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.
In the busy world of business seniority tends to over rule in decisions that have no data. The more experienced and senior members of teams have more sway in decision making as they offer opinions and ideas and too often they are incorrect. They are assumptions based in history, bias or a lack of new thinking.
I work with senior teams all the time and see this pattern. The founder, CEO or “old heads” will refer back to what happened or didn’t happen in the past or what they think. This is often driven by the desire to avoid change because as humans we all hate having to get uncomfortable. New team members voice their views and ideas that are worth exploring but are simply dismissed and at its worst this creates a culture that resists change. It creates a significant risk that the organisation will be irrelevant in the near future.
At its worst countless hours are spent talking about opinions as if they are facts. One of the lessons I have learnt is that “Data wins Arguments”. Data takes the discussion from “I think” to one of “Let me show you”. It shifts the conversation to one that will get a good solid outcome. It takes emotion and bias out of the equation. It leads to data driven and robust business decisions. The role of a leader is to disrupt business as usual in a good way so that the company adapts and thrives in the future. Data can create a huge mandate for change by exposing current & future reality.
This is the impact of KPI’s, financial trend graphs, research, analysis of patterns and numbers. A simple exercise of graphing the monthly, year to date and lifetime revenues of your top 20 clients and having your team sit together and discuss what they see can have a huge aligning effect and can completely shift thinking, perceptions and provides clarity of the actual reality.
This video is worth watching as it outlines just how wrong we get it if we don’t seek data about what media shows us. The gap can be huge and in fact chimpanzees can be more accurate if we don’t look for the numbers and validate our perceptions.
High performance leaders go well beyond emotion, perception. They are aware of the impact of data and seek it to get better business decisions.
I hate that word “benchmarking” and all it stands for around industry or competitor norms. Sure it is head and shoulders above the term “best practice” which reeks of theory & academic know how. It is very useful to know what others do, what industry norms are & what the theory is but too often this is what leaders and their businesses settle for. Average. Mediocre. Knowing they are on track because they deliver the same or slightly better than competitors or other leading brands.
I was recently in an interview situation where I was continually asked how this or that could be better benchmarked.
“How could that be better benchmarked?” I was asked many times. In the end I had to say we are just not in the game of better benchmarking. “To be honest we are in the game of excellence and all of our clients are generally performing when they become clients & they are seeking to get even better. We measure their financial performance, their growth, their staff engagement and their client loyalty and we help them build fantastic metrics that predict outcomes & we know their industry norms but we are not a company that develops and focuses on benchmarks, we help them to achieve much more.”
I have previously written about the “Pivot” or consciously changing and executing a strategy to stay ahead of the crowd before they catch up. This is hard to do and takes very strong and focused leaders who actively disrupt the “business as usual thinking” of the business in a positive way to get different and better outcomes.
In professional sport the All Blacks are a living example of this. The culmination of ongoing succession planning, investing in the future (what could be), strong leadership, a culture of humility incremental excellence and disciplined execution on the field has allowed them not only absorb the loss of many experienced players, but to take things to a whole new level. To go beyond past performances and to deliver better outcomes in different ways and in doing so staying ahead of their competitors.
I am lucky enough to work with many high performance Chief Executives and their teams and they all have two things in common;
“Restlessness” : A hunger and passion for continually getting better and better as leaders, at execution, at trying and iterating new ways of doing things, and
“Grit”: The toughness to carry on, to push past the comfort of status quo and to lead change with certainty to lead the way.
None of them have ever been happy to settle and accept that what is being currently done will ensure success in the future. Some actively start from a position that the “status quo” is broken (even when benchmarking shows they currently significantly out perform their competitors and industry) and challenge the senior leaders to lift it another level.
This summary shows what our clients have collectively achieved over the last financial year and whilst does offer several benchmarks, the real success story is in their ability to execute their Strategic plan. To be nimble, disciplined and to stay far ahead of their opposition.
