The ClientWise Blog

No Ostriches. No Elephants.

Posted by Chris Holman on May 17, 2011 12:11:00 PM


On June 1st 2011, Barry Salzberg ascends to the CEO spot of Deloitte Global, the largest of the “Big Four” consulting and accounting firms, with 170,000 employees worldwide in 150 countries.

Although Deloitte’s global headquarters on 1633 Broadway in midtown Manhattan is just a borough away from where Salzberg was born-and-raised in Brooklyn, it is worlds away from where he began in life. His father was a postal clerk who died when he was in high school, requiring young Barry to work to help support his family.Salzberg was only the second person in his family to attend college. In fact, his high school guidance counselor told him not to bother to go to college because "he couldn't handle the work." Salzberg applied to every publicly funded college in the city. He wasn't able to leave home because his mother was alone at the time, and he needed to work 25-40 hours a week to support them both.

Ultimately, Salzberg earned a Bachelor’s degree in accounting from Brooklyn College, a Juris Doctorate from Brooklyn Law School, and a Master of Laws degree in taxation from the New York University School of Law. It's not clear what the guidance counselor is doing today.

Joining Haskin & Sells in 1977, Salzberg got his first lesson in leadership…his 3rd day on the job. His first boss (who Salzberg subsequently named “Bosszilla”) asked him to xerox a tax ruling. Salzberg did so…and also took the initiative of including his own 2-page interpretation.

His boss’s blunt response? “Mr. Salzberg, I asked for a copy of the ruling, not your interpretation. One copy, stapled.”

Mr. Salzberg’s 34-year career at Deloitte, along with his bedrock learning on the streets of Brooklyn, has given him a fresh and unique perspective on how he defines leadership. He calls this principle, “No Ostriches. No Elephants.” This philosophy is predicated on four underlying tenets: Honesty, Respect, Appreciation, and Transparency.

Honesty: In Salzberg’s words, “No burying your head in the sand if there’s a problem, and no ignoring the elephant in the room. Much better to name and tame an issue, no matter how difficult it is. Making the truth told and discussed is the foundation of leadership. Without that, you can’t build trust.”

Respect: Salzberg’s attitude towards his colleagues is light-years away from the attitude of “Bosszilla.” In his view, today’s worker expects to be treated with complete respect, as an individual who can offer valued contributions to an organization. Moreover, workers tend to stay longer in jobs that are built around their own unique needs…not vice versa.

Appreciation: The Golden Rule applies…and don’t forget to say “Thanks!” Let your best people know how much they are valued…especially in tough times.

Transparency: No hidden agendas. According to Salzberg: the idea of a "ruling elite in the clouds of some bureaucratic Mount Olympus." In the past, it would have been unthinkable for the average employee to have direct contact with the CEO, he pointed out. Today, CEOs regularly host employee town halls, in which people are encouraged to ask and say anything. "Our people have to see if that if they disagree [with their boss], nothing will happen -- that there are no [negative] consequences to promotion or compensation."

For more on Barry Salzberg, check out this illuminating article at Knowledge@Wharton.

Ostrich Facts: The Ostrich is the largest living species of bird and lays the largest egg as well. Ostriches never actually bury their hands in the sand. Complete myth. Ostriches also have the ability to run at maximum speeds of about 97.5 kilometers per hour (60.6 mph), the top land speed of any bird. (See here.)

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Topics: Leadership