2022: Leadership Lessons I Learnt

Did we have a good year? 

That’s the question I put to my business partner Greg Allnutt on the 16th of December 2022 at our team function as we shared a number of Central Otago Pinot Noirs.

It might be an odd question and although I knew it had been a good year, we were both exhausted that afternoon and eager to start a 4 week summer break.

The year had screamed past in a blur for all of us at Pivot & Pace!

We have grown our business & our team, launched a new service into the market, invested in ongoing learning & education, sponsorships, grown partnerships with other like minded professional organisations & focussed relentlessly on helping our clients to grow, evolve, change…..to get break throughs. 

The outcome was a range of client metrics & client successes we are proud of. A lot of work but upon reflection fun work, challenging work and meaningful work. It has been a year of leading change, planning, supporting governance and business restructures, being involved in funding/capital raises, business sales & merges, innovation projects, training, coaching, learning, studying, collaborating, facilitating, networking and at times counselling. As a company and team we made definitely a big impact in 2022!

As I reflect, there were times I felt overwhelmed at the amount of work and complexity of it, It seemed far more serious than other years and sometimes I felt quite isolated given the amount of travel and the requirement to work alone away from the office and team support. I know that many directors and CEO’s have felt the same way and in reality it was year 3 of the covid pandemic & there are a myriad of other converging uncertainty we face in the business world.

In fact many executive teams and individuals reported feeling exhausted mid year and again in October and many were like me…..eagerly anticipating a good summer break.

What leadership lessons did I learn? I looked back over my reflections journal and there are many, many learnings. Here are my top 5 big ones.

  1. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Not a new learning but perhaps a good reminder. Not everyone will like you, your approach, your decisions or how you do it….. & that’s ok. There have been a number of times I have had to stop, reflect, challenge my thinking, reflect on values and either change or be comfortable that it is OK. Moral courage, a documented leadership philosophy and values have paid dividends in time of constant change & lots of ambiguity. Lead yourself well before expecting to do well in other areas of leadership. Remain humble, always seek to be better & don’t take yourself too seriously!
  2. When you care you give a bit of yourself. When woking closely with good leaders as their trusted adviser it is hard not to take on some of their stress. When dealing with complex issues at board and executive level & constant, ongoing change it takes a toll. The regular breaks, keeping fit and pursuit of personal interest are important to maintain and easy to skip. Plan and stay focussed.
  3. Be connected & Keep Learning. A network of mentors, like minded professionals, coaches, friends and family are critical for support & to keep you grounded, on track and to have a bit of fun. Success makes you soft (certainly it is a lousy teacher). Stay true to who you are and when things go off track – reflect, regroup and start again.
  4. We are in a period of ongoing and relentless change (& it is just beginning!). With that comes risk (for sure) but more importantly huge opportunities for those leaders and organisations that can remain agile, focussed and who have a long term vision. Disrupt Business as usual to ensure the important stuff is being implemented rather than just the next urgent thing. A ten year Vision allows you to adjust the strategy many times.
  5. Give back. Each year I work with a number of future leaders and organisations (for no pay) because I love their passion and potential. Some of these investments have paid huge dividends in terms of the impact it has made, the networks it has allowed me to join and the leaders who have gone on to do many things. Givers definitely get….in may ways. Serve with pride.

Always be prepared – Opportunities do not schedule appointments

Key personal achievements over the year;

  • Our business and team has grown. Those in the company have worked hard, contributed 100% and made an impact. 
  • Successfully completed a course of study at Harvard Business School in Disruptive Strategy.
  • It was my 18th year of self employment.
  • Professionally exited two boards as an independent director at the end of my tenure (EMD Advantage Ltd & Groundline Engineering Ltd) and joined two other boards (Oderings Garden Centres & The Connect Group Ltd).
  • As a company we launched the “Operational Leader Programme” which was developed at the request of client feedback. This is an extension of our Executive Leadership Programme.
No alt text provided for this image
Gisbourne Bull sale week. Talking bull with the Chair of Angus New Zealand.

