2018: The Leadership Lessons I Learnt

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The Southern Alps of New Zealand: A great spot to reflect.

I loved 2018. It was an exciting, challenging year packed with fun, great work assignments, tough conversations, big decisions, awesome colleagues and the opportunity to work with business leaders who are at the top of their game.

Each year I ask the CEO’s I coach to reflect on what they have learnt, what they have achieved and to think ahead to the challenges they face.  I  also challenge myself to do the same. “Live what we teach, teach what we live” is a Core value after all.

It does take discipline to stop, take time out, reflect and to bank lessons learnt. If you don’t then you run the risk of not seeing exactly what has been achieved and will likely make the same mistakes or worse not leverage the hard earned lessons you have learnt.

A summary of key aspects of my year and some data (what gets measured gets managed).

Family: My daughter passed her NZCEA level 2 with Merit (whilst rowing, playing netball and Basketball), my son turned one & a wee baby daughter was born on the 28th of December 2018. We moved house, celebrated my parents 75th birthdays, family birthdays and sadly have had to both support ill family members and attend funerals of extended family and friends. That said I loved every minute of my family life.

Personal Fitness, health & well-being: Courtesy of my Fitbit I know I walked or ran 2555km, climbed 2234 flights of stairs, completed 182 work out periods consisting of 261.5 active hours and burnt a grand total of 1,252,315 calories! I took a month break at Christmas and 3 x one week breaks during the year to stay recharged, have time with family and to rest.

Work wise I took 56 flights, led 231 executive coaching sessions (one on one with Directors, Founders, CEO’s and C level executives in NZ, Australia & the USA), Chaired 24 Board meetings, took on a another chair role & taught on the University of Canterbury MBA course. I also led 57 Strategic planning sessions with companies and facilitated 31 customised Executive Leadership workshops. Clients were NZ wide, in Australia and in the USA & included work with Ngai Tahu, the Canterbury Rugby Football Union, tech companies, not for profit organisations and bigger companies than we have traditionally done business with.

In October I traded my shares in the national company & Greg & I purchased the Christchurch Practice & client accounts outright. In November I attended the Institute of Directors five day directors course and then subsequently completed the requirements to be a Chartered Member of the Institute. Through the year clients won a number of national and regional awards and it was a pleasure to attend the Champion Canterbury, NZ Export Awards and NZ High Tech Awards.

Our business partner John Spence (and his lovely wife Sheila) visited down under and we worked together to deliver some unique Leadership Development workshops. We continued to develop strategic partnerships with likeminded professionals as we grow our leadership and execution services offering.

In my role as Commanding Officer of 2/4 Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment I completed 56 days service. The Battalion supported local communities, deployed people overseas on operations and commemorated ANZAC and Armistice centenary celebrations across the South Island. I qualified on the NZ Army fitness test and the rifle and pistol shooting tests which whilst standard qualifications, they require some focus and commitment to ensure I set the example as the Commanding Officer.

A busy and fulfilling year. So what did I learn?;

  1. Push for the break through, be patient and do the hard mahi (work). Good things take time & when you are working in the complex space of behavioural change and leadership there are no magic bullets or instant solutions. You have to be focussed, consistent and reflective. Consistently leading courageous conversations is the catalyst for the break through.
  2. Never underestimate the impact of caring. Play the long game – In a world of pace, shallow relationships & instant gratification it can be hard to make the important things happen. The stuff that needs a longer horizon. The rewards are great if you can play the long game, focus on the long term goal and invest in developing high trust relationships. Time & time again it pays dividends. Give back time, coach others, be genuinely interested in their success & the success of their organisations.
  3. Choose your mindset and control your reaction. You can’t control the action of others, markets, weather, government decision but you can control how you choose you react. Keep a cool head, never react immediately, reflect and have fun. It doesn’t matter how challenging a business situation is…..life carries on. Its not like a military operation after all!
  4. It gets easier to make tough decisions. Tough decisions = an easy life. In a world of populist leadership it will set you apart and allow you to maintain momentum. After all time is short and your most valuable asset. Use it wisely surrounded by good people who challenge you, who are on the same mission and who energise you. Avoid those that constantly take and drain energy whilst offering nothing in return. When making decisions it is important to have a framework and to reflect back on the outcomes.
  5. Keep Grounded. It is important to recharge, spend time with family and friends & to invest in your own education, development and personal interests. It keeps you connected to your purpose and on track.

