Feedback from Over 200 CEO’s: What they Learnt in 2015 and the Challenges They Face in 2016

 

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Business change is constant and increasing at an alarming rate. We will face more change in the next 5-10 years than we have seen in the last 100.

In December 2015 I went out to a wide network of CEO’s and asked the same two questions I have asked in 2013 (Link to the 2013 results here) & 2014 (Link to the 2014 results here). The questions asked were;

  1. What were the biggest Leadership Lessons you learnt in 2015 (and/or leadership observations you have made)?
  2. What are the biggest challenges you feel you will face in 2016?

This survey also took in to account the responses from 104 New Zealand CEO’s conducted for The RESULTS Group by an independent research company (Per.ceptive Research).

It is fair to say that surveying over 200 CEO’s (in many varied industries) across New Zealand (mainly), Australia and the USA meant I received a huge amount of feedback. It was a challenge to consolidate this feedback, despite there being some clear common themes. Here are the results.

Question 1: What were the 3 biggest Leadership Lessons you learnt in 2015 (and/or leadership observations you have made)?

  1. “The importance of company culture and just how difficult it has been to lead both change and people (to change).” Change has been constant especially with technology disruption in many industries. Understanding what needs to change and then to actually get people try different things or new ways, new systems & processes has been really challenging.  The quality of people in the team, their skills and the ability to actually get things done has often been the main point of differentiation over competitors.
  2. “Establishing the Accountability within your people to get things done/to take action.” There has been more focus & need to have clear KPI’s and measurements in place so as to lift engagement and accountability within Companies. Taking action, executing and making things happen is increasingly important in an environment of constant change. To try new things, fail fast, adapt or simply just to do what has been agreed to is critical. The challenge of holding people to account, measuring and managing has increasingly been seen as vital in business in 2015.
  3. “Being able to change fast enough whilst keeping it simple.” It has been increasingly harder to keep things simple and to identify & focus on doing the important things. Saying “no” to opportunities, constantly trying to keep things from becoming extremely complex has been a real challenge in a world that tends to expect you to do more and more. “Busyness” is the new plaque and separating the important from the urgent has become ever harder to achieve.

Question 2: What are the three biggest Leadership Challenges you think you face will in 2016?

  1. “Remaining profitable through Growth.” We all know growth sucks cash and typically businesses are under capitalised. Often the main measure of Business success is profitability and it is widely felt it will be increasingly harder to deliver profits as change increases, profitability shrinks and as businesses grow.
  2. “Developing future leaders and motivating good people.” Succession is increasingly looming on many company radars. Developing future leaders to take the business forward, to be able to sell the business, to step up as current leaders step back are all challenges many see in 2016. Motivating and engaging good people to stay longer term & to set the business up for future success are skills CEO’s are seeking and actively looking to invest in.
  3. “The increasing pace of Change in the Market place & the ability to adapt.” It is perceived that there will be more change in 2016 & it is increasing. The ability to adapt to change, embrace new technology tools and compete is seen as becoming more of a challenge for CEO’s to remain profitable and to grow. Developing new products &/or services quickly enough to meet the market and client expectations are key challenges identified.

Every year in business is a different one that brings a mix of the ongoing leadership challenges along with many new ones. Certainly change is now a constant and that pace of change is really starting to pick up. The impact of new technologies in communication, automation, artificial intelligence, online applications and tools & social media are changing things fast. In fact much commentary is suggesting we will face more business change in the next 5-10 years than we have in the last 100.

One thing that does not, and will not change is fact that every Company (and indeed group of people) needs a leader. In fact research shows we all want to be led in some way, shape or form. The importance of a leader and his/her ability to inspire, coach, mentor & influence good people to get important things done in an environment (culture) they enjoy is often the main (sometimes the only) point of differentiation a company can have over competitors in increasingly crowded markets.

Strong leadership & excellent change leadership skills are increasingly the most important skills that will define a businesses chances of long term success. During 2015 our Executive Leadership Program has become the fastest growing part of our Business as we seek to support CEO’s to lead change, achieve sustainable growth and to support them to prepare for sale, economic downturn or industry disruption. More than ever high performance business leaders need & seek good practical smart advice, support, facilitated planning, time out and an unwavering positive outlook to navigate the challenges 2016 will bring.

What are you planning to intentionally do differently to lead Business Success in 2016?

  • You can link here to the CEO blog summary doc which shows the comparable results of all 3 surveys.

 

7 Deadly Sins of Ineffective Governance

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Good Governance takes planning, good agendas and skilled forward thinking Leaders who can contribute to the future direction of the Business.