Much of my working life has been spent as an Army Officer, initially as a regular and later in the Reserves. I have found that the skills I learned and applied leading soldiers are very relevant and transferable for leading teams and driving business execution; especially in this increasingly dynamic and ever changing marketplace.
As you can imagine, the challenge of leading men and women who are working in dangerous roles in challenging environments requires a high level of trust, empathy and teamwork.
The Army places great emphasis on leadership skills and invests heavily in leadership training and development at all levels. Training courses to enhance leadership skills continue right through to those at the very highest ranks of the Army.
Here are six key things that the Army teaches their leaders in order to “fight to win”:
1. Remain calm under fire.
That’s not to say that fear is not present, in fact it is. However, to “keep calm and carry on” regardless of the situation is something you can learn. It is the golden rule for keeping your head and working through a logical process in order to respond to a hostile or changing situation. Being calm and thinking clearly are essential requirements to evaluate what is happening and to make effective decisions.
2. Any plan is better than no plan.
Without a plan you cannot inspire others to follow you. Having a plan is the starting point for successful execution. Even if the plan is not the right one, making a decision and creating a plan will save lives and generate positive activity. A good team will back itself to quickly adjust a plan so that it is effective.
3. No plan survives the start line.
The Army recognizes that in every situation there is another party that can influence the situation. Not just the enemy, but terrain, equipment, weather, civilian populations, and even animals can influence a plan. All the various scenarios that might happen should be considered and planned for so that the plan can be quickly adjusted if required. The fact a team has planned and engaged together allows it to quickly iterate the plan as needed.
4. Maintain momentum.
In any situation there needs to be swift action, and momentum needs to be maintained to ensure successful execution. Slowing or stopping any operation means it is difficult to get going again. It reminds me of the saying “When going through hell….keep going!”
5. Teamwork is a defining factor.
A group working together and supporting each other to achieve the defined goal will greatly lift the chance of success. Training together, working together, getting to know one another, and building trust all help to build teamwork. Good teams keep going when the going gets tough, and they overcome blockages in order to win.
6. Time is seldom wasted in planning or recon.
Taking the time as a leadership team to plan ahead for future operations, alternative scenarios, routes to be taken, areas of interest, and likely courses of action is seldom wasted. Planning and reconnaissance actually saves time, saves resources, and in many cases, people’s lives.
There are many situations in business where these skills can be applied. Strategic thinking, strategic planning, working together to build teamwork and trust, as well as incorporating a planning cadence that allows a business to quickly alter a plan and then change direction as required – are things a smart business leader does.
Influencing and inspiring people gets stuff done. That’s called “business execution” and by applying these six lessons from the Army you too can inspire your team to “fight to win.”
I am often asked what we do and why we do it. A few weeks back I spent some time working with my good friend & Leadership Expert John Spence in Florida. We took the opportunity to shoot a few videos and I thought it was time to articulate this starting with this Introduction to The RESULTS Group.
Why do we do what we do?
The RESULTS Group exists to make an “intentional difference” to peoples lives. We love what we do and are very good at it. We work with leaders across many organisations and industries as they seek to make a true difference in their lives and the lives of those they lead. We work with good companies seeking high performance results. We keep them ahead of disruption and support them to grow capability and capacity……to execute the important things. The connection we have with people inspires us to go that little bit further, to do what it takes to make a significant impact on people and the organisations they choose to lead and to be part of.
Our Mission (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is to disrupt Business Advisory (to redefine Advisory in a good way) by 2020 for High Performance Businesses and Leaders.
What gets under our skin?
We hate that Advisers provide average advice and charge a lot of money. We are sick & tired of the fact that the advice is generally just Accounting advice from people who have no understanding of how to implement change or to apply the advice to real life situations. These same people are being significantly disrupted in their own industry and are often not living what they are teaching.
