On the battle field the fog of war refers to the fact that it can be very hard to see the full picture of what is happening let alone how you are progressing your part of it. Smoke, dust, noise, reactions of the enemy, weather, other friendly forces in the area all contribute to a situation that can be hard to navigate, easy for clear communication to fail & difficult to make clear decisions amongst.
So too in the current business environment. How do you as a leader get the clarity and confidence needed to make good solid decisions when the future seems full of uncertainty, technology change, economic disruption, challenged supply chains and changes that require rapid responses?
A few proven big ideas to consider;
Invest in your team. Continually building trust, close relationships and digging deeper in the “self” awareness and “other” awareness space builds support and empathy. Teams who have each others back can have robust discussions, align and then roll their sleeves up and get the mahi (work) done. Now is a very good time to invest in your team collectively and individually. Little bits regularly on an ongoing basis creates confidence and helps with alignment & effective communication.
Bring the outside in. It can be too easy to be inwardly focussed within your own business and this increases your risk profile. Share insights, information and seek to understand the bigger picture across the market. By taking a much broader approach it will allow you to make better informed and timely decisions. Engage broadly with trusted advisers, collaborate with like minded professionals & constantly ask your clients for feedback. There has never been more collaboration between organisations including competitors.
Schedule and prioritise regular reviews, strategic updates and industry scans. If things are moving fast increase your meeting rhythm. This means scheduling more reviews (not less) and opportunities to pause, take stock of the situation, make clear decisions, review previous decisions and execute change in an aligned and coordinated way. It can be too easy to cancel these important reviews and become consumed by immediate challenges. Sadly this creates confusion, increases the workload, levels of frustration and chaos. Plan, plan and plan.
Make good clear decisions with the best data and information available but be prepared to adapt and iterate the plan as things change. It is important to execute through a series of reviews and decision points. Data wins arguments and moves a discussion away from strong opinions so it is always worth looking at the key numbers and the patterns that are emerging.
Bank the valuable lessons learnt. Reflect regularly on what is working, what isn’t and ensure the same mistakes are not made time and time again. Success breeds more success and confidence.
Take regular breaks, have fun and celebrate the wins. Keep across your team and ensure they take time out, look after their family and recharge. This period of change will be ongoing and a marathon (rather than a sprint). Teams who make it a priority to celebrate the key wins regularly have a sense that hard work is paying dividends. It is just as important to acknowledge what is going right than to constantly focus on what isn’t. Celebrations don’t have to be huge in fact most don’t need anything more than setting aside some time to acknowledge people and achievements.
Ask for Help. Seek help from those in your team, your mentors, coaches, members of your board, others in your peer group. You don’t need to know & in fact can’t have all the answers, rather seek to build a network around you from whom you can seek expertise, experience and information.
Without a doubt the current environment an exciting time to be leading in business. As professional leaders we owe it to those within our team, company and their wider families to be at the top of our game. The fog of (war) business can be challenging and even overwhelming at times and we can all learn from how others approach it.
2020 has been an amazing year really. As I reflect back on the first year of the new decade…..it really has been quite fascinating from a leadership point of view. We entered the year with the anticipation of a brand new decade and very early on the world changed forever in the face of Covid-19. Looking back it has been busy, full of challenge, uncertainty and yet one full of new opportunities.
The whole year has been a leadership case study. We have witnessed examples of excellent and completely incompetent leadership as governments and organisations have grappled with decisions, change and communication. Locally in New Zealand we leveraged the fact we are on an Island & able to shut the borders going hard in lockdown. Despite initial scepticism this has proven to be a game changing decision that our government took. In fact they got a second term largely based on this success.
“Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” Steve Jobs
I feel it is important to reflect back over the year on achievements, failures and the valuable lessons learnt & I have published a summary of these over the last four years. As I prepare to take some time off I have looked back over 2020 and have published the highlights from my notes.
I got to work from home for 7 weeks and to spend time with my family, in particular hanging out with my wee kids (now 3.5 & 2). Our consulting practice remained busy & I really enjoyed being based at home.
Sadly my wife lost her father to cancer (fortunately his funeral was several weeks prior to shut down) & 2 of my elderly Uncles & an Aunty also passed away. One of these Uncles (Bruce Alexander) was a real mentor and a close friend throughout my life & I miss him a lot.
As a family we purchased our dream home on nearly an acre in an area we love in August. This was fortunately just before the property boom really started.
I managed to take my annual 7 weeks leave over the year and as family we did a 6 night camper van holiday down the West Coast of the South Island & over the Haast Pass into Central Otago. It reminded me of what a beautiful country we have!