2019 has started with some great opportunities & I’m looking forward to working hard to ensure it is a success.

A link to to the Lessons I learnt in 2017.

4 Game Changers to Improve Execution

One of the biggest challenges and frustrations that business leaders have in 2018 is how to execute their Strategic plan to ensure the future success of the business. Over the last 18 months we have conducted in depth surveys with 161 business leadership teams across New Zealand, Australia & the USA asking them 35 key questions over a 2 hour gap analysis assessment.

When it comes to Disciplined Execution the basics really count and the surveys highlighted a common gap in four areas as highlighted by the data;

  1. Role Clarity: 110 (68%) of the 161 teams interviewed had not clearly documented who was accountable for key roles in the business & how their performance would be measured. It stands to reason that if there is no real role clarity then there will be overlaps in effort, low levels of accountability & frustrations. In many cases roles had not been updated as the team grew, head count increased and the company evolved. Putting in the effort to document and get clarity on roles and measurements makes a huge impact and is an engaging discussion to have as a team.
  2. Consequences: 106 (66%) of the 161 teams had staff that did not know the consequences for achieving (or not achieving) the performance standard required for their role. Without praise and recognition for great work (catch people doing things right) there is no incentive to go above and beyond. Likewise if poor performance is not confronted it becomes hard to perform as a team and good people leave due to the mediocrity that is tolerated. These topics should be discussed as a team so there is clarity which will in turn lift engagement. (See “The Power of Consequence”).
  3. Meetings: 117 (73%) of the 161 teams did not conduct well-structured “execution meetings” with team members on a weekly basis. Most leaders hate meetings and their team members hate being part of them. Yet if you lead people you need to be excellent at leading engaging team meetings that allow you to live your culture. What makes a great meeting? Respect for time, never cancelled, clear team rules, being prepared, having each attendee speak to their numbers, a review of results, clarity on future actions, updates on strategic actions/projects, documented decisions (who, what, when), core value stories, connection & fun as a team. A clear cadence of meetings will make a huge impact on team engagement, execution and will maintain momentum.
  4. Quarterly Reviews: 132 (82%) of the 161 teams did not review their performance against their strategy and then update and communicate the strategic direction every quarter (90 days). Most Companies have a strategic plan that is reviewed annually or bi-annually but few review and update progress quarterly. It is a static plan. This quarterly review is a key meeting that drives reflection, lessons learnt, measures numbers and progress and allows the plan to iterate and remain highly relevant. A quarterly review every 90 days is a real game changer.

I have worked with hundreds of good leadership teams over the last 10 years and whenever these four game changers are implemented execution, engagement and accountability really starts to lift and it doesn’t cost anything. The team lifts to another level. It requires the CEO to refocus on several important things that will make a huge impact. Below are two short videos on these topics.

My website: www.kendalllangston.com

Our Philosophy on Executive Leadership Coaching

A short video with Top 50 Global Leadership Expert John Spence on how we each approach Executive Leadership Coaching. There are many approaches to coaching but without doubt if you get the right fit the impact it makes to your effectiveness as a leader is significant. John has been coaching for many years and his approach, although similar, is different to mine.

I learnt through my career as an Army Officer the importance of coaching, mentoring and guiding and was lucky enough to have some very good leaders invest their time with me. Years of practical leadership followed by some post graduate study at Cornell University in the High Performance Leadership space allowed us to develop our framework that we use to work with many to the top CEO’s, Sports leaders and emerging leaders in New Zealand, Australia and the USA.

