I caught up with John Spence today & we reflected on a busy two weeks since we last spoke. A lot has changed in both the USA & in our part of the world here in NZ & Australia. Whilst each country faces a different situation there are some common emerging patterns & challenges that leaders are facing across industries as they lean into the Covid-19 impact.
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. As you can imagine it 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 the impact of constant change, the challenge of developing teams who can perform in change and who have the resilience to perform under pressure. 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 are 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 2017?
- Disruption affects all businesses. Change is constant and getting faster and regardless of what industry you are in technology change with have a significant impact on how you lead. Developing change leadership skills is critical.
- Behaviours make a big impact as you develop a team. Take the time to define the values, team behaviours (& expectations) so you can expect and demand more of your people. It also provides consistency and builds culture of trust through clarity and communication.
- As the CEO I cannot be indispensable. I have to allow others to step up and lead in order to develop future leaders and successors.
Question 2: What are the three biggest challenges you will face as a leader in 2018?
- Developing depth in my team to reduce risk and workload i.e. Talent/bench strength both in the senior management team and across other key leaders (Succession, coaching, training).
- Implementing good/effective governance and trusted external mentors, advisors & specialists to cover my blind spots and those of our company.
- Velocity of execution. Getting the important things done that will ensure the future success of the business, whilst maintaining annual growth and the complexity of the day to day churn of the business.
You can see the results of last years survey here.
You can look back over a summary of the last five surveys here.
I thank all those CEO’s who took the time to reflect and provide feedback.
Grit = High Performance Leadership
My role as Chief Executive requires me to lead some super smart and talented people to lead functional areas of our business. This challenges me significantly. Like many of the Chief Executives that I am lucky enough to work with & coach as part of our Executive Leadership Program, it is easier (short term) to just get stuck into a project or task that needs doing and to take it over. As the quote by Simon Sinek highlights, it is a far more effective goal to help people to shine, to step up and do a fantastic job and to then leave those skills within that person. This will help you lead the many areas of the business and will get people playing to their strengths. Long term it will allow you to build a sustainable, scaleable and growing business!
Leading talented people is the ultimate challenge especially within the complex and fast changing world of business. How do you do this? Whilst there is no template there certainly are a few steps that can help you along the path. Here are the 10 steps I use and coach to;
- Know yourself well. Be comfortable with your own strengths and weaknesses and build a team around you that are good at the things you are not. Constantly learn and try new things. When you get things wrong be brave enough to own up and say “I got that wrong” or “that didn’t work and here is what I learnt”.
- Know your people well. Seek every opportunity to get to know what makes them tick. How do they think? Like to learn? Like to be rewarded? What do they do in their spare time? Who are their family? The best teams know each other well and when they know each other well trust can be established.
- Have good one on one meetings with your talented people. Use the time to get them better as leaders, in their role, to clarify their thinking, to encourage their hearts & passions. This is your number one tool for leading clever people in the way they need to be led.
- Get out of their way. It is easy for a Chief Executive to get in the way of progress, to slow them down. They need to know what you need from them to report to the Board of Directors, to share with the wider team, they need clear expectations from you and they need to know what they have autonomy to do.
- Have tough conversations. Give them ongoing feedback and encouragement. Confront issues fast before they become too big or impact on their effectiveness. If you are having regular and ongoing 1 on 1 meetings with your key staff it is unlikely that there needs to be too many of these. You are not their friend, you are their boss and to lead people effectively they need to know that you are on their side. You are there for them, in their corner, part of the wider team and their biggest champion they need to know they are part of a wider high performing team.
- Use others in the team (peers) to help you coach, guide and mentor. Use their skills and style to help them push through blockages and to build confidence. Leveraging the skills of others is one of the best levers you have to pull in a talented leadership team. Business and leadership is complex enough and as many smart minds on the job as possible.
- Celebrate their wins. Small break through to big successes, make sure you recognise their efforts, bravery and achievements. It is too easy to see what didn’t go well, the things that did not work that we forget the good stuff. catch people doing great things.
- Make mistakes fast. The Chairman of my Board (of Directors) coaches and mentors me each month and he actively encourages me to try new things. His mandate “Make good decisions, try new things, if they don’t work change them fast”. This gives me a lot of confidence to do great work but recognises that not everything will work. If you get everything right you are not pushing hard enough!
- Bring people back to the numbers. Always use numbers to measure what has been achieved and what success looks like. No one can argue with good clear metrics and it takes emotion and opinion out of the important stuff. have good team meetings with numbers and individually coach your team members to hit them and kick them right out of the park.
- Have fun & make things happen. If you are not having fun go and get a job that is fun. If it is fun then you will love doing what you do. If you are having fun your team will be having fun and in turn your clients will too. Laugh, don’t take life too seriously & keep it real. As Tom Peters says “Leaders do people”. If you don’t like working with people and leading people then you are in the wrong job. It is as simple as that. Leaders make things happen and get things done.
This by no means is the complete list but it is 10 of the important things. Getting things done is by far the most important thing. When John Spence was out in NZ in March he drummed into me that there is no shortage of really smart people in the world with fantastic ideas. There is however a really big shortage of people who can make things happen.
Get out there and make things happen by employing super smart people and then coaching them to be the best they can be. It will make your life a lot easier and means you don’t have to try and be a super hero and do everything on your own. It is not possible to do it alone!
Want a fantastic video to watch? Check out Simon Sinek in this 12 minute clip called ““Why Good Leaders make you Feel Safe”.