The Pivot: Staying at the Top of Your Game

How do the top performing teams in the world stay at the top of their game? Sports teams, racing teams, leading brands, innovative teams, military teams and many others? What do leaders at the top of their game do to stay at the top? What does this mean for business?

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The best teams change before change is needed. They pivot and iterate to stay ahead of the crowd.

Right now things in business are going pretty well. There is uncertainty in the medium and longer term as to what is going to happen in money markets, commodity markets, the Chinese/US or EU economies. There is a lot of technology disruption starting to show up on the fringes of even the least tech savvy industries. Change is coming and whether it is disruption, a softening economy, a total global meltdown or even a major political event we will all need to navigate it.

The RESULTS Group work with good companies and proactive leaders who want to get better at what they do. Our clients tend to be the long term brands that over decades have performed exceptionally well. They are actively seeking to stay at the top of their game.

In the next 5-10 years all of us leading (me included) are going to face more change than the world has seen in the last century. It will be fast, ongoing and relentless and will be an exciting and challenging time to lead. Some commentators say we are in year 2 of a 35 year technology disruption. How true is this and how will it affect our own business is open to interpretation but we are all starting to see the wave of change.

To stay at the top in any professional environment there is a need to develop a culture of continuous learning. If we look at the All Blacks (the most successful global high performance professional sports team/brand with a winning record of 86%, two back to back world cups & recently voted the best team in the world across all codes). In James Kerr’s book “Legacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life” you will see Chapter 2 is entitled “Adapt”. In essence the commentary is all around “When you are at the top of your game, change your game.” This is about changing consciously before you need to, in order to stay ahead of the competition and to remain the best of the best. To keep an edge or a sustainable point of difference.

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A summary picture of the key chapters & topics of the book “Legacy” by James Kerr.

I like to refer to the term “pivoting”. I saw this in action during some work I recently did at the University of Florida, assessing entrepreneurial engineering teams and the projects they were completing for private business. They were presenting what they had achieved and were seeking feedback so they could iterate and improve their project. They were seeking a “pivot” through good insights and application of ideas.

The best leaders and companies we work with are already pivoting at a time when they are performing well. They know through experience that the good times won’t last. To stay ahead of their competition and to navigate change they must understand what success continues to look like. How do they do this?

Those CEO’s proactively keeping ahead of the crowd prioritise the following;

  • They invest in their own development and leadership skills so they can lead smart innovative people in a collaborative way.
  • They spend time in strategic and operational planning with their teams, senior leadership teams and functional teams. They continuously define the priorities and focus of action.
  • Actively build an aligned plan to execute continuous change and constantly reflect on it, revise it and iterate it to make it better. They empower their people to lead parts for the execution.
  • Focus on execution and getting the important things done.
  • Seek the best advice on technology disruption, the economy, competitors, new entrants and possible substitute products and services.
  • Stay very close to their clients and know what they value, expect and want improved. They build collaborative and close relationships through many channels including social media.
  • Invest in leadership development (and education) and focus on increasing staff engagement to build resilience and an ownership mentality. This aids the change process and brings innovative and collaborative thinking to the fore.
  • Focus on the numbers. What gets measured can be managed.
  • Actively disrupt the companies “business as usual” in a positive way so as to build capacity and capability in a continuous way. This allows the organisation and the team to scale up in a long term sustainable way.
  • Make the tough decisions early.
  • Learn the lessons of previous economic downturns and change projects so as to ensure the same mistakes are not made again, and
  • Recognise success and continue to have fun along the journey.

This all sounds simple (and it is) but it is not easy. It takes focus, good strong proactive leaders committed to ensuring the important things happen and not just the urgent things of modern business. It is about going beyond reactive firefighting and consciously picking & executing the plan for/route to success.

Staying at the top of your game is about changing before you are forced to change. This means having a good team committed to getting incrementally better at what they do.

It is about confidence and momentum.

Just start the journey.

 

The Ever Powerful: Purpose & Legacy

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.

 

My Memories of 20 Feb 11: Ground zero post the Christchurch Earthquake

20 February 2011 (5 years ago) at just after 1pm was one that shook is all, a major earthquake. Our office building evacuated & we headed for home. That in itself was going to be challenge with a full central city evacuation under way & bridges out. Short Texts came through to tell me my immediate family were alive & safe. My brothers house was hit by rocks I knew & Dad was in it…..but just how bad things were was to later be a bit of a shock.