Check out this short video.

The Power of Consequence

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Recently one of my clients asked the following, “What do I do if someone in my sales team never hits their targets? How should I handle that?”

That’s a good question & sadly its one we answer frequently.

Former US Secretary of State, Collin Powell made a powerful observation when addressing a Global Leaders Lecture series;

“Everyone in a team knows who is and who is not performing and they are looking to you as the leader to see what you are going to do about it.”

If you do not hold people accountable and confront poor performers, you cannot create a high performance team.  There must be consequences, and the reason for this is to keep your A players, the high performers in your team, engaged. No one wants to be part of a team that accepts mediocrity and if it is allowed to continue it destroys team culture. It also destroys your credibility as a leader and erodes respect.

Some tools for ensuring there are consequences:

  1. Include teams and individuals in planning and setting their team and individual targets. Agree one on one with each team member that what they are setting out to do is achievable, and that they are committed to it.
  2. Discuss results as a team and make results visible on a weekly basis
  3. Manage people individually. Meet with each individual one on one on a weekly basis to support high performers to get better and support poor performers to improve.
  4. Train regularly as a team. Leverage the skills and learnings of the high achievers.
  5. Be consistent. A consequence of not hitting a goal should be that it is confronted each time with a courageous conversation.
  6. Use Core Values and a simple set of team rules as tools to provide a framework for setting and managing expectations.

Your job as a leader is to support, grow and mentor your team.

There must be consequences for poor performance if a team is to grow and win in business today.

Everyone in your team knows who is and who is not performing and are looking at you as the leader to see what you are going to do about it. Move fast, have the courageous conversations and care about results.

High Standards Define Great Leaders

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‘Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high’ – Jeff Bezos

In any organisation the leadership team set the standards. How this team operates sets the environment for the rest of the people in the wider team.

Many organisations have very talented people, great ideas, awesome tools of the trade to get the job done and a real mission but never get anywhere near their full potential. I have lead in several high performing military and commercial environments & currently professionally coach and support some fantastic CEOs, military officers and emerging executive leaders & there is no easy path/short cut to achieving success.

The standards & expectations you set as a leader will define the success of your team. As the leader you create the environment and the momentum to win in a tough environment.

The key drivers of leadership success;

  1. Growth Mindset. Experience and technical skills are critical but a growth mindset is the game changer. Leaders with a growth mindset ( as in high performance sport) believe they can learn and get better and better as a leader and as a team.
  2. Pick your team carefully. Most teams in business are long term so ensure those in key roles fit, have the desire to lift the game and are people you enjoy working and hanging out with. Surround yourself with good buggers.
  3. Diversity of thought rules. A range of different thinkers and backgrounds is a key to success. People who think differently and who are prepared to challenge your opinions and ideas can be confronting to many and a challenge to lead and align.
  4. Park the ego. If you want to achieve things the organisation has never done then you will have to be a better leader. More open to ideas, a driver of change, a facilitator of courageous conversations, better at alignment of your leaders within the team. Be prepared to adapt & iterate plans.
  5. Future focussed. A vision of the future drives inspiration, aligns decision making and provides a mandate for change ie doing what we do now with the structure and talent we have will not get us there.
  6. Expect more, far more. You have to be 20% better every year just to stay the same. Train together, have tough conversations, coach your people, get coaching yourself from professionals, seek mentors, hang out with peers, seek input from those who have done it, read, listen and apply things into real situations.
  7. Behaviours and meetings. Your ability to master the soft skills, to coach, to lead good meetings, to play with horizons and agendas are your best tools. Disrupting business as usual constantly in a good way is the role of a leader.
  8. Set and maintain high standards. This will at times be criticised and uncomfortable but those leaders who are courageous will get the respect of their teams by executing the important things that set the organisation up for future success.

Anyone can lead in good times but sadly not many can effectively lead and execute change in tough times.

How are you preparing for tough times ahead?

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