Other advisers make it a dark art and seek to charge as if they have the “magic bullet.” Often their work is not tangible nor the difference they make measurable. Sometimes their clients struggle to apply it and in frustration don’t get the break throughs. Further those dispensing the advice have not led at a high level themselves. They have not made real life mistakes, earned a few battle scars nor dealt with the behavioural challenges of leading people. They can’t tell real stories that bring things to life.How can you give advice if you have never done it? Worse still these advisers rarely ask for feedback from their clients.
It is not good enough and we are doing something about it.
What do we do?
We work with good Companies to support them to execute their strategy. We are their “Strategy Execution Partners.” We collaboratively work with our clients as the “generalist” in their business. They are after all the experts and have achieved a lot over many years.
We ask the questions, we create the discussions within their teams, we apply a framework to bring it to life. Further we don’t keep it a secret. In fact our frameworks and tools are freely available and based on the research of the worlds experts. The value is not in the tool but in the discussions and alignment of the leaders in the business. It lies in the application of theory into the current business reality.
Our clients are privately held established Companies seeking to intentionally get better at what they do.
Core Business is getting the important things done which means supporting Business Leaders to disrupt the day to day Business as Usual Operations of the Business to grow capability & capacity. This means supporting them to change and adopt new ways of leading and focus. We help them to “Simplify their Business” by ensuring they have a simple Strategic Plan that their people can execute.
Often we support Leaders to develop their skills to lead at the next level or to grow and develop the leaders in their organisation so they can step back or bring the Company under management. This may be at the Governance, Advisory Board, CEO, GM or Senior Leadership Team level.
It sounds simple (and it generally is) but it is never easy to make a commitment to incrementally get better & better in an ongoing way. It takes focus and requires the important things to be done rather than the urgent.
This is about building a culture of high performance, learning, growing and coaching. The best leaders are the best coaches, managers, mentors and life long learners.
We know it works too. Our clients tell us each 6 months exactly what difference it makes in their lives & businesses. We also measure it so we have the data to show a very good return on their investment of time and money. There are no magic bullets either. It takes focus, hard work, clever thinking, tough discussions and a “try new things, fail fast & iterate the plan” approach to leading smart people.
Taking a long term approach to working with client companies we know they never leave our networks. They may disengage as a paying client but they re engage when they need us. We often work with clients for 3, 4 or 5 years (longer with many) and they come back as they need to grow to another level.
We also have fun, apply the same frameworks to our own business and live our Purpose and Values each day. Our people have been there and done it. Sure they have the academic qualifications but more importantly they have the real life experience of leadership & they love what they do. We make a difference & that it is valued by those we choose to work with.
But don’t take our word for it either…….ask any of our clients & as you join our networks there is plenty of opportunity to do this.
Last week I spent time in Florida doing some work with Top 100 Leadership & Business thought leader John Spence. I spent time working with him and a number of other business leaders on “Purpose”. Most people (and organisations) know “What” they do and many know “How” they do it. Not many take the time to work through “Why” they do it.
Even more importantly very few people take the time to talk this through with their business team. This process starts the alignment process & inspires like minded people. It is the beginning of “Tribe” and the “Being of team.”
A great start point is the book “Legacy” by author James Kerr. In this video John Spence talks a bit about the subjects.
This blog on Linkedin by Ziyad Jawabra delivers a very powerful message (Link Here) about Nokia. A global company & well known technology brand recently acquired by Microsoft. The CEO tearfully announces “We didn’t do anything wrong but somehow we lost!”
Powerful why? Because change is constant and ruthless to those who ignore or can’t navigate it. In fact it is worse than that, knowing change is needed is very different to actually leading or executing it. Earlier in the year I published my 3rd annual survey results whereby I asked over 200 CEO’s what they had learnt as leaders in 2015 and what they think they face in 2016 (Link Here: CEO Survey) and as you can see it is all about the challenge of change. The impact of constant change, changing fast enough to meet market and competitor moves and most important of all change to meet client expectations. On top of that staying profitable and having a culture that builds resilient people because change is tough.
