Leadership Lessons from 200 CEO’s: 2017

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Annually since 2013 I have surveyed over 200 CEO’s across the USA, Australia and New Zealand to seek feedback on two key questions relating to what they have learnt and what challenges they feel they face over the coming 12 months. As you can imagine it creates a huge amount of information which takes some time to distil down to the key patterns that show up across all the replies. It is also a very interesting document to read because these busy business leaders have taken the time to reflect and answer the questions.

The trend over the last five years has been the impact of constant change, the challenge of developing teams who can perform in change and who have the resilience to perform under pressure. There is much more awareness of the importance of a good culture of engagement and the need for governance, mentors and coaches to stay ahead of the crowd (competitors). I do note that the CEO’s surveyed are leading high performance companies that perform year on year despite market conditions and competitor moves so they are adaptable and already good at execution.

Question 1: What are the three biggest leadership lessons you have learnt in 2017?

  1. Disruption affects all businesses. Change is constant and getting faster and regardless of what industry you are in technology change with have a significant impact on how you lead. Developing change leadership skills is critical.
  2. Behaviours make a big impact as you develop a team. Take the time to define the values, team behaviours (& expectations) so you can expect and demand more of your people. It also provides consistency and builds culture of trust through clarity and communication.
  3. As the CEO I cannot be indispensable. I have to allow others to step up and lead in order to develop future leaders and successors.

Question 2: What are the three biggest challenges you will face as a leader in 2018?

  1. Developing depth in my team to reduce risk and workload i.e. Talent/bench strength both in the senior management team and across other key leaders (Succession, coaching, training).
  2. Implementing good/effective governance and trusted external mentors, advisors & specialists to cover my blind spots and those of our company.
  3. Velocity of execution. Getting the important things done that will ensure the future success of the business, whilst maintaining annual growth and the complexity of the day to day churn of the business.

You can see the results of last years survey here.

You can look back over a summary of the last five surveys here.

I thank all those CEO’s who took the time to reflect and provide feedback.

Kendall

Grit = High Performance Leadership

www.kendalllangston.com

2017: The Leadership Lessons I learnt

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Life is a journey and you have to stop every now and then, get off the track and reflect. It is essential to pause and reflect on what has been achieved, the patterns you see, the lessons you have learnt and what you need to change as you start another busy year. 2017 for me was a full on year. A CEO role (stepping down on 1 December 17 after 5 years, the last 3 of which has seen 30% growth in the business year on year), my first year as a Battalion Commander in the Reserve of the NZ Army, Chairman of a growing global tech company that was a finalist in the NZ High Tech Awards and working alongside & supporting some very high performing client CEO’s and their companies.

A year in which I took took 62 flights, hired and fired some key staff and exited a number of clients, supported clients across NZ, Australia and the USA, spoke at Universities, funerals & business events and most significantly had a baby son born in June bringing a lot of joy to our growing family. I also took my annual 7 weeks off across the year to recharge the most important break being a month over Christmas.

I tracked some other data too. On average I slept 7 hours a night, walked & ran 2555km, did 156 work outs (weights, running, cycling or boxing), climbed 4380 flights of stairs……the joys of a Fitbit keeping the data.

2017 was another year of full on learning as I worked with good companies as they adapted, grew and executed in the increasingly complex business environment. I supported and coached CEO’s and executive teams from public, listed and privately held companies. Revenues ranged from $3m p.a. through the $14bn p.a. Tech companies (mining, gaming, AI/OI, motor sport), professional sport entities, Army leadership teams & Infantry Combat teams, professional services companies (legal, psychology, accounting & finance, survey, software implementation, banking), manufacturing and distribution companies, commercial and residential building companies, civil construction and sub contracting companies, insurance, retail, medical, science, large scale agribusiness…….the list goes on.

So what did I learn as a leader? Good question and here are my reflections;

  1. There is a time to walk away. I take 100% accountability for my actions and 0% for those of others. If you coach, mentor, encourage, teach, collaborate, discuss, seek buy in, plan, agree……and they still don’t change their actions you have to be the change. Its never easy but some people simply can’t, won’t and don’t change.
  2. If its messy keep going. Clarity will prevail, give it time, take time to reflect on the patterns and what you are seeing. Often when you are leading change it is really messy when you are in it. Clarity will come if you create the space to reflect.
  3. Give your time. The most valuable thing you can give someone is your time. Cast a big shadow. Ensure people value it but invest in people, care, play the long game and go the extra mile for good people. They will give back when you need a hand, advice or time.
  4. The power of networking. The most valuable asset you have are your friends and your network of people you know & trust. Hang out more, ask questions, support them, interact, go to events that interest you, learn lots. My network is absolute gold and allows me to seek information, referrals and help.
  5. Ask for Help. One of the goals I set myself early in 2017 was to ask for help more, to let others step up, to seek feedback and advice more. It has paid huge dividends in learning, reduced work load and it actually the best way to engage your team and get out of their way. It is hard to let others step up but persevere and free up your time. Top leaders create other leaders rather than followers.
  6. Look at what people do. I always look at what people do rather than what they say. As a leader and as a coach this is where the gold is. The gap between what they say and what they do. The magic happens if you can close that gap. Also you see who people really are and what they care about by looking at what they do. Be tough and hold people accountable for their actions because people want to be led well and to be given a chance to be better at what they do.
  7. Get rid of the takers. As the African proverb says “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.” Some people take and never give and they play a short game continuously. Get rid of those who simply set out to get ahead themselves. They are not team players and the world operates best with people who can play in a team. In fact these are the people who continue to ask advice and never take it.
  8. Don’t take advice from those who don’t inspire you. Inspiration tends to be about the future rather than the past or the present. Get advice from pragmatic, forward thinking, positive people. Everyone has an opinion so make sure the advice is balanced between data & real life experience. Data wins arguments and shifts both conversations & thinking.
  9. Clever people just need gentle reminding. More often than not people know the answer and they just need to be reminded of what they need to do or should do. Typically there is no substitute for hard work, tough conversations and having the grit and motivation to push forward when things are tough.
  10. The way you do things is what matters. The devil is in the detail i.e. its not what you do but how you do it. Take action, try new things, iterate, measure. Engage people, ask lots of questions, get people to reflect and take them on the journey with you. The world is full of people with great ideas but sadly very few can make shit happen. Value the leaders, the people of action, the doers, those who make mistakes trying new ways.

