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. This 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 leading in constant change, the challenge of developing teams who have the resilience to thrive in uncertainty (created by constant change) and who can still achieve growth and a solid bottom line profit. 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 tend to be those 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 2018?
- Culture & people have the biggest impact. Their skills, behaviours, diversity, ideas. The ability of our team/s to work together and to keep the clients at the centre of what we do in terms of high value products and services. No one can steal your culture.
- There is a need to move fast, make clear decisions & Execute. Know your numbers, focus, iterate the plan based on a good review process but stay the course to achieve success. Its less about the smartest ideas/plans and more about making important things happen i.e. executing.
- Trust yourself and your professional judgement. Back yourself to know the industry from your years of experience but be open to new ideas and ways. Make the big decisions, sleep on them, seek the best advice from those you trust & don’t over think it. But make good clear decisions, tell people why and then focus on making it happen.
Question 2: What are the three biggest challenges you will face as a leader in 2019?
- Finding the right people to allow the company to scale for growth. Recruiting, inducting, training and then being able to lead them well and retain the top people. It is tough to find the people with experience you need in many industries.
- Hitting growth targets in a tougher economy/market environment. There is a lot of change and uncertainty and in many markets there is more competition. Economic outlooks over the next 12 months are for a tighter market. The challenge of continuing to grow is very real.
- Taking time out to recharge. Finding time to rest, learn, study and have a good life balance when things move so quickly. There is more pressure to work longer hours and more days a week. The smartest leaders know it is a marathon and not a sprint so being balanced is needed to stay focussed, fresh and at the top of the game.
You can see the results of the 2017/18 survey here.
You can look back over a summary of the last five surveys here.
The lessons I personally learnt as a leader in 2018
I thank all those CEO’s who took the time to reflect and provide feedback.
We recently hosted business thought leader John Spence here in New Zealand and I took some time to ask him what he is seeing in the market place since we were together in November 2017. This short video outlines the discussion.
What are the trends & issues you are seeing as a Business leader?
I am looking forward to hosting my good friend and mentor John Spence (www.Johnspence.com)down under in August. we will be working with a number of clients in Australia & New Zealand as we prepare them to lead in tougher times.
48% of NZ businesses will need to navigate the challenge of Leader, Founder and possibly ownership succession. It is a global trend as baby boomers come out of their business that will peak around 2028 – 2030. It also presents a massive opportunity to get right. How do you create a culture of leadership development and succession planning? How do you start to get your head around the journey ahead. This panel video is worth watching as you start the conversation and the journey.
In the busy world of business seniority tends to over rule in decisions that have no data. The more experienced and senior members of teams have more sway in decision making as they offer opinions and ideas and too often they are incorrect. They are assumptions based in history, bias or a lack of new thinking.
I work with senior teams all the time and see this pattern. The founder, CEO or “old heads” will refer back to what happened or didn’t happen in the past or what they think. This is often driven by the desire to avoid change because as humans we all hate having to get uncomfortable. New team members voice their views and ideas that are worth exploring but are simply dismissed and at its worst this creates a culture that resists change. It creates a significant risk that the organisation will be irrelevant in the near future.
At its worst countless hours are spent talking about opinions as if they are facts. One of the lessons I have learnt is that “Data wins Arguments”. Data takes the discussion from “I think” to one of “Let me show you”. It shifts the conversation to one that will get a good solid outcome. It takes emotion and bias out of the equation. It leads to data driven and robust business decisions. The role of a leader is to disrupt business as usual in a good way so that the company adapts and thrives in the future. Data can create a huge mandate for change by exposing current & future reality.
This is the impact of KPI’s, financial trend graphs, research, analysis of patterns and numbers. A simple exercise of graphing the monthly, year to date and lifetime revenues of your top 20 clients and having your team sit together and discuss what they see can have a huge aligning effect and can completely shift thinking, perceptions and provides clarity of the actual reality.
This video is worth watching as it outlines just how wrong we get it if we don’t seek data about what media shows us. The gap can be huge and in fact chimpanzees can be more accurate if we don’t look for the numbers and validate our perceptions.
High performance leaders go well beyond emotion, perception. They are aware of the impact of data and seek it to get better business decisions.
Each week we are delivering valuable services as true trusted Advisors throughout New Zealand, Australia and the USA to High Performance Businesses and Executive Leaders looking to Execute, simplify their business and to increase their influence as professional leaders. A snapshot of the team in action.
Leadership is a game changer, the “magic ingredient” that can take a group of individuals, shape them into a team and then inspire some incredible achievements. I am lucky enough to work with, support and spend time amongst some amazing leaders both within Advisory.Works, the NZ Army and our client portfolio that includes prominent CEO’s, Founders and Directors from leading brands/companies in NZ, Australia and the USA.
Change and disruption are now just part of our new normal and we see business leaders actively seeking the leadership skills that can give them the edge. The ability to enable a culture that talented employees want to be part of and the ability to change and iterate so as to consistently stay ahead of their competition. Leadership is a lonely place and the skills a leader needs are not really taught anywhere. Influencing the future leaders is something I am passionate about and why I’m actively involved with MBA & Masters programmes at the University of Canterbury.
