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.

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.

Leadership: The Science of Personality

Leadership is a key predictor of success and the impact leaders have on a group is not only significant but extremely consistent. Leadership is a “Group resource” and groups that are seeking to get ahead tend to want to have the best leaders in place to ensure that outcome. Personality plays a big part and I am often asked questions such as “Are leaders born or made”, “Do leaders have to be charismatic and inspiring to be successful.”

This video from Hogan Assessments is a very good resource and it answers many interesting questions as it explores the science behind personality and the impact this has on leaders. We use Hogan Assessments to support clients on our Executive Leadership Program and really value their research and expertise.

Leader of the Future

Leadership is a game changer, the “magic ingredient” that can take a group of individuals, shape them into a team and then inspire some incredible achievements. I am lucky enough to work with, support and spend time amongst some amazing leaders both within Advisory.Works, the NZ Army and our client portfolio that includes prominent CEO’s, Founders and Directors from leading brands/companies in NZ, Australia and the USA.

Photo by: Visual Culture Ltd (www.visualculture.co)

Change and disruption are now just part of our new normal and we see business leaders actively seeking the leadership skills that can give them the edge. The ability to enable a culture that talented employees want to be part of and the ability to change and iterate so as to consistently stay ahead of their competition. Leadership is a lonely place and the skills a leader needs are not really taught anywhere. Influencing the future leaders is something I am passionate about and why I’m actively involved with MBA & Masters programmes at the University of Canterbury.

Our Strategic Business Partner John Spence recently spoke at the University of Canterbury Executive Leader Programme as part of the “Thought Leadership Series” and covered many of the current and emerging leadership trends he is seeing in his work globally with high performing organisations. You can check out his presentation here;

Let me know your thoughts?

Leading: The Fine Art of Story Telling

The Army is a culture of history, rituals, traditions and story telling. Soldiers tell stories of hardship, often using humour as a medium. Taking the piss out of one another, laughing when things get tough, keeping it real and connecting with each other. One of the things I loved about being a professional soldier and now as a Battalion Commander in the Army reserve is the camaraderie of being part of an Infantry unit. Like minded people, prepared to serve connected by common purpose, experience and at times hardship, overseas and in harms way.

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South West Africa, 1996

In fact we as humans are genetically hardwired to tell stories. In ancient times in all cultures the art of storytelling was the the “google” of the time. This was how methodology, family history and lessons learnt were passed on to the next generation. It was human connection, the entertainment of the time, education of the time and the essence of tribe.

In the modern world this lives on in movies, youtube, games, the entertainment industry, book etc. In many ways things have not changed even if the methods of delivery might have. As a leadership tool the ability to connect people through stories is a skill that greatly enhances effectiveness. Telling a story is a great way to teach, inspire, influence and connect. The best CEO’s and leaders I know are the best storytellers. I love Tom Peters analogy “Manage by storying about”.

Here is 2 mins on the subject from a recent leadership panel I took part in;

Insanity: Having No Strategic Execution Plan.

I have just spent several days working with a large listed Australian company at an offsite in the Blue Mountains. They were taking their Strategic plan and consciously building their plan to execute the Strategy. Typically you should spend as much time planning the execution as you do making the Strategic plan and yet this is rarely done.

This is core business for Advisory.Works as our clients know & it prevents one of the biggest frustrations in business today: A lack of execution. Nothing happens…..a great plan is never realised, it sits on the shelf and gathers dust. This is total insanity & so often Business Leaders wonder why their fantastic Strategic plan never ever gets executed. How can it?

Here are a few thoughts on Disciplined Execution from a recent CEO Leadership Panel I was part of in Christchurch.

Leadership is not About Making Everyone Happy

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If a leader is action orientated, future focused, consistent, fair, has courageous conversations, coaches, mentors and cares about those they lead…………. a respect and a bond of trust will be established through shared experience. This leads to friendship over time. It does not mean things will always be happy.

I agree with the quote……..sell ice cream if you want to make people happy.

“Male, Pale & Stale”: The Diversity Challenge

Chances are your company will be led by a group of middle aged men with 30 + years of experience. The vast majority of established companies tend to be. Most won’t use or understand digital tools and they will struggle to understand why and how social media can used to grow their brand, sales and networks. They will be quite set in their ways, used to thinking and doing things in a certain way and change, new innovative ways of operating and motivating others will seem very inconvenient. Lets just say they won’t embrace change!

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Don’t for a minute think that I am not advocating the importance of experience (it is very valuable) but if this is all you have chances are you are being or are about to be taken out by an up and coming company that embraces diversity of thinking.

I work with a diverse range of established companies across many industry’s and it staggers me the amount of linear “group think” that needs to be disrupted. That age old culture killing quote “Thats the way we have always done it” which extrapolated out leads to “we get the same results….over and over again” is alive and well.

Working with diverse Boards, reading the latest leadership research, attending Singularity University, Institute of Director training and teaching young leaders at both the University of Florida & Canterbury, I know that the inclusion of young smart people of various genders, ethnicity and backgrounds will lead to better ideas, execution and outcomes. So what can you do to rid yourself of the “Male, Pale & Stale” brigade? A few ideas;

  • Disrupt your own business as usual in a good way by including younger people in key projects and planning sessions. Challenge thinking, have robust conversations and debate.
  • Bring externals into your team to change dynamics and conversations. Clients, consultants, students, people from outside the industry. This will lead to different outcomes.
  • Find talented young people who can reverse mentor by teaching older, experienced leaders their way of thinking and why they might think the way they do. Get them to share the tools they use and why they believe what they believe.
  • Ensure your next hires bring new ways of thinking and working to the organisation. Recruit for it, have a robust process to ensure you don’t bring on yet another clone who believes what you believe is the only approach.
  • Make ongoing education around change, technology and leadership a major part of the culture of your organisation and senior leadership team. Build on the formal education of the 1990s with ongoing learning, skills training and frameworks.
  • Get closer to your clients. If they are increasingly diverse and changing then you also need to be as a company and team to adapt and succeed in the future.
  • Be wary of the new data driven, technology savvy start up. They can really hurt you and will be a common & increasing threat over the next few years. A sobering message delivered by Singularity University was “Your biggest competitor in 2025 will be a start up company in 2024.”

Stay nimble. Ensure you lead your organisation to change adapt and pivot to ensure it thrives in the future.