This is very true. How do you take calculated risks, plan more, make good consistent decisions? Change is constant which in turn brings decisions & risk. Leaders must take risks and lead in constant change. The ultimate challenge.
It is important to lead by example. Being organised, transparent, taking time to recharge, having a balance of work, family & personal time. To be a high performance leader you have to be consistent in work and dealings with people. It is not possible to do this without balance of life, planning and a commitment to always improve and learn. Lead yourself, lead others and lead the organisation. Too often Business leaders do not address all the important components of their life and this leads to illness, burnout and bad decisions.
I had a great break over Christmas and the New Year choosing to holiday in Western Australia. Hot weather, sun, swimming, wine tours and time with family and friends. Anyone in a leadership role needs time out to recharge (Link here for “Business Leaders need time out) so as to stop, pause, reflect, to do other things and most importantly to plan and refocus on what is coming up.
Last year I wrote about my 5 big Leadership lessons of 2012 (Link here) It was well read and I had a lot of comments back from others reflecting on what they had learnt.
Just prior to Christmas I asked over 200 CEO’s what they had learnt in 2013 and published the summary (link here) and I’m sure this will interest you.
Here are the 7 big leadership lessons that I personally learnt as a CEO, from working closely with other CEO’s and from leading a Reserve Army Infantry Company;
1. You are not in the role to make friends. When you are making consistent, ongoing business decisions there is a need for tough calls at times. It is impossible to please everyone and it is important that the best decision is made with the best information at the time. It is important to set expectations, have the tough conversations, to be consistent with people and to do what is needed for the business. If you communicate, plan, are transparent, guide, support and develop your people then they will respect you but ultimately you are not there to be their friend. You are there to lead. Respect and friendship follow once trust is established.
2. Spend more time in planning. I led a lot of change in 2013. Change in clients businesses, change within ours and change within the Army. There were many times that I had to make myself plan in more detail. There were many times I had to push those I was leading and working with to spend more time in planning. Time in planning is seldom wasted. Plan, plan, plan, delegate, plan. Even when the execution phase begins and the plan changes, the fact you did some planning will help in many ways to change the plan if needed.
3. Leadership is a lonely place. There were many times that I felt the need to talk to peers. Peers at the CEO level can be hard to find. 2013 was a year I learnt the true value of mentors, peers and hanging out with like minded people. In fact 2013 was a year it dawned on me just how big the need is for more formal peer groups. This year I plan to form a CEO leadership group to support both my own growth and the growth of others working in this space. Find smart people who want to see you succeed and ask for their support, help, advice or simply hang out with them.
4. Be completely comfortable in your own skin. I think authenticity is an absolute essential element of leadership. Being open, transparent, frank, including others in planning, decision making and problem solving makes things easier. It is easier to take others on the journey with you and it builds a high performance culture. I observe many leaders who like to keep a gap between their work life and personal life. I feel that if you are genuine and authentic then there is no gap. That does not mean you should not have privacy, rather I mean ‘be truly comfortable in your own skin.” Be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, be comfortable with them and most importantly play to your strengths. Be who you truly are and lead yourself well in the first instance!
5. Be tough on people. Be brave on the people stuff. Be clear in your expectations, lead the way, guide, support and mentor but be consistently tough on your team. Be tough on standards, performance, hitting agreed targets and KPI’s. People need toughness to get the best out of them. Doing their job for them or accepting poor performance not only lets those individuals down but it means the A Players in your team will lose respect for you as a leader and motivation in their work. It is the number one culture killer.
6. The importance of your own leadership framework. As a professional CEO (leader) you must be clear in your framework of planning, meetings, mentoring, communicating & leading through other clever people. It should be possible to drop any professional CEO into any organisation and for that individual to lead it. Take the time to identify and formalise your framework and constantly review, refine and improve it. High performance leaders commit to ongoing training, coaching, mentoring and a life of learning.
