America’s most prominent Chief Executive Officers. He spent the last 17 years of his almost four-decade service in corporate America as chairman and CEO of American Express, according to CBS News.

Ken did not have any experience in running a business or creating one while in college, all he had was knowledge of law and history. However, at the time of his retirement, he had earned his place as one of the successful four African Americans who run a Fortune 500 company.

He was offered an opportunity to run the operations of the company in 1981, which was a time when American Express was in distress. One of the organization’s top managers, Louis Gerstner, initially wanted to close down the department Ken worked in; however, in two years, he turned the fortunes of the company from an entity that was making sales of $150 million to $500 million, according to Neil Patel.

Throughout the years, he weathered the company through both turbulent and good times, making American Express one of the most respected brands in the United States. In 2013, the company was adjudged 13th on the Most Admired Companies List.

There are a few principles Ken credits for the exceptional feats he achieved in the corporate world:

First of all, leaders need to create a context and a message of hope in their work environments. This can be done by arming employees with the strategies, values, and inspiration to be hopeful. Even in the wake of a crisis, leaders must ensure that neither an individual nor a situation distorts the reality they hold.

The next principle is to implement a strategy that enables employees to visualize that they can achieve company goals or overcome challenges a corporation finds itself in. With this winning mentality and consistency in delivering objectives, leaders are bound to achieve success. Ken adds that in the course of empowering and getting employees to work towards the vision of a leader, there should be a way to consistently track whether they are meeting their deliverables.

Next, is the use of constructive confrontation as a mechanism to get expected results from employees. Because different perspectives on an issue matter, Ken believes the culture of letting staff speak up boldly helps colleagues to understand each other’s reality. Once the team decides on the way forward through this approach, they will most likely deliver their best. Leaders must make themselves approachable for constructive debates with employees, and once a determination is made on a matter, everyone can work together to achieve a common goal.

More so, Followership, integrity, courage, and a sense of humor are qualities every leader should possess. Based on these ingredients, every leader must as a matter of importance, have a mentor who provides insight and judgment. This mentor relationship must be developed to enhance a leader’s performance. This is often misunderstood as having someone in the background giving technical advice; that role is an expert position.

A mentor should be able to give judgment on a leader’s decisions. It doesn’t matter where these mentors are placed, whether at higher or lower levels of the ladder. The best advice often comes from those at the bottom because they give unfiltered insights about a situation.

Ken concludes that power is a beautiful influence to wield as a leader, however, judgment is more potent than power when running the affairs as a leader.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: June 30, 2023

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