Engage your head and your heart, bosses advised.
How wedded are you to your career and your company? Is it a vocation - or is that kind of thinking just for medical people and teachers?
Christchurch Boys' High School principal Trevor McIntyre has been in his job for eight years now and farewelled his first full generation of boys last year. "It's a very impressionable five years," he says. "They come in as boys and leave as young men."
McIntyre says during his time at the school of nearly 1400 boys, and 205 staff, he has improved communication with parents.
He has started a process where teachers send out brief weekly reports to parents, giving their impression of each child's performance and state in that five days.
McIntyre realised that parents were very important customers and keeping them informed was key to happy parental engagement. Secondary schools have been quite lazy about responding to parents' interest in more regular information on their children, he says.
He takes his role seriously. "I feel like a keeper of the sword, it's a long-standing traditional school.
"I would like people to say the headmaster is personable rather than an ogre. I walk the school classrooms, travel all over New Zealand to watch my boys play sport. I like to get amongst them, I hope they will remember me for that," he says of his legacy.
McIntyre, with experience in running a farming business and in education, says he draws on both to be a success. Those who treat it too much as a vocation can go wrong. "If it's purely heart stuff, and you forget the head stuff," it doesn't work, he says.
There are definite parallels between school principals and CEOs, says Marc Burrage, executive general manager of recruitment company Hudson NZ. In both cases, you are "shaping people's lives".
"Both are custodians of people in their duty of care for a period of time," he says. The best legacy you can leave is for your staff to say: "That's the best place I worked in my career".
Private companies are better suited to CEOs with vocational traits, says Burrage. They are more comfortable with a long-term vision.
A public company is more challenging, with shareholders and the board focused on the short-term results. "It is very difficult to satisfy these demands and build a longer-term view, secure in the knowledge that it will come to fruition," he says.
"Some CEOs who don't deliver short-term results become the fall guys."
Simon O'Shaughnessy, a mentor to chief executives at The Executive Connection (TEC), identifies DTR managing director Mark Spring as an example of a vocational CEO.
Spring is also a 21 per cent shareholder in the retail appliance and rental business, which he and his executive chairman Gordon Howlett bought through a management buyout in 2006.
The legacy he would like to leave is one of "absolute brutal honesty", says Spring.
While CEOs have an instinct to protect their staff from unpleasant truths, Spring has done the opposite.
"If you filter information to staff, there is no way you can expect them to be fully engaged in the business," he says. Through this, "we have been able to make all of the staff at all levels part of the solution".
Spring says length of tenure is not as important as depth of attachment or integration. He believes it is a vocation for him to the extent that he is "creating a culture" and is part of that culture. He feels integral to the business.
"I have been like this in every business; there have been some businesses where I have left frustrated because I have not been able to operate with that depth."
Spring has given up on achieving life/work balance. "It's more organic, work integrating with the rest of my life, but it's also vice versa. I might be closing a deal while walking with my kid's class around the museum or attending my kid's school camp during work hours. You have got to be a part of it and it has to be a part of you," he says.
Staff, if they are a good fit, will be offered flexibility as long as they show a willingness to get the job done, says the MD.
DTR tells its suppliers and other business partners about its business strategy. "That philosophy has got to extend outside of the business."
Having acted aggressively during the recession by advertising more and hiring good talent, DTR is now looking to expand the business. Spring says the fact that he is a 21 per cent shareholder should not affect his bravery in taking risks with the business. Every manager should make decisions as though they own their company, he says.
Alan Casey, management consultant with Casey Osgood Hutchinson, helps prepare new CEOs for their role. Rather than building a vision for what they want to achieve when they arrive, he encourages them to be collaborative in building a future direction for the company. "It's not just: 'Here I am and here's the flag.' It's more: 'Let's all develop this together'."
The focus is around creating a great place to work.
Just because you are a vocational CEO does not mean you have to stay at the same company forever, adds Casey. As long as you leave a legacy and, as Good to Great author Jim Collins says, "set your successor up for greater success".
Gill South is an Auckland freelance writer