7. My heroes are people who get stuff done. I am not into movie stars or celebrities. Rather I respect and enjoy learning from leaders who make stuff happen, people who are brave enough to risk, experience and overcome failure to reach the top of their field. The likes of Mandela, Churchill, Hillary, Buzz Aldrin. I enjoyed reading a book over the break about Air NZ pilot and mountaineer Mike Allsop. I find they are genuine, tell of the fear, effort and lessons learnt and it is possible to learn something from each of them.
So as we line up 2014 as a busy year in business I think it is important for any leader to reflect on what they have learnt and to write them down. Discuss them with your team, peers or family. What did they learn? How can you build on your lessons learnt?
I’m looking forward to the year ahead and the opportunities and challenges that are already on the horizon. How is 2014 looking for you? What are you doing to grow yourself as a leader and in turn those you lead?
2014 is a year to plan for new challenges. Take time to plan, imagine what you can change. Just do it!
This link is to a recent blog by John Spence a friend and mentor of mine which has some fantastic resource sites for leaders. It is well work reading and checking out some of these and I am sure you will find it to be very valuable. Thanks John.
So many people are critical from the sideline. Leadership is about standing for something, living your values, making good decisions. If you don’t ruffle a few feathers on the way through chances are you are not leading from the front. That is no excuse for not being self aware, open to feedback and change nor to changing plans that are obviously not going to deliver the desired outcome.
Never be afraid to make the tough decisions and stand by them. Measure the results and manage outcomes and the expectations of the team you lead.
Make the best decisions with the best information you have at the time and iterate the plan……but make a decision & be confident in your own abilities.
Like you I am working some pretty long hours to finish all the things that need to be done prior to Christmas. Christmas is after all the ultimate “deadline” and as a leadership tool the “power of a deadline” is a well know tool for execution. People respond well to it. Come Friday this week I am taking 4 weeks off. It sounds pretty cushy I know but the reality is it actually takes planning, hard work and of course a lot of discipline to actually turn the technology off, disconnect e-mail and truly wind down. I wrote about the importance of leaders taking time out (Link here) some time ago when I was with RESULTS.com.
CEO’s, business owners and leaders are the worst at taking their time off and yet they owe it to those they lead to be at the top of their game. They must make good consistent decisions and lead effectively through all the change and pace of modern business. Any company feeds a lot of families and the responsibility of that alone means they should be led well.
So take some time out, truly disconnect, leave the phone at home, turn the e-mail off and divorce the laptop for a few weeks. It is important for you to have time doing other things, pursuing interests, looking after your family and recharging.
I have been working on the Strategic plan for the Results Group. One of our core Values is “Live what we teach” so it is important to have a framework in place of quarterly & annual reviews. Any business needs to understand what their clients need and face. I recently wrote about the framework for “Making High Performance Leaders Better” (link here) and something I have spent a lot of time facilitating this year which is “Owning the Voice of the Customer” (Link here). Any company who regularly invests in owning the Voice of their customer not only develops products & services that are of high value but they maintain a Strategic advantage over competitors. This means speaking directly with them often and really hearing what it is you do well, what can improve. It takes an approach of seeking excellence by incrementally getting better & better at core business.
The Results Group helps CEO’s (Business Leaders) to “Lead Change with Certainty”. As part of my research I undertook to ask as many CEO’s to help me as I could. I went out to as many networks as I could. I asked questions on Linkedin, on my blogsite, in person, via e-mail and through both my team and other professionals who work with CEO’s. The result was feedback from just over 200 CEO’s. Many in Canterbury, most from within New Zealand and a decent number from Australia, the USA, Canada and beyond. Many are clients but not all. They are leaders I work with in primarily the world of private business but also there is feedback from the Public sector and larger Corporates. They all lead organisations and people and are CEO/Business Owners. Here are the results which took considerable effort to pull together into key themes. There were many answers as you can imagine so I spent time understanding the key themes/patterns that were common. I asked for the top 3 but feel there are 6 key areas that came through so I have included all 6;
The first question I asked was “As a leader what did you learn in 2013?”
– The importance of Leading by Example: In all you do be genuine, set standards you want others to follow. Be fallible and show that you make mistakes and learn from them, be tough with your staff but ensure they understand what you expect and then that they deliver it. The single most important thing to come through was the importance of being consistent as a leader & in how you deal with people & decisions.