We have supported my father through some serious health issues which at age 77 is an ongoing concern. It makes me realise that life is indeed precious and short.
According to my Apple watch I averaged 9092 steps per day, 38 mins of exercise per day, had a resting heart rate of 52, slept an average of 7 hours 15 mins per night, completed 193 workouts.
During the lock down I worked as part of the NZ Army response to Covid-19. Our men & women stepped up to do their bit as they always do in a time of need. On 11 July I handed over command of 2/4 Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment after 3 years & 8 months as the Commanding Officer. This job was a bucket list role for me (not one many get to do in their career) and marked 28 years service in the NZ Army as an Infantry Officer (18 in the regular Army and a further 10 as an active reservist) & had required a 70-80 days per year time commitment. I am proud of what the unit achieved and the change that I got to lead within the Battalion. I also have a lot more spare time after 10 years serving 40 (+) days with the Army largely during weekends and breaks from my normal work.
Business & Consulting Milestones
Despite a disrupted year & some concerning times, we significantly grew our business during 2020. We launched our own brand (Pivot & Pace which is our legal name) into the market, moved offices and iterated the way we deliver our services. We intentionally chose to change our structures to future proof against further shut downs & to respond to what our clients want (vs what we want).
This change challenged the mindset of everyone in the team (me included) to do things differently, to challenge the status quo & to look at new ways of delivering more client centric services as we continue to iterate & evolve our services. Our focus has very much remained about making an impact for those we work with. Helping them to get the break throughs they need to thrive (not to simply survive) in the current economic environment.
As we launched our new brand we committed to an enduring agreement to collaborate with our good friends at Advisory.Works. This is an important relationship & the future of high values professional services is very much going to be about collaborating with like minded partner companies.
We retained all of our clients over the year (Less 2: One we decided to fire due to a misalignment on values & another in the retail sector who was sadly severely impacted by Covid-19). Over the year we also engaged a number of well known established companies/brands across NZ who, through referral & our networks, sought executive leadership coaching & strategic execution support. We continued to deliver services to our Australian clients and to a number in the USA working alongside John Spence.
We worked closely alongside New Zealand Trade & Enterprise supporting some of New Zealand’s best export companies on the “F700”, “Springboard” & regional business programmes. It has been very satisfying to be able to do this work & to make a difference.
We committed (starting Jan 2021) to being a sponsor of the Canterbury Branch of the Institute of Directors. This is a growing area of our practice as we support succession and the professionalisation of governance with many clients.
I enjoyed working as part of a number of Boards of Directors. I was chairing some of them but very much enjoyed working as part of a professional team supporting clever CEO’s to navigate the challenges of the market. I am proud of the achievements we made in these roles.I was MC for a University of Canterbury panel event about “Leadership in the Digital Age” in October. This focussed on some of the lessons learnt from the changes in 2020 around the use of digital platforms and dispersed leadership & teams.
This was our 6th year in a strategic partnership working with my good friend John Spence in the USA & of course his business changed considerably as Covid-19 impacted the US economy.This was my 16th year of self employment, my 5th teaching a Master class at the University of Canterbury on the MBA programme, I took 33 flights (normally annually over 60) & had only one overseas trip (Adelaide in Feb 2020).
Across the year I attended 51 Board meetings (chairing 32 of them), facilitated 22 contingency planning sessions, 36 Strategic planning workshops & 34 leadership development workshops for groups. I led 182 executive coaching sessions, coached 68 CEO’s, founders & senior executives, worked with 31 companies & actively supported the development of 15 Senior Leadership Teams. A busy year for sure.
The top 10 Valuable Leadership Lessons I Learnt in 2020;
The most intentional leaders used the market disruption of Covid -19 to redefine how they deliver core business. It was a real opportunity to challenge and refine the way business is conducted. Sadly the vast majority in NZ businesses simply wanted to return to business as usual as soon as they could. Personally I think this was a missed opportunity but humans typically hate change & of course some industries couldn’t effect change. Whilst for a period as a country we have have a competitive advantage (in that we can operate normally), the rest of the world continues to innovate as the pandemic continues and I am concerned we run the risk of being left behind here in NZ. We certainly have an opportunity to innovate, to build better processes & methods of commerce, ones that move from commodities to highly valuable products & that also look after our environment, climate & invests in the people living & working in our country. We can really leverage our thriving tech industries.
We have seen a decade of change in 6 months. It certainly felt like it. (This was reinforced by the findings of some recent McKinsey research). For those who were not actively tracking the trends this came as a big surprise. For the majority it created a tidal wave of change and overwhelm. Certainly most leaders found the edges of the amount of change they can cope with.
