Leadership Lessons From 200 CEO’s


About this time every year for the last four years I have sent out a two question survey to over 200 CEO’s. These are senior leaders not only in my own network but across all of our consultants networks also. This year (as he did last year) our business partner John Spence also sent the survey through his US & global network of US based Chief Executives and business experts.

The results of this survey are a barometer of how senior business leaders are feeling & what they are facing in todays dynamic business environment. As you can imagine a huge amount of information was provided and it took some time to distil the information & to identify the patterns. Here are the results of this years survey;

Question 1: What were the three biggest leadership lessons you learnt in 2016?

  1. Change is constant & becoming even more so. This has increased the need to make faster decisions & to effect change faster. An interesting pattern was that some felt that resistance to change within their company can actually be due to ambiguity i.e. the lack of clarity on what needs to change which can result in people resisting the change.
  2. The culture of the company is a critical success factor. Many felt there was a need to act fast to preserve the culture, there was a need to have a culture of high trust between those in the team. It was important to attract & retain people who fit the culture of the company on the team. A culture of coaching & teaching team members to get better in their role was an emerging trend.
  3. Effective communication is critical to success. It needs to be clear & simple. Issues arising need to be confronted with urgency.

Question 2: What are the three biggest challenges you will face in 2017?

  1. Leading in continuing change and managing the tempo/pace of this change. Leading “culture” change as companies look to change how they do things. The challenge of proactively staying ahead of change rather than being reactive to it.
  2. Staying profitable whilst navigating the uncertainty created by ongoing change, global influences, political uncertainty and the impact of global markets.
  3. Understanding what clients really need. Understanding the opportunities in the market. The challenge of standing out as a brand and getting cut through with important marketing messages.

As you can see there are some big themes around the challenge of leading in ongoing change & the impact this has on culture and profitability. Without question the modern CEO is a change leader and this will be a continuing trend as disruption and complexity increases over the coming years.

Those leaders who are constantly up skilling themselves, keeping abreast of the emerging technology, building resilient leaders within their company will be able execute and thrive in the future. Those who fail to adapt fast enough will not do as well, if they survive at all.

You can look back on last years results (and previous years) to compare trends by clicking this link.

It has been a busy and exciting year to lead in business and there will be no shortage of challenge in 2017. I write this in Atlanta as I wait for my return flight to New Zealand having just spent some time working with clients in Florida and New York. The world is now a very complex & connected place – connected by technology, systems, relationships and markets.

The role of a leader is to lead change with certainty and we look forward to continuing to support our clients as their Strategic Execution Partners as they seek to simplify their business.

I wish you a Happy New Year.


Leadership: The Importance of Time Out

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.

Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. One of the natural wonders of the world & a place to reflect of the important things in life.
Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. One of the natural wonders of the world & a place to reflect of the important things in life.

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!

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?

The 5 Levels of Leadership: The Results Group Executive Leader Program

The 5 Levels of Leadership
The 5 levels of leadership. There are others but these are the common levels faced in Business today and each requires conscious application of differing skills.

In 2014 The Results Group launched the Executive Leader Program and currently we coach a range of High Performance CEO’s as they seek to consciously develop and grow their ability to influence those they lead. Leadership means many things to different people but in the context of the ever changing Business environment we face in it relates to;

  • Constantly Learning the Skills needed to Lead in Complexity: Leadership requires learned skills and conscious application and this is rarely taught. Some people may by luck have great mentors or attend courses but my experience shows the skills required across the different levels of leadership are rarely identified nor approached differently.
  • Making our Business Better: By consciously developing high performance teams and a culture in which people thrive, collaborate and execute the important things. Attracting and retaining top people will in turn mean the client experience of your products and services will generate massive brand loyalty.
  • Leading Change With Certainty: It is the role of any leader to be able to navigate uncertainty and provide a clear direction even when that direction may not be immediately obvious.
  • Influencing The Activity of Others: This requires a leader to influence up, down, internally & externally. It is about getting things done (execution) through the enthusiastic cooperation of your people.
  • Setting and Adjusting the Pace: A sense of urgency is important and this changes based upon the tempo of change and influences such as client needs, the market environment, competitor moves, economic influences & the needs of the Business (Shareholders).

High Performance Leadership requires a culture of constant learning, reflection, self evaluation and adaptability to change. Those who consciously accept the challenge become proactive planners, mentors, change champions and transformational leaders. Those who don’t experience the world overtaking them miss the big opportunity and become very reactive in their role.

Over the coming months I hope to open the conversation around leadership at each of these levels. I certainly do not proclaim to be an expert in this area and indeed it would be a brave person to do so. My experience over 35 years of leading people & studying the subject is that I know enough to confidently say it is indeed a lifelong journey. One in which you learn from every leader (good & bad) you come across and excellence is an aspiration to constantly strive for. Excellence in any field requires years of committed & conscious practice, training & coaching.

Certainly it is an exciting and challenging journey to be on. Leading in the constantly changing Business environment is hard work and requires bravery, energy and passion. It is about making “things happen” rather than talking about it.

A question for you: How do you train to be a better leader? What have you learnt in the last 3 months/6 months/1 year?

Average Doesn’t Work in any Area of LIfe!


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?

Leaders: The Genius Of Simple


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;

Listening Very Hard: The Voice of Your Customer (Link here)

Making Your Business Better (Link Here)

Leadership Lessons from 200 CEO’s (Link Here)

Making Your Business Better : The Results Group

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.

Leaders Must Take Time Out

Leaders Must Take Time Out

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.

Happy Christmas.