Our Strategic Business Partner John Spence recently spoke at the University of Canterbury Executive Leader Programme as part of the “Thought Leadership Series” and covered many of the current and emerging leadership trends he is seeing in his work globally with high performing organisations. You can check out his presentation here;
Let me know your thoughts?
I caught up with my good mate John Spence in Auckland this week. John was over doing a bit of work with our company and speaking at a conference. While he was here he appeared on the Am Breakfast show speaking about whether NZ can compete on the global tech stage. I spoke with him on Tuesday in this short video.
Strategic execution is all about behavioural leadership. By this I mean that it is all about getting people to change behaviours and to make the important things happen. To execute relentlessly you need to constantly hone your skills as a leader and keep them top of mind.
One of the biggest challenges in business today is Executing Strategy which is critical if a business is to succeed in the future. I lead a business which is at the forefront globally of Strategic Execution and our team works with CEO’s and companies around the world each day as they actively seek to evolve and change by executing their strategy in a deliberate and disciplined way. This is a behavioural leadership problem to solve and one which requires a lot of courage. The courage to change, listen, make mistakes, make tough decisions, ask for help, get their people to change and to do what is right to move the company forward.
Business change is constant, fast and ever increasing so the challenge is very much about getting ahead of it because leaders who want their businesses to thrive in the future need to be able to effect change before it is needed. To be proactive instead of reactive. Whilst this sounds logical and achievable the reality is that it needs courageous leaders who are adaptable, emotionally aware and committed to getting better and better at this “behavioural leadership”. As this recent blog (Harvard Business Review) outlines: Strategic execution is a people challenge.
An simple executable plan is needed for sure, but this is the easy bit. Too often there is a great plan in place but the senior team executing it doesn’t buy into it & generally this is because they have not been involved in developing it and don’t understand the “people behaviour” skills needed. I see this play out time and time again. Leaders who are really frustrated at a lack of action but who have no idea why this is so & how they can practically overcome the problem. Here then are some practical ideas;
- Take time to get to know your team and build trust. Trust is the foundation of any team and its future success. Get to know the personality’s of those you lead, spend time listening to them, get into their environment, understand where they have come from and where they want to go and set about making them as successful as you can. Profile them, share yours, share them as a team. Have fun, tell them about what you are seeing, learning and offer them feedback & guidance.
- Force reflection. The best leaders constantly learn, evolve and iterate. Soft skills and the ability to self regulate behaviour through awareness is a very valuable skill and one effective leaders focus on mastering. Keep a journal of observations, key decisions and their outcomes, lessons learnt and make your direct reports do the same. Too often I find senior leaders who simply cannot reflect on what they are seeing and make observations or draw conclusions to make things even better.
- Have a simple and clear framework for leading. Prioritise meetings, get the agenda, frequency and content right. Use key numbers and ensure there is an action log. Seek feedback, let others run them, do more of them if the pace is increasing. Avoid the tendency to cancel you functional and leadership meetings when things get too busy. This makes for more confusion, lack of alignment and inefficiency. Use one on ones, reviews, full team (town hall) meetings, social media, internal comms and stand ups to get messages across many times. Get the mix of weekly/monthly/quarterly and annual reviews mapped out and in the diary a year in advance. Make sure professional development, technical and leadership training are conducted regularly to keep people engaged.
- Have fun. Too often life and business is all a bit serious. Take every opportunity to hang out, socialise, tell stories & make it something everyone looks forward to. Bank the wins both big and small & recognise those who do the right things.
- Provide clear expectations. Team rules, meeting rules, constant feedback and observations all make for better clarity. The role of a modern leader is to coach and mentor and guide alongside the traditional “management” role. Clarity and simplicity make for a better and more efficient team environment.
- Be consistent. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make are they are not consistent. This undermines trust. People want to know where they stand, want familiarity, and to be able to rely on not only colleagues but their leader to be there for them. Consistently confronting issues early, giving frank and honest feedback etc will build high levels of trust.
- Be deliberate. Too often the important components of teamwork and leadership are left to chance. Be transparent and open in your communications. Ensure the team reviews meetings, decisions, projects, client feedback, financial/sales results. Ask for input and draw lessons learnt. Have the soft conversations about issues, things that went wrong and commit to getting better. The important things in life are easy to do. They are also easy not to do.
- Be courageous. Have the ongoing tough discussions as they are needed. Don’t wait, dive in and shape thinking and outcomes to keep things on track. If you have a decent sized team then it is important everyone keeps moving in the right direction and stays aligned. This will be constantly needed. Be humble, ask for help, discuss when you got it wrong and lead the way to show others in your team how to get better in this space with their team.
- Be prepared to fail on this stuff. People are all different. You can’t & won’t get it all right. There will be times you push too hard, not hard enough or simply get it wrong. On the people stuff you have to be 100% accountable for your actions but also understand that how others react will be up to them. Be open and honest and when you get it wrong admit it & share it with your team so you reflect and learn. Don’t beat yourself up but do regroup and recommit to improving.
Too often CEO’s try to outsource many of the important things that drive a high performance culture. These skills are ones which must be developed in order to lead a growing thriving business that can change ahead of competitors in an increasingly complex business environment. This means they must be consciously developed and worked on to stay at the top of the leadership game.