We get to work with many Advisory Boards and Boards of Directors as we facilitate Strategy & support Strategy Execution & support business owners to either initiate, restructure or optimise their Governance. This requires us to facilitate meetings, sit on a number of Advisory Boards and I currently act as Chairman on one Board of Directors. Sadly I would have to generalise that Boards are, in the main,  either ineffective or not as valuable as they could be. In fact one of the big opportunities that will ensure Business success I see is to successfully implement highly functional governance. Those that do have it in place have the opportunity to get the maximum return on their investment by taking it to the next level.

Here are what I call the 7 deadly sins of Ineffective Governance;

1. Undermining the CEO: Unknowingly they get in the way of their CEO by getting involved in the workplace, not supporting or trusting the CEO’s recommendations or initiatives. In fact  many do not trust or have confidence in their CEO full stop and worse still do nothing to address it.

2. Discussing the “how” but never defining the “what”. Many Boards Spend most of their valuable discussion time dealing with management decisions ie How should this be done? Yet they never pose & define the big questions such as what are we building? Where are we taking this? What could and should we become as a Business?

3. Not understanding the sacred relationship between Chair and CEO. It is a special relationship and the most critical one. It is an employment relationship and one in which the Chair should coach, mentor, guide and support the CEO to succeed. This includes professional development and tough conversations around delivering outcomes. It involves building trust and confidence and aligning the Board to support their CEO.

4. Never altering the composition. The Board should regularly change or include leaders with the skills the company needs as it develops and grows. As the company grows and evolves so too should the BOD as they keep the CEO and Management ahead of the game.

5. Sweating the small stuff. Particularly prevalent in family businesses is the tendency to never get breakthroughs on the sacred cows. The same conversations, fears, egos repeat at every meeting. The elephants in the room are never addressed and therefore they never go away.

6. Focussing on the negative. It is very easy to see what is going wrong but never acknowledging what is going right. Negativity kills culture and creativity. Problems must be addressed but seeing the good stuff and encouraging more of it is a key role of any leader and Directors are leaders. Negative meetings that focus on what has not worked and never inspire what could be great are unfortunately common place.

7. Not defining success. Clever strategy, KPI’s & metrics must all be measured and success defined so the CEO knows he/she is on track and so that management measures can also be clarified. Too much time  in Board meetings is dedicated to historical results ie they can’t be influenced. Whilst reviewing the results and banking lessons learnt is very important, so too knowing the business is on track for the the future is arguably more important and productive. You can’t influence the past nor be inspired by it. The role of Governance is to take a business forward and to help Management to navigate the ambiguity of the market.

By getting the agenda right, tweaking the composition, by becoming future looking and building complete trust in the CEO, a BOD can very quickly make a massive impact on business performance in a very short timeframe. Sadly it is poorly done and this inspires mediocre results.

How is your Governance? Do you have any? How effective is it? What could it achieve for your biggest investment?

Leading Teams: The First Taste of Leadership

The 5 Levels of Leadership

Generally the very first time we get given a leadership role it is leading a small business team. If we are lucky we may experience the dynamics leading a sports team, or in a senior leadership role at school or in a group outside of work. In general I find that it just happens suddenly as a natural progression in the work environment. There is no training…..one day you are a senior member of the team, the next you are leading it.

No one prepares you for the change. Friends and peers are now working for you & suddenly you are expected to achieve team goals, manage performance and too often deal with conflict. Working with newly promoted team leaders and first time managers/leaders we find the biggest challenge they face is (bar none) is that of confronting issues that arise within the team. Those tough conversations with one time peers when confronting behaviour that impacts on the team achieving goals. Eight Common Pitfalls for New Managers is a document that we put together (at The Results Group) which has helped many to understand what has “changed” since they were promoted to lead their first team. In fact it has served to remind even long time leaders of some of the things they need to be aware of.

Supporting first time leaders to make the jump, to be aware of the pitfalls and to be able to confront challenging issues is the role of a mentor & senior Manager/Leader in the business and whilst not costly in terms of time or money, is often simply not prioritised.

How are you preparing your people to lead? How are you supporting them to make the jump? Is your Business culture a high performing one that guides, supports and develops leaders to take care of your most important asset…..your people?

How to Get Good: Focus on What You Do

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I have recently spent a lot of time with our clients. In particular really listening to understand what they expect from us. We officially launched the Executive Leadership Programme.  This programme is already becoming a significant part of their business. In a little over six months we have 26 CEOs and five “Emerging Leadership development teams” on the programme.

Over the last week I spent a long time with my friend and meet with John Spence. I’ve worked with him  as he delivered workshops to my senior team, a large event at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch and within a number of CEO leadership forums.

Reinforced to me: you become like those you spend time with and what you focus on.  It’s not about what great ideas you have it’s about what you execute and actually do.

The secret to success is extreme focus & being excellent what you do.

Note to self: do more of that!