Some key personal stats over the year that I track annually; 

  • Completed 215 fitness/physical workouts. Averaged 32 minutes per day & 8725 steps per day across 2022.
  • Averaged 7 hours and 23 mins of sleep per night over the year.
  • Took 49 flights for work including 3 trips to Australia with clients.
  • Over 2022 I worked as a strategic adviser to 21 different executive leadership teams
No alt text provided for this image
  • Worked on 9 boards of Directors (transitioning off 2 & being appointed to 2 more) and worked as a Strategic adviser/strategist to 9 other boards.
  • Across 2022 attended (as a director) 58 Board meetings chairing 23 of them
  • Facilitated 42 strategy sessions.
  • Facilitated 16 customised leadership workshops for various executive teams.
  • Delivered 211 one on one formal coaching sessions for 42 different Executive leaders.

2022 was a busy and professionally rewarding year.

Lean in! Today I begin the 2023 work year and all the opportunities it brings.

Perspective: What is Success?

The last words of Steve Jobs, billionaire, dead at 56:

“I have reached the pinnacle of success in business.” In other people’s eyes my life is a success.

However, aside from work, I’ve had little joy.

At the end of the day, wealth is just a fact I’ve gotten used to.

Right now, lying on my hospital bed, reminiscing all my life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth I took so much pride in, has faded and become meaningless in the face of imminent death.

You can hire someone to drive your car or make money for you, but you can’t hire someone to stand sick and die for you.

Material things lost can be found again. But there is one thing that can never be found when it is lost: Life.

Whatever stage of life we are currently at, in time we will face the day the curtain closes.

Love your family, spouse, children and friends… Treat them right .

Cherish them.

As we get older, and wiser, we slowly realize that wearing a $300 or $30 watch both give the same time

Whether we have a $300 or $30 wallet or purse, the amount inside is the same.

Whether we drive a $150,000 car or a $30,000 car, the road and the distance are the same, and we reach the same destination.

Steve Jobs

Whether we drink a $1000 or $10 bottle of wine, the hangover is the same.

Whether the house in which we live is 100 or 1000 square meters, loneliness is the same.

You will realize that your true inner happiness does not come from material things of this world.

Whether you travel first class or economy class, if the plane crashes, you go down with it…

Therefore, I hope you realize, when you have friends, brothers and sisters, with whom you discuss, laugh, talk, sing, talk about north-south-east or heaven and earth,… this is the real happiness!!

An indisputable fact of life:
Don’t raise your children to be rich.

Educate them to be happy.

The Agile Leadership Mindset

I find myself talking about mindset a lot these days. In board meetings, with founders, with CEO’s, with Senior Leadership Teams and in one on one executive leadership coaching sessions. Why? Because it seems being intentional about your mindset is not common in the business leadership environment.

In elite sport & in military leadership mindset is all important and actively part of the coaching agenda. Those with a growth mindset, who can learn from and build on mistakes tend to progress to excellence and certainly are more resilient to set backs/failure.

Common mindsets to challenge in the business environment;

