There has never been a more exciting time to be leading people in business, in fact leading people in any organisation. 2020 has delivered more change in the last 7 months than we’ve seen in the last decade and there will a lot more to follow. Although most of the change is being driven by the global pandemic, most of the resulting trends are not new ones……they have simply been brought forward a number of years.
This has created a massive wave of change & combined with the other impacts on the economy (caused by close downs, stay at home orders, restrictions on travel & limited physical access to markets) is changing the way we execute business. Leaders are adapting in order to win in this new environment.
“We are in a flexible period of humanity”
I work as part of a Christchurch based team that works alongside prominent and experienced leaders of mainly New Zealand companies but also some Australian & US businesses. Many of those based in New Zealand are exporting globally &/or operating nationally. My own clients range across the agribusiness, science, manufacturing, health, processing, technology, education & both civil & vertical construction. I work mainly with Boards of Directors, CEO’s and their Executive teams. Most are established businesses with revenues ranging from $10m – $500m. We also support New Zealand Trade & Enterprise clients for expansion and Tourism NZ clients seeking to pivot their businesses.
Across the experienced leaders I work regularly with here are the trends;
There is an interesting tension between the need to survive as an organisation & the opportunity to thrive. Moral courage is increasingly important. There is a need to do the right thing, in line with the purpose and values of the organisation, at a time when there are also a lot of business continuity decisions.
Most CEO’s are cautiously optimistic about the immediate future but are concerned about the medium term (12 – 24 months). Many are asking “what does the latter part of 2021 look like?” & are actively seeking to make some assumptions as a basis for continued contingency planning.
There is more empathy & connectedness with employees & clients. That human connection is critical because leadership is a team sport. Many employees are facing challenges with family ie child care, spouses losing jobs, mental well being. There has been a need for more pastural care, more access to counselling & support services. This has made restructuring even more challenging than before as leaders balance the human capital needs with the businesses survival needs. Retaining clients has never been more critical.
There is a much lower tolerance of those who are non performers. Poor performance is being addressed very quickly. On the flip side those that are being hired are bringing a different set of skills, often more experience and higher levels of expertise & diversity. In many cases the skillsets within the staff are changing to meet the need of the new environment. In some cases new hires cover multiple disciplines.
Leaders are actively seeking peer groups, individual coaching and access to information about how others are dealing with similar issues. We have never seen more individuals seek leadership coaching from our company. One such General Manager summed it up when he said “I’ve been winging it for years but I don’t think I can do that any more. I need to get better as a leader to support change and to support my team.” Some seek coaching to ensure they deliver within their role and in doing so provide security for their ongoing future employment.
Bigger, bolder decisions are bing made faster. There is streamlining of structures, clarity on the composition of teams & overall there is more contingency planning.
Leaders are much more conscious of the things they need to do to remain effective & reduce stress. There is more emphasis on taking time off to rest, to be with family, to relax & many seek to have fun.
Many are too inwardly focussed and know they need prioritise time to look out into the market to scan for risk & opportunity. This can be challenging because there is less trust & confidence in the mainstream media. Many to validate what they are seeing in the media.
Business and leader succession is a big issue. Many of those in the latter stages of their careers are asking whether they have the energy or the skills to lead through a number of years of change and economic uncertainty. This is leading to some life changing decisions, a focus on more effective governance &/or the desire to exit.
“By all means run with the wildebeest but remember it is important to pause & look back occasionally to remind yourself what you are running from”
There is a huge awakening about the importance of having skilled people leaders in place. Leaders lead people while managers manage things or resources. The skills of the “generalist” leader have never been more highly valued & there is more investment in coaching, training, leader & team development.
These are both challenging and exciting times and as with any change there is a lot of opportunity presenting to those leaders and organisations who are reflecting, planning and who remain agile enough to take advantage of them.
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.
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.
As a leader communication is a core competency you need to have. Likewise healthy conflict is good as a team collaborates, norms, storms and performs. Ideas are challenged and new ways are discussed. This short clip with John Spence discusses the topic. How do you approach it?
Leadership is a key predictor of success and the impact leaders have on a group is not only significant but extremely consistent. Leadership is a “Group resource” and groups that are seeking to get ahead tend to want to have the best leaders in place to ensure that outcome. Personality plays a big part and I am often asked questions such as “Are leaders born or made”, “Do leaders have to be charismatic and inspiring to be successful.”
This video from Hogan Assessments is a very good resource and it answers many interesting questions as it explores the science behind personality and the impact this has on leaders. We use Hogan Assessments to support clients on our Executive Leadership Program and really value their research and expertise.
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.
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?
“You did us proud pushing us to hold the funders to task”
Christchurch based Nationwide company
Often when you set strategy and start to execute it and make things happen it is very easy to lose perspective. It generally requires some change and with change comes uncertainty and a feeling that there is a loss of control as the company ventures outside the normal comfort zone of Business as usual.
Recently a client planned to change their whole business model and the way in which they make their money. It required taking a government funder to task and challenging the status quo. Get it right and things go to a new level, get it wrong and suddenly the company is relying on commercial funding. Either option has some risk but also presents new opportunity.
I didn’t do much except encourage them to be brave enough to back themselves and to execute what they planned to do. As an external trusted advisor, I was able to see they were on track, but just in the chaos of the change. Having less emotional engagement allows a different perspective. The Directors of the company pushed on with their well thought out strategy, kept going when things got tough and some really exciting things are now happening.
The learning: What got you here won’t get you there and with change comes opportunity.
Its a great feeling be making a difference which is the whole reason I love this role.