Never underestimate the impact of being intentional in your leadership role and caring deeply about your people. Empathetic leaders enabling high levels of engagement have thrived in this period of constant change. Leadership is so much more than management. The best people leaders tend to be the best managers but sadly the best managers are not the best people leaders.
The best people step up & lean in during a time of need. You see your culture in action as people respond to a crisis. Those leaders who created engagement and alignment have achieved a lot in terms of adapting to change. Those organisations who have not have really struggled to do anything other than survive.
Those leaders who don’t lead themselves well, have struggled to cope over 2020. This year has highlighted the gaps in many leaders communication skills, leadership styles and delegation skills. To be agile & adaptable while leading a complex organisation requires a team of aligned professionals. You will never lead others well if you don’t lead yourself well so it very much starts there with self awareness.
Many business owners simply don’t have the energy to lead through the next few years. They have been through recessions before, they have resources & they want out of their businesses & sadly for those whose business relies on them personally this creates a big challenge. For those under management are a lot of acquisitions & business sales occurring & that will occur over the coming year or two.
In many cases governance has been found seriously lacking the needed horsepower. Some boards have not kept their management teams ahead of the change and are simply reactive, mediocre and tactical. I predict that many boards will have a high turnover in the next 6-12 months & that good directors (and in particular Chairs) will be highly sought after.
Never before have we seen such a demand for leadership coaching. Investing in high performing professional governance, trusted advisers & intentionally building a network of aligned strategic partners creates confidence, resilience and peace of mind. Our main area of growth this year came from CEO’s, founders, directors and executives seeking support to become more effective and intentional leaders. Leading in constant change for long periods of time is not sustainable simply by doing the same thing for longer hours each day/week.
Those who truly are close to and own the voice of their customer – win! Many businesses simply focussed inwards as they tried to address change. Those who stayed very close to their customers delivering what they needed have quickly evolved and adapted to deliver value.
So it has been a busy & fulfilling year. I am thankful to work as part of a great team of professionals & to be working for clever clients who are committed to constantly being better at what they do. I am also thankful to live in this part of the world & I really feel for those living in areas where Covid-19 brings daily uncertainty. I think 2021 will see a continuation of many of these changes and no doubt a few more challenges to navigate.
How have you reflected on the year? What will you do differently to thrive in constant change?
‘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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As a leader communication is a core competency you need to have. Likewise healthy conflict is good as a team collaborates, norms, storms and performs. Ideas are challenged and new ways are discussed. This short clip with John Spence discusses the topic. How do you approach it?
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.
One of the biggest challenges many businesses face is that of succession. Too often it is seen as something negative, stressful or is an unspoken topic. Certainly it is one that can be full of emotion especially in family businesses or it can appear to be simply a problem too big to tackle.
It is considered the realm of Lawyers and Accountants and many seek to engage these professionals to “solve” the problem for them. Without a doubt they need to provide good advice but succession is a leadership issue rather than a technical problem. It is one that requires courage, planning, transparent communication, good ongoing advice from a number of specialists and clear decisions. It is a journey, not an event.
Succession is not just about an ageing business founder/owner. The professional CEO needs to develop other leaders in their team to be able to take over the their role when the time is right & any organisation needs to have some contenders who can take on the top role (whether they do or not will depend upon the needs) and this requires a culture of investing in leaders at every level to step up.
Each week we speak to & work with business leaders who are looking to get out of their business. I have personally supported many who have started and successfully completed the journey.
Ten recommended considerations;
Face into the opportunity. Ignoring succession will not make it go away. A compressed timeline or sudden change due to death or illness significantly reduces the chance of long term success.
Select those who will succeed you carefully. Make sure they fit, buy into the vision, care about the mission and people and build trust. Succession is all about people, decisions and change. Lead well.
Plan for success. Have a plan with key milestones and understand the process and journey. Get all the people involved who need to be and get the issue on the table. Build a plan that will iterate and evolve.
Understand that succession is part of the evolution of any organisation, business and family. Change is constant and people don’t deal with change well. Embrace the journey and don’t treat it like it is “negative” or an “event”. It is a fantastic opportunity to evolve your business and to ensure it thrives (not just survives) in the future.
Get good advice. Have external help in getting the plan and issues on the table. Seek good legal and accountancy advice throughout the journey but don’t leave the “people” plan to a tax specialist or legal advisor. This is about people and change rather than just a structure or contract.