  • Being Reactive. The feeling and frustration of being constantly reactive. This is usually created by a lack of a structured framework for leading. Regular strategic thinking time, time with the team in the field, time with strategic customers and relationships of the business, one on ones with direct reports, professional development and reading (and many other important things) are not locked down in calendars. When well meaning team members look to bring you in on meetings there is nothing blocked out. You become reactive yet you are the only one who can change this.
  • The founder mindset. Most understand that what has got the company to this point in time won’t get it to the next level and despite investing in governance, professional advisers and management leaders they continue to stick to the familiar/ original narrative. By holding on too tight, conversations are shut down, new ways & opportunities are discounted before being explored fully and either adopted, adapted or discounted. The frustration of never getting a return on those investments grows despite knowing a return to status quo is not the answer either.
  • The new Team Leader Mindset. New team leaders are promoted based on merit and then are not mentored to understand that not only do they set the example for behaviours, their role now includes some really high value and critical tasks. Things such as planning ahead, anticipating problems, contingency planning, front footing conversations about poor performance behaviours etc are often never taught, prioritised and therefore don’t get done consistently.
  • The “backward” looking governance mindset. Boards start with and prioritise the historical performance of the business instead of being curious about the future strategic objectives. Supporting the CEO and executive team to break through key blockages and to wrestle down the big challenges to ensure the future success of the business is the most impactful and key role of directors.
  • The “I don’t read books” mindset. Reading books is just one way to absorb information in a world of audio books, video content and digital tools. Most things in business have been done before so a learning and inquiring mindset allows anyone to access excellent tools, ideas, tips and experience often at no cost.
  • The “I’m too busy to take time out to reflect mindset”. Never reflecting on why things keep happening in a certain way. Reflecting and learning lessons from each key projects, staff interactions etc is key to ensuring a leader gets better and better each time. Many leaders never reflect on why they keep getting the same results and often because they are too busy.
  • The “we are different to any other business” mindset. Some leaders and founders feel that their business is so unique, technical, or challenging that business lessons from other industries cannot be applied to their situation. In fact every business on the planet involves leading clever teams of people to deliver great product/services to paying customers with the intent to make some level of profit. So it stands to reason there are many similarities and therefore ideas and tools that can be explored and applied no matter what you do.

A growth mindset allows failure but all importantly also to learn from those mistakes and to have the resilience to carry on. New ideas can be kicked around without egos being bruised whilst trying some new ideas, tools, opportunities and ways of delivering a better future outcome. Business is not static, in fact it is a constantly changing and complex environment that requires a growth mindset. New ways of learning, consuming information, banking the stories and lessons of others (so you don’t have to learn it first hand) allow leaders to stay at the top of their game.

How do you constantly challenge your mindset? Do you choose it intentionally based of the many situations you can face across a day or week?

The Impact of Establishing an Effective Advisory Board

I recently spoke in Christchurch at an Institute of Directors event on the impact Advisory Boards can have for businesses who choose to implement them. There was then a panel discussion that further explored the topic.

I currently have four independent directorships (currently chairing two boards). In my consulting role I work as a strategist, high performance leadership coach and adviser to a number of Boards of Directors. At any one time a number of our client companies are restructuring Advisory Boards or establishing them for the first time.

In my opinion establishing an Advisory Board is a great way to add some real value to a business. It is a safe way to test the waters as to whether a formal board structure is the right course of action and a safe way for long term business owners to get their heads around this option. Interestingly founders having had an advisory board and then going on to establish a full board often reflect that they wish they had established the formal board from the get go. That said there is usually a healthy desire for an Advisory Board as a logical stepping stone.

The purpose of an advisory board is to allow the directors of the business to access regular strategic advice from a group of trusted advisers familiar with the business who can contribute to the future success of the business. It’s also a robust platform for working on the business rather than in it. 

The IOD 4 pillars book (starting page 80) has a chapter on Advisory Boards and I point this out it as a very good reference. I particularly like very first headline bullet point – “Advisory Boards provide advice but do not make decisions and have no authority to govern.”

Legally an Advisory Board offers advice which the directors of the Company can choose to adopt or not. The advisers are effectively operating in a consulting capacity and the minutes must be careful to note that these conversations are such. This prevents those advisers from being deemed as acting in the capacity of a director. 