We work as the Strategic Execution Partner in our clients businesses and are their most trusted adviser supporting strategy and leader development. Most importantly we are enabling Strategic Execution i.e. the doing bit. Working across dozens of industries with a vast number of clients I can assure you the problems are the same and simplicity is needed. Change is now constant, adds to complexity and requires agile thinking & speed of action. Make mistakes and fail fast (iterate the plan fast) is what my Chairman tells me as Chief Executive and this too applies to all leading.
The next 5 – 10 years holds more change, technology innovation and industry disruption than we have ever seen in business so it is a skill every leader must master to prevent the situation we have just seen a Nokia. The alternative is to sit and wait and let the wave of market change pound you.
How do you keep it focussed, simple and lead in constant change? That takes commitment to intentionally learning new skills.
There is a lot of research that shows the best lessons are learnt through experience and from failure. Failures can be big and small ranging. One of the leaders I admire is Winston Churchill. I have read so much of his writing and the various biographies and speeches. He had some of the most fantastic failures and also some biggest successes. His early years were a disaster and yet he went on to lead Britain and the Commonwealth to victory over Germany in the second world war. He adapted, reflected and used what he had learnt and the resulting resilience he built.
Most long serving Business Owners and CEO’s have made some big mistakes over their career. Economic changes, currency fluctuations, competitor moves, technology changes have taken most close to the brink at some stage and we add to that the complexity of some bad decisions, no decisions or not changing fast enough. In fact some would say if you haven’t pushed things a bit then you are not even close to peak performance.
The ability to see mistakes early comes from that skill of being able to reflect. As a leader at any level you need to consciously build on that “gut feel” to really understand and reflect on what you are seeing; in the work place, after a meeting, in a project review, after a client discussion, during a Strategic Execution review etc. So often the skills a high performing senior leader seeks to intentionally develop is that ability to self reflect, to be able to change a bad situation, a failing plan or iterate on an initial decision. To be able to understand the impact he or she is having, needs to have and who/what needs to be influenced to achieve success. This allows a Company to move faster and to build on performance.
The ability to understand and interpret (make a professional judgement) what you are seeing, validate it by seeking feedback in many ways and to constantly learn lessons is a very valuable skill. It is especially challenging when it is “cultural/the people” stuff we are needing to interpret especially to support change. I enjoy coaching these skills and you never stop learning from others.
So some of the best leaders also have the best battle scars and the best stories to tell about the lessons they have learnt. They have adapted and overcome big challenges. The ability to tell the story, to reflect on what happened and why and how they have applied the lessons they have learnt is where the true gold lies. In fact the CEO Leadership Round Table Groups I chair in Auckland and Christchurch are based around current Executive leaders telling their personal leadership journey and generating discussion around their reflections.
In fact having to speak about your personal journey forces a significant amount of self reflection as you articulate who you are (background & history) and why you have taken the journey you have as a leader. The lessons learnt and the things they got wrong are where the gold is and it gives us the personal connection and insights.
Try writing your own story.
If you need some inspiration consider being a guest at one of our Business Round Table Breakfasts and hear some great stories.
A fantastic video from David Marquet challenging us to move from a Leader-Follower to a Leader-Leader style of Leadership. This is what we learnt as Army Officers and this video along with David’s book called “Turn The Ship Around” is a great insight into how it can be applied in Business Culture today. It increases the pace of Execution and it unblocks thinking by creating an environment of constant learning.
As Tom Peters says “Leaders don’t create followers, Leaders create more Leaders” and with the pace of change we face in the immediate future and the changing workforce a collaborative style is needed. Gone are the days of Leaders being the smartest on the team having to know all the answers. How do you lead in constant change? In situations you or your team have not faced before? When change is so fast that systems and processes simply don’t keep up? Issue Intent, shape thinking, engage & empower others and try new things.
Sounds simple but its not. Leading other clever people is one of the ultimate challenges we face. How much time are you spending intentionally learning how to be better professional leader?
Find out more about Executive Leadership Coaching.
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?