Succession is all about the future so a good vision and strategy will be needed and good leaders who can execute change. Succession is about leadership so include it in all your leader development programs. If you don’t have a leader development program get one in place. Little bits regularly can really make a big impact on the future vitality of an organisation.
Make good clear decisions at every stage and map out the decision points & timeline. Document and communicate things & keep things on track.
Implement and invest in key structures that enhance success. Independent Governance (or a Advisory Board as an initial step), bringing the business under management, coaching and leadership development for key current and future leaders, good independent advisors, implementing legal and financial structures and processes based on future plans are all critical as a business moves into a space whereby the business is not reliant on the founder or owner. Many of these take considerable time to implement and re a real culture shift for the business.
Network with those who have done it. Find those who have made the transition and ask questions. Hear what went well and more importantly learn form the mistakes they made as you look to apply things to your own situation.
Enjoy the journey. For those who successfully navigate change and ensure that their business will ensure into the future providing for the next generation the rewards are great. If a trade sale is involved the satisfaction of seeing the business moving to a new level is exciting whilst at the same time providing a new found freedom.
I recently attended the 3 day Singularity University Summit in Christchurch. A 36 hour fire hydrant of the latest information looking at the mountain of change all of us on this planet face over the coming years. It was at times overwhelming, often daunting, incredibly exciting and certainly full of opportunities.
As businesses face the prospect of disruption through technology change I am struck by the two most common responses. Either;
They know it is coming but don’t know where to start planning for it and how change might impact their business. So they don’t start the journey to understand what they don’t know yet.
They are so inward focussed on their own business they simply have no idea things are even changing around them.
Some actual recent scenarios I have had working with the Senior Leadership Teams from a range of industries ($10m revenue companies through to $1Bn plus) as they lift the horizon of their planning to beyond the next 1 – 3 years. In the last few months;
A manufacturing company who thought robotics & automation would not impact their business in this decade but after research & discussion realised the impact on their plant, equipment, people is less that 2 years away.
The company who realised that their business model would probably be totally obsolete in 15 – 20 years but were not doing anything about it because none of them would be in the company then and they never looked that far ahead nor had any sort of agenda to discuss it as a group. When we led the discussion they have totally changed this view point as leaders of a large organisation.
The transport company who as a senior team felt that automated vehicles are 10 years away but after committing to explore this & visiting Europe they discovered that not only will their whole fleet and drivers be impacted significantly, it will start in Feb 17 when their next 3 trucks are delivered with a driverless capability & already they can see that their insurance companies will reduce premiums because this technology is safer. This will drive the change faster across the industry.
I could go on. My point is that this will be the biggest leadership challenge any of us leading in business over the coming 5 – 10 years will face. We can’t duck dive the wave of change but we can choose to consciously start to understand how it will impact us and our organisations. I am reminded of a quote I once heard “You might hate change but you will hate irrelevance even more.” Ignoring it is not an option and the sooner you start the easier it will be to adapt.
At Advisory.Works we believe that leaders and organisations must adapt & constantly change in the future so that they can thrive. There is massive business opportunity within this change and for many “what” they do may not change but “how” they do it certainly will. Those of us leading now must build the Adaptability Quadrant (AQ) of ourselves, our people and our organisations. Moving forward AQ will become a key predictor of success much as IQ & then EQ did.
Leaders and organisations must be adaptable so they have the resilience to constantly adapt, iterate and evolve. Now more than ever leaders must invest in professional development and this start with an awareness of what they will face in the future.
Without this you will simply just hit a brick wall as an organisation.
I really enjoyed watching Rob Fyfe give this presentation recently at UC. I really learnt a lot from his stories and enjoy his approach to leadership and culture. He is very real, authentic and has some great stories of his background, training as an Air Force Engineering Officer, failures, successes and lessons learnt. There is no doubt in my mind that he really took Air New Zealand from good to a great company and airline brand.
Here is the video of the presentation which I highly recommend for CEO’s and Executive leaders to watch and reflect on.
Earlier this month we won the AUT Business Excellence Award for Management Services. It was a fantastic night and the culmination of months of work as we provided client and business data to show the results our company and team were achieving as we actively make a difference.
As with any team it is important to pause, celebrate the win and regroup as we move forward. Our clients are fantastic and trust us to provide true trusted Advisory in the area of Strategic Execution and Executive Leadership Development.
The same week we changed our Company name and logo after 24 years as we continue to position ourselves as category leaders as we disrupt the Business Advisory Space.
A new partnership with Leadership Expert and Business Influencer John Spence which he outlines in the video below.