– Empower your People to succeed : Invest heavily in developing, mentoring and training them. Ensure they have not only a clear role that defines what success looks like, but the autonomy to to do the job. Delegate to your staff. Keep them on track often and regularly. Celebrate the wins when they happen (big & small this was a key comment).
– Create a clear Vision & Values Structure: This is especially important for consistent decision making. It was also critical for the times when the way forward was not “obvious”. It gave a framework for making the important decisions. Speak about “Vision” all the time, make sure the team understand it and align with it and make sure the Values are alive in stories and awards.
– Communicate Clearly & Often: This came up in almost every reply. Be clear in your communications as a leader, set expectations, communicate them often, give good timely and direct feedback so people understand where they stand. Many said they had learnt the importance of communicating the same thing many times to ensure people “get it”. This applied in both large organisations and small ones.
– Have Good Mentors: Mentors internal and external to the business. Have good networks of professional people who want to see the business and those in it succeed. They keep you “real” and things on “track”. Most importantly it keeps you honest as a CEO. The need to ask for and take good advice was a central pattern of comments.
– Include Your Team: This related to including people in both building the plan and in how it will be executed. The need to trust people with information was a key learning as was the need to engage people in the plan. Seeking feedback on progress, opinions, ideas and on how things could improve was also a central theme.
The Second question I asked was “What are the Challenges you will face as a leader in 2014?”
– Building a Strong Culture: This was a very common theme. The need & desire to build a culture that attracts and retains top talent. In Christchurch this is definitely the number one challenge given that it is a tight labour market. Building a culture that is balanced between high performance and fun, a culture of achieving results. A culture that is a major point of difference over competitors were key challenges for 2014.
– Building Brand: This related to having a clear and strong brand in their particular markets & industry. One that stands for something and is well known. Getting clear on what their brand is and should stand for and being consistent in branding and marketing activities were key actions that needed to be addressed in 2014.
– Recruitment: Of key people. This tied into “Culture” but mainly related to the need and desire to have a good process in place. Challenges included the need to recruit top talent, the time and effort taken to actually run a good process that delivers a skilled recruit that fits the culture & who should be involved. Something mentioned by many CEO’s was the challenge of “understanding young people” and how how to lead them. Sound familiar?
– Leading Change: Change was on the radar for all those responding. The challenge of helping their team to change and to lead the change. A lot of technology change is on the agenda for 2014 i.e. implementation of new systems, software and technology. Changing the business structure also featured abundantly. The need to stay competitive, achieve high levels of staff productivity, introduce and develop new products & services. A key concern was how they were going to do this “when light on details” (plan) or where there was uncertainty on the process needed. Some talked about the “courage” needed by all leaders in the Company to implement change.
– Free up Time: A central theme was the need to delegate to staff more in order to free up time to lead and work on the business. Most were seriously time poor and needed to alter priorities in 2014.
– Learning not to Sweat the Small Stuff: There were many comments about learning to be comfortable leading when there can be no “perfection” and being comfortable with that. There was a recommitment to “bringing back the fun” and a desire to “not take it all so seriously”.
Overall this was a very interesting exercise. It not only engaged a lot of CEO’s to reflect on what they have learnt and on the year ahead but it was the first time I have done this on a large scale. I found leaders genuinely keen to help, to offer their thoughts, who wanted to engage in wider conversations and I learnt a lot. I saw themes & patterns common to all leaders (regardless of the size of the team or organisation they were leading) and themes & patterns relating to Canterbury (with the current post earthquake rebuild) and wider across industries.
The answers above largely tie in with what I have observed over a busy and challenging year closely supporting leaders in change. The desire to build strong cultures that attract and retain top talent being one I certainly have as the number one challenge on the radar for 2014.
What are your thoughts or comments? More importantly have you taken time to reflect on what you have learnt in 2013 as a leader and to define what it is you think you will face in 2014? How will you address the challenges? In my mind leading organisations and leading through others is and remains one of life’s biggest and most rewarding challenges you can face.