Leadership 'rhythms' drive opportunity: Johnson Controls' George Oliver on Meet the Leader

George Oliver, Johnson Controls

Johnson Control's Chairman and CEO George Oliver Image: Johnson Controls

Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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  • Meet the Leader is a fortnightly podcast from the World Economic Forum that features the world’s top changemakers, showcasing the habits and traits effective leaders can’t work without.
  • Johnson Control's Chairman and CEO George Oliver explains the powerful role that leadership rhythms can play in tackling complex problems from COVID-19 to the climate.

When doctors and nurses mobilized for the pandemic last year, they were joined by a different sort of front line worker: those in critical infrastructure.

As COVID emerged in Wuhan, China, smart building technology provider Johnson Controls was needed to construct temporary hospitals and isolation rooms to help those impacted first by the coronavirus. As it shifted nearly overnight to meet the shifting needs of the crisis, the company and its 100,000 employees found new ways of working and connecting.


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During this time of great upheaval, leadership rhythms played an important role, Johnson Controls' Chairman and CEO George Oliver recently said in our podcast, Meet The Leader. Regular monthly and weekly meetings covering strategy to fundamentals ensured that teams stayed focused and aligned. Such sessions also ensured teams had the information they needed to understand best when to pivot or change course.

"If you stop the rhythm, then you're going to start to sacrifice the opportunity," said Oliver.

Oliver applies rhythm and routine to the way he works as well. He rises early - at 4 AM - to connect with teams in Asia and Europe. His day can last 12 hours before he retires to spend time with family and recharge. He's a "big believer in sleep and getting the proper amount and is often in bed by 9. "Especially in the last year, it has been everything we do on steroids," he said, "being able to do what you do and do it as well as you can, I think is very important."

With a hold on travel during the pandemic, Oliver could build in new habits and routines. Working remotely gave him more time to connect with more teams internally and those outside the company, such as through the Business Round Table (where Oliver chairs its Energy & Environment Committee).

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"With new tools, it gives you an incredible opportunity to take what you know is important and really significantly elevate it," said Oliver.

Oliver spoke to Meet the Leader about the importance of rhythm in weathering crisis and driving collaboration and innovation. He also discussed the role such practices can play in tackling other complex problems, such as leveraging digital building technologies to tackle climate mitigation and how the company is helping its customers to become more energy efficient and reduce carbon emissions.

"If you stop the rhythm, then you're going to start to sacrifice the opportunity."

George Oliver, Chairman and CEO, Johnson Controls

"Leadership needs to have kind of a rhythm, engagement, collaboration - which drives innovation and then, ultimately, performance," said Oliver.

Learn more about the routines Oliver depends on - and the book that he calls a "cause for optimism" - on this week's Meet the Leader podcast.


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