In my experience the key advantages of establishing an effective Advisory Board are;

  • They allow the shareholder, director and management discussions to be separated often for the first time. This adds structure and clarity. Shareholder expectations can be discussed in a separate meeting allowing the directors to focus fully on governing the business.This then starts the process of allowing the MD or GM to drive the business day to day.
  • Different Advisers can be engaged come for certain pieces of advice or thinking which changes the discussion and allows deeper/broader consideration of advice.
  • The Advisory Board is a stepping stone for succession that allows founders to get out of their business day to day. They can begin to see and understand how they can govern their business without being in it day to day. If run effectively it allows a discussion that rises above the day to day operations of the business……to give that valuable helicopter view of the business.
  • A strategic agenda can be discussed and a focus put on the execution that creates momentum.
  • The way decisions have traditionally been made is challenged and creates different outcomes.
  • Trust is built as to how to listen to advice and take advice. Many businesses seek advice but don’t adopt that advice. In my view when a business starts to value the advice and implement it the business starts to grow up. There are break throughs as the important things start to get addressed.
  • If the business is coming under management it allows a platform that supports the CEO/GM to be given the autonomy to lead. It helps the founder get out of the way whilst providing the confidence that there is still accountability and transparency. It can allow founders to have a management role that may not be making the key decisions day to day.

There are a number of ways to approach the implementation of an advisory board and certainly every situation is subtly different. Getting this right can really allow a business to get key break throughs and to realise their potential.

The Fog of (War) Business

Out of Chaos comes Clarity

On the battle field the fog of war refers to the fact that it can be very hard to see the full picture of what is happening let alone how you are progressing your part of it. Smoke, dust, noise, reactions of the enemy, weather, other friendly forces in the area all contribute to a situation that can be hard to navigate, easy for clear communication to fail & difficult to make clear decisions amongst.

So too in the current business environment. How do you as a leader get the clarity and confidence needed to make good solid decisions when the future seems full of uncertainty, technology change, economic disruption, challenged supply chains and changes that require rapid responses?

A few proven big ideas to consider;

  1. Invest in your team. Continually building trust, close relationships and digging deeper in the “self” awareness and “other” awareness space builds support and empathy. Teams who have each others back can have robust discussions, align and then roll their sleeves up and get the mahi (work) done. Now is a very good time to invest in your team collectively and individually. Little bits regularly on an ongoing basis creates confidence and helps with alignment & effective communication.
  2. Bring the outside in. It can be too easy to be inwardly focussed within your own business and this increases your risk profile. Share insights, information and seek to understand the bigger picture across the market. By taking a much broader approach it will allow you to make better informed and timely decisions. Engage broadly with trusted advisers, collaborate with like minded professionals & constantly ask your clients for feedback. There has never been more collaboration between organisations including competitors.
  3. Schedule and prioritise regular reviews, strategic updates and industry scans. If things are moving fast increase your meeting rhythm. This means scheduling more reviews (not less) and opportunities to pause, take stock of the situation, make clear decisions, review previous decisions and execute change in an aligned and coordinated way. It can be too easy to cancel these important reviews and become consumed by immediate challenges. Sadly this creates confusion, increases the workload, levels of frustration and chaos. Plan, plan and plan.
  4. Make good clear decisions with the best data and information available but be prepared to adapt and iterate the plan as things change. It is important to execute through a series of reviews and decision points. Data wins arguments and moves a discussion away from strong opinions so it is always worth looking at the key numbers and the patterns that are emerging.
  5. Bank the valuable lessons learnt. Reflect regularly on what is working, what isn’t and ensure the same mistakes are not made time and time again. Success breeds more success and confidence.
  6. Take regular breaks, have fun and celebrate the wins. Keep across your team and ensure they take time out, look after their family and recharge. This period of change will be ongoing and a marathon (rather than a sprint). Teams who make it a priority to celebrate the key wins regularly have a sense that hard work is paying dividends. It is just as important to acknowledge what is going right than to constantly focus on what isn’t. Celebrations don’t have to be huge in fact most don’t need anything more than setting aside some time to acknowledge people and achievements.
  7. Ask for Help. Seek help from those in your team, your mentors, coaches, members of your board, others in your peer group. You don’t need to know & in fact can’t have all the answers, rather seek to build a network around you from whom you can seek expertise, experience and information.

Without a doubt the current environment an exciting time to be leading in business. As professional leaders we owe it to those within our team, company and their wider families to be at the top of our game. The fog of (war) business can be challenging and even overwhelming at times and we can all learn from how others approach it.

