The Critic

The Critic

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.

Leaders Must Take Time Out

Leaders Must Take Time Out

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.

Happy Christmas.

Feedback from 200 CEO’s: What They Learnt in 2013 & What They Face in 2014

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 Imagehave 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.

Harvard: The Class of 1963 on Life & Happiness

Harvard: The Class of 1963 on Life & Happiness

A great read (link here). The more I hang out with successful people the more I understand that doing the basic things extremely well (i.e. better than the average person), finding a role you are extremely passionate about and having a good balance of work (family, friends and your own time) are the key to making it a reality.

Making High Performance Leaders Better

I do a lot of work with high performance leaders. In fact I have just completed a survey which I will share over the coming weeks about their key learnings over the last 12 months and what challenges they expect to face in the next 12 months to bring.

Executive leadership coaching is a growing part of my practise here in Christchurch that is growing by referral and it involves working with high performance, experienced individuals in key leadership roles who want to get better at their craft. This link (read here) explains why leaders need to be aware of their “blind spots” and how some good coaching can take them to a new level of influence over their teams and key people. Leadership at the senior level is about leading through others. In itself this involves coaching, mentoring, developing and getting key managers better at their game…..better a delivering results, better at leading their own parts of the business.

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I work with CEO’s in a number of ways. Firstly to help build their strategy and then to help roll it out across the company. Primarily this is about “Business Execution” or executing the strategy. This is a major challenge in amongst the chaos of “Business as Usual.  I now have a number of high performance CEO’s from prominent companies seeking what I term “professional development.” They work virtually or travel from around the country to invest in their own development. This involves working with them in a high trust relationship to get them better at their craft. It involves the following;

a. Being a sounding board. Leadership is a lonely space so having someone with no other motivation except to see them succeed is something that is of high value. Someone outside their organisation, outside their team and outside of the Board of Directors. I have some who simply want to spend time and talk through key decisions and to help them get clear on their thinking and why they think that way.

b. Challenging their Blind Spots. We all have them and this is an area I have worked hard on myself. Better self awareness, better situational awareness of those we lead, key strengths and how to play to them and how to build the skills in your team to cover weaknesses. Empathy for others and tools for getting the best out of people are generally at the top of the list of these important “soft skills”.

c. Building a Framework = Finding Time. Generally CEO’s are very time poor. Finding time for them is key as we challenge how they might structure their week, month & year. A good cadence of team and one on one meetings, time for strategy, review, lessons learnt and strategic thinking all form part of this along with the disciplines required to actually execute such a framework. One of the biggest things I find is that busy leaders do not take time off. They risk burn out, lack balance between work and family life and few give themselves the time to recharge. As a leader of a large organisation you are responsible for feeding a lot of families. You have an obligation to be at the top of your game so you can make the best decisions and deliver the best results. Time out is critical and the discipline to make it a priority is key.

d. Building on Strengths. The best return on investment is to play to and build on your strengths and to build a team around you to do the bits you are not so good at. I find many leaders who beat themselves up for the parts they struggle with and often they focus on these negative areas. Why focus on things you are not naturally good at and tend to loath doing?

e. Execution. Actually supporting leaders to do what they set out to do. Everyone needs accountability and in a space where performance is key everyone needs a push to get out of their comfort zone and to seek excellence. Real situations require practical solutions and one thing I really enjoy is working with leaders to actually do what they need to do.

f. Seeking Excellence. As in high performance sport any % gained is pure gold. It is easy to lift performance from say 65 – 85%. But every % over and above 85% (or however you like to think of it) takes conscious effort, focus, trial and error and execution with a focus on measuring progress. A leader is only as good at their last game so building on performance, banking lessons learnt and pushing outside comfort zones is key.

g. Providing the Right Network. I certainly do not claim to know what it is all about and I challenge anyone who can. Leadership is a journey (not an event) and having the right peer group, mentors, exposure to research, case studies, stories/examples, academic courses and others who are on the same journey is an absolutely critical part of developing talent and talented leaders. I see my role as providing the right things at the right time to build personal networks.

h. Leading in Change & Enabling Culture. The pace of change is fast and continuing to get faster. Technology, competitor moves, globalisation, client expectations, economic conditions have never involved so much change. How do CEO’s lead in times of constant change and how can they enable a culture that top talent wants to be & remain a part of? The culture of an organisation is a strategic advantage that no competitor can steal so enabling a culture of excellence, that is resilient to change, is innovative and close to the customers needs is critical to growing and leading a business.