If You Can’t Lead Yourself Well You Sure as Hell Can’t Lead Anyone Else Well

The 5 Levels of Leadership
First Rule of Leading = Lead Yourself Well.

The Results Group Executive Leadership Programme: Level 1 – Self Leadership

It sounds pretty obvious when we think about it doesn’t it. If we suck at leading ourselves then chances are we will suck at leading others well.  I mean if we can’t get clear about what we want to achieve in our own life (work, personal & family) and actively develop the skills and knowledge to get there then how will we be able to influence others to follow us?

This requires us to take the time needed to be clear what this means personally & the reality is we are often better at helping others sort the chaos of their lives rather than getting clarity on our own.

Leadership requires any leader to role model behaviour 24/7, whether they know that consciously or not. The people we lead watch us closely, notice gaps between what we say and what we do & are constantly evaluating whether they should trust. Trust is the currency of leadership.

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If we are leading ourselves well then we are committed in an ongoing way to the following;

  • Knowing & Living our own Values: We know what our personal values are and what is important and our behaviour reflects them. We are clear about what is right and wrong, how we want to live, who we want to associate with and it is reflected not only at work but in all areas of our life. Our values are connected to those of the team or organisation we lead. This means we need to have defined them.
  • Being Authentic in all we do: The gap between what we say and what we actually do will be tiny (a non event). People very quickly see when these are not aligned and it erodes trust. A leader is a role model 24/7. This doesn’t mean we can’t make mistakes and learn from them (in fact admitting mistakes will build trust) but on the big stuff everything must be aligned & more often than not we have to get it right. People look at what we do & the actions we take very closely. In the ever changing Business and Technology environment, collaboration and authenticity are needed to enable teams to adapt. I love the quote “we become like the 5 people we spend most of our time with.” Choose carefully and be consistent in what we do.
  • Being Self Confident: Confidence builds trust especially in times of uncertainty. If we are leading ourself well we will know our strengths and weaknesses & will continually seek self improvement, new ideas, new tools and frameworks. Confidence comes from experience, knowledge and practice. To lead yourself well & others you need to consciously learn and practice the skills you need. Leaders who are confident in their own ability (not arrogant) are noticed by and inspire others. Confidence is at the heart of inspiration.
  • Remain Grounded: Staying true to our values, being humble and connected with who we are and where we have come from is important. This embraces all aspects of our life: friends, family, interests, beliefs, sport, hobbies. In fact all that makes us who we are at this point in time. Remembering and learning from all the hundreds of mistakes along the way & letting those we lead make there own mistakes will make us a better leader. To be authentic it is important to remain true to ourself & our life story. We are all on a different journey. Know, accept and love your own! Have a great network of mentors (people who want to see you succeed) and ask them constantly for help, feedback & advice.
  • Get Better at Being Self Aware: The best leaders are very self aware. We need to understand the impact we have on others & on groups we interact with. Some of this will be positive & some will be negative. Profiling can assist, 360 feedback, regular verbal feedback from our team, family, mentors & friends will help us to be more self aware. This in turn will help with the other points above. Self assessment, regular reflection around what we have learnt & how we could do better in the future are essential elements of better self awareness. When any leader is having a bad day it is important to ensure the whole team/organisation does not have a bad day. We need to constantly develop our skills to play to strengths & to overcome or negate weaknesses.

As leaders seek to consciously get better in their work role it always starts with a commitment to better “Self Leadership.” It is actually pretty arrogant to think we can successfully lead and influence others if we can’t lead ourself well in all aspects of our life. This of course does not mean that things always go well. We all have periods of our life when things can get out of balance. There is however plenty of research around that backs up the need to commit to self leadership, ongoing learning and being clear in what we stand for as a person before we can really develop as a high performance leader.

A wise person said to me once “It is all about balance and if any one area of your life gets out of balance it will have a big impact on your ability to lead and function at a high level.”

What do you do to develop your “Self Leadership” skills each day/week/year?

Leading Leaders

Leaders

I love this quote from Tom Peters.

Personally I think it is the ultimate challenge to develop good, robust ethical leaders who live the values of the organisation and who have the confidence to make good clear decisions and to communicate powerfully. Much of this comes down to creating an environment that encourages people to try new things, to fail fast and to constantly reflect and learn.

Leading in todays business environment requires many and diverse skills. In the main these skills are the interpersonal skills i.e. relating to people, communicating, empathy, judgement, coaching, mentoring and setting clear expectations. If you can achieve this then you can truely hold people accountable and be tough on them.

It staggers me that the most important Leadership skills are the ones most left to chance, the least discussed and the least trained for in business today. The military does not leave this to chance….why is this? What does the Army know that Corporate leaders don’t?

Makes you think.