How are you leading in times of uncertainty?

4 Game Changers to Improve Execution

One of the biggest challenges and frustrations that business leaders have in 2018 is how to execute their Strategic plan to ensure the future success of the business. Over the last 18 months we have conducted in depth surveys with 161 business leadership teams across New Zealand, Australia & the USA asking them 35 key questions over a 2 hour gap analysis assessment.

When it comes to Disciplined Execution the basics really count and the surveys highlighted a common gap in four areas as highlighted by the data;

  1. Role Clarity: 110 (68%) of the 161 teams interviewed had not clearly documented who was accountable for key roles in the business & how their performance would be measured. It stands to reason that if there is no real role clarity then there will be overlaps in effort, low levels of accountability & frustrations. In many cases roles had not been updated as the team grew, head count increased and the company evolved. Putting in the effort to document and get clarity on roles and measurements makes a huge impact and is an engaging discussion to have as a team.
  2. Consequences: 106 (66%) of the 161 teams had staff that did not know the consequences for achieving (or not achieving) the performance standard required for their role. Without praise and recognition for great work (catch people doing things right) there is no incentive to go above and beyond. Likewise if poor performance is not confronted it becomes hard to perform as a team and good people leave due to the mediocrity that is tolerated. These topics should be discussed as a team so there is clarity which will in turn lift engagement. (See “The Power of Consequence”).
  3. Meetings: 117 (73%) of the 161 teams did not conduct well-structured “execution meetings” with team members on a weekly basis. Most leaders hate meetings and their team members hate being part of them. Yet if you lead people you need to be excellent at leading engaging team meetings that allow you to live your culture. What makes a great meeting? Respect for time, never cancelled, clear team rules, being prepared, having each attendee speak to their numbers, a review of results, clarity on future actions, updates on strategic actions/projects, documented decisions (who, what, when), core value stories, connection & fun as a team. A clear cadence of meetings will make a huge impact on team engagement, execution and will maintain momentum.
  4. Quarterly Reviews: 132 (82%) of the 161 teams did not review their performance against their strategy and then update and communicate the strategic direction every quarter (90 days). Most Companies have a strategic plan that is reviewed annually or bi-annually but few review and update progress quarterly. It is a static plan. This quarterly review is a key meeting that drives reflection, lessons learnt, measures numbers and progress and allows the plan to iterate and remain highly relevant. A quarterly review every 90 days is a real game changer.

I have worked with hundreds of good leadership teams over the last 10 years and whenever these four game changers are implemented execution, engagement and accountability really starts to lift and it doesn’t cost anything. The team lifts to another level. It requires the CEO to refocus on several important things that will make a huge impact. Below are two short videos on these topics.

My website: www.kendalllangston.com

Our Philosophy on Executive Leadership Coaching

A short video with Top 50 Global Leadership Expert John Spence on how we each approach Executive Leadership Coaching. There are many approaches to coaching but without doubt if you get the right fit the impact it makes to your effectiveness as a leader is significant. John has been coaching for many years and his approach, although similar, is different to mine.

I learnt through my career as an Army Officer the importance of coaching, mentoring and guiding and was lucky enough to have some very good leaders invest their time with me. Years of practical leadership followed by some post graduate study at Cornell University in the High Performance Leadership space allowed us to develop our framework that we use to work with many to the top CEO’s, Sports leaders and emerging leaders in New Zealand, Australia and the USA.

Check out this short video.

Taking Tech to the World: Link ECU

A fantastic Canterbury Company taking High Performance Motor Sport Technology to the world. Link Engine Management is a global exporter of engine enhancing technology. As finalists in both the Champion Canterbury Business Awards and the New Zealand High Tech Business Awards in 2017 it has been a year of growth successes. I am proud to play my small bit as Chairman of the Board of Directors as we support a talented leadership, marketing, distribution, manufacturing and engineering team.

%d bloggers like this: