I along with others in my team have been lucky enough to work with and support one of New Zealand’s best known and loved companies, Cookietime Ltd. You can link (here) to read a recent case study of that journey.
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”.
I work with many CEO’s and Founding Directors & consistently they are the people least likely to take their holidays. I have written about this in several earlier posts e.g. The Art of Being too Busy & Leaders Must Take Time Out. Those that do take time off will be just a cell phone call, text or e-mail away. They are active & online monitoring business, staying in touch with staff & projects……they never disengage long enough to recharge.
The Harvard Business Review article entitled “Rules For a Vacation Thats Truly worth it” really is worth a read. The value of spending time totally disengaged with your day job, experiencing new (& physical) things with different people can really encourage innovative and creative thinking. It can allow you to get out of the day to day and do some thinking “on” the big things that need to or should happen.
Personally I try and take four good breaks over the work year so that there is time to recharge and pursue other things in your life. a time to reconnect with family, friends and to schedule some time for myself. I totally agree that the mix of a restful holiday on one of them followed by a new “experience” or a trip to somewhere new really (into the outdoors) keeps life interesting and is a catalyst for new ideas & dreams.
When did you last take a decent holiday and more importantly when did you last disconnect from your e-mail, phone & text? Are you one of those people who is too busy ( = needs to plan more & focus on the important things) or too important to the business (= doesn’t see the importance of training & trusting your people) that others can’t step up and do your job even short term?
Seek help………………. Now……fast!
Last year I went out to our Company network of Clients, thought leaders & Business leaders and asked them what they had learnt in 2013 and what they felt they would face in 2014. I was overwhelmed with the response and it took a lot to collate the feedback and to be able to articulate it. The resulting blog was one of my most read across 2014 (Link to it here).
This year I asked the same network (which of course has now grown quite extensively) the same questions. This includes Chief Executives of both publicly listed and privately held Companies across a vast range of industries. Mainly New Zealand and Australian Companies but also the USA and Canada. Some good friends (including John Spence) put it out to some of the Chief Executives in his North American network who also happily contacted me. I also asked my wide Military network of leaders (many still serving & many leading organisations all over the globe) and included senior leaders from other Government Enterprises. During 2014 we also had ongoing feedback from over 1000 business leaders who attended our speaking and leadership training events. Many of these were introduced through ASB Business banking and partner relationships with other professional services leaders including Accountants, Legal Firms and Leadership and Strategy Consultants and some of the Business Bank staff themselves from both Westpac and ASB.
I got some fantastic feedback and I thank all those who put so much effort into answering the questions I posed. Many commented to me on just how valuable they found it to have a reason to sit down and reflect on 2014 and the year ahead. Many also realised just how busy they have been, how much change they have been leading and just how much they have achieved. I worked through all this feedback before rereading the blog I wrote in November 2013. There are similar themes around talent but it shows definitively that the rate of constant change has really started to increase. More so than in 2013. This is particularly so in Christchurch (post earthquake boom) but is also reflected across all markets, countries and is the new big challenge for Chief Executives regardless of the size of their organisation.
What were the Leadership Lessons you learnt in 2014 (and/or Observations you have made);
1. “Change is Constant and is Both the Opportunity and the Challenge”: The Rate of Change is Increasing. Almost every respondent referred to the impact and effects of change and the challenge of getting things done (Execution). There is more change and it is constant. Leading through change is challenging and many referred to “expecting the unexpected” or the possibility that anything could happen (especially unplanned) and there was a need to iterate, be flexible and involve your people. To avoid stress the best method was learning “not to sweat the small stuff” or to “roll with it”. Self reflection was important as was having someone external who could help a leader to see the bigger picture and to take a more “unemotive” view point as to what was going on within their team/company. Planning was seen as important and doing more of it than ever before. Many feel it is important to develop new/better leadership skills to be able to lead change and to be able to get “stuff done”.
2. “Technology and the Younger Generation of Workers is having a major Impact”: Technology change and innovation is now affecting all leaders in some way. New cloud based software applications and mobile smart phones (and devices) are allowing for better information. This brings the challenge of training to use them effectively, integrating different software solutions and needing the work force to have different skill sets. Talent is hard to find, attract and retain and they expect different things. Collaboration (and a sense of fairness) is how young, smart, technology savvy employees work and thrive and this is now starting to show across the board. Challenging top talent, encouraging innovation and new ideas and building a high performing culture is key to retaining top people. On top of that, holding employees accountable to doing what they say they will do and getting them to consistently be highly productive has been a big challenge in 2014. Learning new leadership skills, building cultures that allow a “work/life” balance and training people has been a focus for many Chief Executives. Dealing with non performers is recognised as critical, most want to be better at it and have a desire to weed the “culture killers” out faster than they currently do. The challenge of growing as a “Leader” was referred to time and time again.
3. “What your Client Thinks and Says about your Company is Critical to Growth”: The last big theme to come through was reputation, brand strength and client loyalty. In an increasingly global economy and with the impact of social media, it is important to have people who love your products or services. Many Chief Executives referred to “getting cut through” in a busy market, being close to key clients and asking them regularly for feedback. It was generally accepted that print media is dead and that the future lies in the online, digital and social media space. Smart branding, immediate feedback (positive and negative) has a major impact on business growth. Most Chief Executives want to get better in this space, many are very involved and some (approximately on third of respondents) felt they would never catch up or get ahead of the change in this space. Many felt that getting their culture right and by having engaged and well trained people that clients would be taken care of and there was a desire to be able to canvas clients more easily (for feedback) and to measure it.
The next question I asked was “What are the challenges you feel you will face as a Leader in 2015?”
1. “The challenge of finding, recruiting, training and retaining top people is the Number one Challenge”. By far the most respondents considered the challenge of getting good people to join and stay in their Company as the biggest challenge they feel they face in 2015. Making it happen, getting better at recruiting, identifying top performers and then leading them is considered to be a major development area for the future of their organisation.
2. “Leading in Uncertainty”. A big challenge in 2015 is being able to lead in uncertainty. How to lead young people, other leaders, people in their team who are smarter and more technology savvy during times of change & uncertainty is a concern of many respondents. Understanding how to motivate and lead when the way ahead is unclear or simply unknown is something may want to learn about. A fear of making big mistakes, a need for good advisers (Financial, Strategic, Governance) was a major theme as was the feeling that the leadership space is a lonely place. More mentors and people they can trust, as well as interaction with peers and other leaders in similar situations were identified as being of high value to them in 2015 and leading in the future. Delegating to others to get things done was also seen as being critical to growth in the year ahead as was getting closer to customers and planning at the operational and strategic level.
3. “Focus and Getting things Done”: How to get “cut Through” or “focus” is seen as being more and more importance. 2015 will require more execution of the important things. Many want to spend more time planning and getting things done. Separating the “urgent from the important” is increasingly important to maximising production, resources and profitability. It is also getting increasingly harder to achieve. Focus on which customers to deal with, where and how to Market, what technology tools to invest in etc are all seen as key to getting really clear on what needs to be done. Then the challenge is to actually “make it happen”.
These were the main feedback areas that i have been able to collate. Of course there were hundreds of other comments, thoughts and reflections. Some themes that came through in not particular order;
- A desire to have access to like minded networks of people.
- Many are preparing for the next economic downturn and actively wanting to retain people & capability.
- There were many who face the challenge of remaining profitable and competitive and the challenge of retaining and growing market share.
- There were many facing succession challenges.
- Getting better governance was a theme. Really valuable Board level advice.
- More planning and third party reviews.
- Specialist and generalist Leadership training is in high demand. In fact a recognised need for training in general is constant.
- Learning to negotiate and lead in partnerships and in a more political (competitive) environment is needed by some.
- Delegating and learning to trust.
- Many Directors spoke of the need for them to get out of the way more. To let their people step up and own their roles.
Overall this has been an interesting and humbling experience. It is a privilege to interact with clever and busy leaders and to hear their reflections and desires. It is useful for us as an organisation that “Leads Business Leaders” because in effect it helps us to deliver better high value services which will truly support and assist those who we work with. That said most of the stuff identified here does not cost a lot of money. In the main it requires a focus on some of the Leadership or “softer skills”. The ones that are least talked about and the least trained for. It requires some change to the way you may interact, spend your day as a Chief Executive or what you will measure and therefore manage.
So what have you learnt in 2014 and what do you think you will face in 2015? Are you planning to succeed? Are you doing enough to stay ahead of change, technology and do you really know what your clients think about you?
Have a happy and safe Christmas and New Year and a big thanks to all those who have offered their feedback and thoughts.
Other stuff I you might like;
I Love this quote from Grant Cardone. So many business leaders don’t inspire their Company and tribe (staff and end users of the product or service). If you aren’t creating a culture and work environment that people really enjoy then you are missing a great opportunity. John Spence recently outlined in a presentation to The Results Group team that attracting and retaining top talent is the real challenge that CEO’s face. That in todays fast paced change, technology growth and globalisation one of the biggest strategic advantages can come from a company culture that engages and challenges and creates great services, one that clients love and that staff love providing. No one can steal your team culture because it is unique.