2018 for me is one of creating new opportunities to be involved in governance, succession and executive leadership coaching. I believe that in order to thrive in the future you have to be 20% better every year and to be passionate about what you do and why you do it. CEO’s are often isolated and they need good solid support from people who have experience and who can introduce them to a network of like minded leaders.

What did you learn in 2017?

Other posts I have written;

Reflection: The secret skill of high performance leaders

Fight to win: Business Lessons from the Army

Are your leaders male, pale and stale?

2 Mins on my approach to Executive Leadership Coaching

 

Business & Leader Succession: Panel Discussion

48% of NZ businesses will need to navigate the challenge of Leader, Founder and possibly ownership succession. It is a global trend as baby boomers come out of their business that will peak around 2028 – 2030. It also presents a massive opportunity to get right. How do you create a culture of leadership development and succession planning? How do you start to get your head around the journey ahead. This panel video is worth watching as you start the conversation and the journey.

Data Wins Arguments: Less “Think” More “Know”

unnamedIn the busy world of business seniority tends to over rule in decisions that have no data. The more experienced and senior members of teams have more sway in decision making as they offer opinions and ideas and too often they are incorrect. They are assumptions based in history, bias or a lack of new thinking.

I work with senior teams all the time and see this pattern. The founder, CEO or “old heads” will refer back to what happened or didn’t happen in the past or what they think. This is often driven by the desire to avoid change because as humans we all hate having to get uncomfortable. New team members voice their views and ideas that are worth exploring but are simply dismissed and at its worst this creates a culture that resists change. It creates a significant risk that the organisation will be irrelevant in the near future.

At its worst countless hours are spent talking about opinions as if they are facts. One of the lessons I have learnt is that “Data wins Arguments”. Data takes the discussion from “I think” to one of “Let me show you”. It shifts the conversation to one that will get a good solid outcome. It takes emotion and bias out of the equation. It leads to data driven and robust business decisions. The role of a leader is to disrupt business as usual in a good way so that the company adapts and thrives in the future. Data can create a huge mandate for change by exposing current & future reality.

This is the impact of KPI’s, financial trend graphs, research, analysis of patterns and numbers. A simple exercise of graphing the monthly, year to date and lifetime revenues of your top 20 clients and having your team sit together and discuss what they see can have a huge aligning effect and can completely shift thinking, perceptions and provides clarity of the actual reality.

This video is worth watching as it outlines just how wrong we get it if we don’t seek data about what media shows us. The gap can be huge and in fact chimpanzees can be more accurate if we don’t look for the numbers and validate our perceptions.

High performance leaders go well beyond emotion, perception. They are aware of the impact of data and seek it to get better business decisions.

Keynote: Leader of the Future

I do quite a few keynote speeches both for businesses, conferences and universities.

One I did recently in the USA was for the global software company Optym (www.optym.com). They videoed it and kindly made it available for my network.

If you are looking for a practical keynote around leadership, strategic thinking or execution (getting things done)  please connect.

2 Mins on Executive Leadership Coaching

I am lucky enough to work one on one with many prominent CEO’s, Founders and senior leaders across NZ, Australia & the USA. These are highly motivated professional leaders already achieving some amazing things. They seek to be more intentional in their leadership role and to stay ahead of the crowd/competition. The courage to seek external help really sets them apart because the average CEO stops their professional development once they reach the top role whilst the top performers know the journey is just beginning. You are only as good as your last game and as with anything in the high performance space you need to apply top of mine application to it.

Leader & Business Succession = The Big Opportunity

So often the topic of succession is ignored or seen as negative. The reality is that it offers a big opportunity to ensure business continuity, a legacy to be realised or an investment to be realised. A culture that invests in leadership assists greatly in ensuring that a business will thrive beyond its current leader (be that a founder, owner or professional CEO).

In this video John Spence and I discuss the topic and some of the challenges and opportunities.