Working with high performance leaders is one of the things I love about my role. It is satisfying, challenging and I learn a lot about leadership, different sectors and different companies. The common theme is that no one actually teaches you how to lead people & how to get the best out of them. It is not a University course or a seminar or an event. Everyone you meet can & should teach you something and without doubt it is one of life’s ultimate challenges.

Are you working with someone to help you get to the top of your leadership game?

Leading with Certainty

Leading with Certainty

With $40 – $50 bn of investment coming into Christchurch over the next few years there is a lot of activity already, primarily in the construction industry. With a positive outlook for the future and the first signs of the massive growth many companies will and are experiencing many are seeking better systems & processes. Retention of top talent will be achieved by having the best culture, investing in people and balancing hard work with real life needs. Having a great culture is a significant strategic advantage that no competitor can steal & great cultures don’t just happen!

Good leadership, strong leaders and being able to provide certainty through constant change brings unique challenges. I took this photo today whilst supporting a Christchurch building company introduce some change. With nearly 40 in the team and growing fast, change is constant. Good practical leaders seeking tools that will help them on the job.

Owning the Voice of the Customer

Attached is a blog I wrote forImage Results Group ( Link here)  last week about what I have learnt through recently facilitating a number of sessions with team members and their clients. Owning the Voice of your customer is hugely valuable and a strategic advantage. Most never do it & if they do it tends to be through survey with little or no real analysis or actionable follow up.

What do you think?

It All Starts with a great Vision: Mapping the Path Ahead

Success is all about how you perceive it!
It starts with defining what success looks like!

Any leader has to be able to inspire those in their team. We hear and read about this but what is the reality? People can and are not inspired by the past or present, they can only be inspired by the future. By definition this means that a large part of leadership is about defining the future or mapping the way ahead. How is this done and more importantly how can it be done with any confidence when business leadership today is so fast moving and dynamic?

Over the past five years or so I have worked with a lot of different business leaders from many different business sectors and the common issues are the same regardless. Here are five ways to help define the future;
1. Put a line in the sand. Sounds simple I know but sometimes it is just about being bold enough to start. Make a stand and spend time focusing on what could be. In fact what you specifically could achieve 10 years ahead. What would your company (or teams) results be? How would you measure them? How would you know if you were successful and how will you do it? This is a different way of thinking and pushing 10 years or more takes us outside several economic cycles and beyond current capabilities. Jim Collins in his research for the book “Good to Great” found that setting a Vision and a “Big Hairy audacious Goal” 10 years out helped define successful companies.
2. Include your People. Those who make the plan don’t fight the plan. It may not be possible to include a large number of your people but certainly the inclusion of your key leaders within the business will greatly add to the “buy in” or engagement with the plan and will help you to sell it to the wider team. Having the session facilitated by someone external will allow you to create it as one of the team and to challenge your thinking.
3. Document it. Get it down in writing and make it concise enough to fit on one page. Its a start point that can become a living document and one your regularly review. If you can put your Vision on one A4 piece of paper it truly is a useful tool. It can be used to help recruit and align those within your team and can be shared in your external marketing and communications. People love doing business with those who are decisive and clear on their direction and the world makes way for those who know where they are going.
4. Measure it. Take the time to work out how you might measure progress and how you can make that progress visible to those you lead. How do you bring it to live, discuss it often and review it regularly. It can be as simple as a number of a whiteboard or an electronic bill board (as I have seen here in Christchurch). The research tells us that those who can easily measure it can manage progress.
5. Talk about it often. I have read articles by CEO’s of big organisation who say that just when they feel everyone is sick to death of hearing about the vision and the direction of the organisation and feel they are sick of the sound of their own voices, the team is just starting to get it. Certainly that is in line with companies I have worked with. Sending an e-mail about it or discussing it at one team function simply does not cut it. Talk about it often, write about it, tell stories about it, get others doing the same and eventually you will get momentum.

Defining, creating and sharing a Vision is hard to do and yet it is of high value. Those leaders that live in this space of defining their future and the future of their organisations can truly inspire people to achieve great things. It gives certainty in ever changing times and presents a “bullseye” of success for which a team can aim. Most businesses don’t create the space to articulate their future so if you are one that does you already have a strategic advantage over your competitors.