A colleague of mine, Bruce Cotterill spoke recently at an ASB Business Banking event and outlined why every year we have to be “20% better than last year just to stay still.” He meant as a company, as a leader, our products & services, team members personally, we all have to be 20% better each year. That way we stay ahead of the competition who is getting better each year. We stay ahead of the new competitive products that erode market share and we leverage technology instead of being drowned by its constant evolution.
Anthony Leighs (CEO and Founder of Leighs Construction) spoke to our Christchurch CEO Leadership Group about the importance of having a culture that delivers with Pride and Passion but is committed also to being excellent. Getting better and better is important the people he leads and they love being part of it.
So average is one thing every Company and Organisation (and CEO leading it) must be aware of. If an organisation is blind as to what clients really think, is not investing in future leaders and developing people and getting better then the end is probably not far out of sight.
Never do average. Be restless, challenge your team to be restless. What your story?
When I saw this Richard Branson quote I immediately sent it to several CEO’s that I have been working with over the past week. The reality of business today is that it is complex, fast paced and full on. The change, technology, innovation and changing global market place adds to complexity. The role of a leader is to constantly make the complex simple. To break things down into bite size chunks, to clearly identify the issues in amongst the “fog of war” so they can then be addressed.
One recent example. This week I was working with a leading NZ company, one that is very successful, growing fast, a Senior Leadership Team at the top of its game, working in the technical space. These guys can do amazing things in their field, professionally and are academically at the top of their game. As part of their strategy it became important to measure “users”. The conversation and debate around what a user is, how the various users could be measured, their usage weighted, the definition etc could have raged for hours. A real life example of a simple concept i.e. a user is someone who uses their product or service whether they pay for it or not, being made into a complex matter that could have stopped them doing something very simple and important.
The role of any leader is to quickly take the conversation the other way. To cut through the complexity and ensure the team understands the real issue. To quickly bring things to a logical and executable decision point. Time and time again businesses feel they are different or special so therefore the principles of research based best practice won’t apply to them.
Recently I was speaking to a group representing 15 Law firms. A mix of senior partners and their General Managers. I was discussing Target Markets and how any business needs to be able to identify their Target Market and design their products and services specifically for that market (not that they don’t do business with those outside that target market, they just don’t actively target them).
One said to me “Kendall you have to realise that we do things a little differently”, meaning that this stuff is all very well and good but it doesn’t apply to them because their work is different/complex/multifaceted/high trust with clients/very important etc. When I openly challenged this point we went on to have a great discussion and in actual fact this thinking not only absolutely applied to their industry it was badly lacking. To the point whereby most Law firms cannot even differentiate their point of difference. Most simply are “Great service, trusted, client focussed”. I’m not saying it is easy to have a defendable point of difference, but when you get one clearly defined it is of high value. It allows you to stand out and demonstrate to your market that you add a massive return on investment to them. Otherwise you compete on price…….and that sucks. Sadly most Companies and Industries think they are little bit different and therefore don’t apply some of the simple principles.
Leaders at the top of their game keep things simple, force clarity and help their people to make the complex simple. Ironically some of these skills are the least talked about, trained for and invested in.
Other Things You Might Find of Interest;
Live what we teach is one of our Core Values and over the last two months we have been getting really clear about what our ideal clients value, what we do well, what we need to improve upon. We have asked them, measured it, defined and launched our “Executive Leadership Program”. This incorporates some of the teachings from the Cornell University Post Graduate program which I have been on this year and other leadership experience and academic study from others across our talented consulting team. This program overarches our 5 Pillars framework which is so highly sought after.
We have defined our target markets, a term that will be familiar to our clients, but which in essence defines those that we design our services and products for. Those that it will add the most value to, growing markets and clients that will happily refer us as a company. We are now in the process of telling our Brand story and adjusting the way we market ourselves using social media and other tools to add value to our networks.
John Spence is absolutely resolute that the biggest challenge in business today is firstly having a simple, clear Strategic plan that all your people understand and align to (the easiest part of the equation) backed up by a relentless focus and plan of how to actually execute it i.e. making it happen. In todays world of constant and fast change this is a real challenge. In this attached video clip John has articulated his reasons for thinking this and exactly why he feels the services offered by The Results Group are such high value.
The insights and research from his work with CEO’s and Companies around North America and the globe echo what we see here in New Zealand, Australia & the USA with our clients. Reducing complexity & focussing on the important (vs the urgent) continues to be the biggest issue CEO’s face. Building a simple Strategic Plan as to how your Company will compete and then actually lead your people to achieve it through focus on delivering value to clients, good measurements (KPI’s) and a conscious plan to build a great culture.
That is what we love to do well and why our purpose is “To make a difference” to the Businesses we work choose to work with.
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.