I had left the Army in 2004 but was in the throes of rejoining the Army Reserve.

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Central CHCH 1.46pm 20 Feb 11

A call from the XO of the Battalion (the only one to come through in a jammed cell network) redirected me to Army duty. I parked my car and proceeded from Sydenham to the city centre. In my office attire I walked through liquefaction and what was a scene out of a movie. It was 1.30pm.

I walked past a building lying across a lane of Montreal st, stopped to hug a distraught older woman with half a hair dye and foils in. Distraught from watching a bus get crushed she was walking to Oxford 50km away crying.

I overheard builders discussing how they should secure their high rise site and get home.

My task from the Army was to find the Mayor, provide the NZ Defence emergency cell numbers and to proceed to the Civil Defence bunker on Kilmore st. Later I was to discover my wife’s bravery in getting Caetana from school amongst collapsing cliffs and then helping Dad who was trapped in my brothers house that was destroyed by rocks.

The mayors staff had been evacuated after an aftershock from the new gallery building. I passed on the info to Bob Parker & his Ops Manager, gathered a couple of soldiers who were there looking to help and pushed on to find the civil defence bunker, my next task was to fill in as a situation/operations officer until a regular Infantry officer could get in from Burnham. Little did I know it would take many hours for him to arrive.

My first job back in Army service for 7 years.

The bunker was hard to find in the chaos, I passed through the emergency aid station in Cramner square and through many police check points.

In the bunker I found my old Army boss, Baden Ewart in command. Baden was working in the medical world and was stepping up given that the civil defence staff were in Wellington the day of the quake.

I sat in on the briefing of the current situation and it was apparent that a lot of people were hurt and killed. Early sky TV reports showed the CTV and PGG building collapses and I could hear the fire and police radio traffic spelling out the terrible challenges they faced.

Andrew Howe was the ops officer (an ex army friend and colleague). I was put in an office with the fire liaison officer. All the Army assets were in Timaru in preparation for a large defence exercise and by chance HMNZS Canterbury had docked at Lyttelton minutes prior to the big quake. It was full of armoured and military vehicles and soldiers that would help.

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The Civil Defence Bunker, 20 Feb 11. Andrew Howe and others discuss the situation, approx 4pm

My role was to link between the civil defence command post and the Army command post in Burnham and to support military flights bringing high risk search teams, generators, water treatment units and medical assets into the city. We were coordinating fuel and power for the fire and police services to keep operating and prioritising transport heavy lift and military communications assets.

40 mins into it someone came into the command post and announced that it looked like the Copthorne Hotel might collapse on the bunker. With ongoing large aftershocks hammering the city it was possible although a bit dramatic I thought. Baden said “Langston go out and check that”. So out I went and looked at a 12 story building leaning over and definitely looking like a potential collapse.

My report ” I’m no engineer Baden but it’s not looking flash”. Someone did mention that the bunker was designed to withstand a building collapsing on it but then who would dig us out. WTF?

And so through the shock and chaos a lot of good people worked to make sense of it and to make a difference.

At a little after 7pm I was relieved by an Infantry Captain (he had to park in Riccarton and find the bunker) and walked the 7km around the cordon to my car in Sydenham. A full cordon was in place and with no ID the police made me go the long way through the park and around the 4 avenues. Our office was in the cordon (for 6 weeks) and I arrived at my car covered in mud.

My trip home to Sumner paused at my brothers place where I surveyed the damage, the rocks on his house, the tunnel my dad escaped the 2nd floor from and the boat that had caught fire. Ed was smiling but shaken. My family had tents on the lawn and Dad was quite badly shocked after his experience. We settled into a night of aftershocks, sleeping on the lounger floor and the start of months without water, sewerage or power.

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My brothers house suffering rock damage. My father was lucky to escape unhurt.

I will always remember that day, just how surreal it all was and the part we all played in a difficult situation and uncertain environment.

It was a fitting baptism back into our Army and Months later I received an unexpected letter of commendation from the Brigade commander thanking me for my work that day. Many people did what needed to be done and I was proud to play a small part for the NZ Army.

I never did get around to claiming that first day of army pay (it didn’t seem right) but it was worth it for the adventure & I’ll chalk it up as a donation!

……. And so we remember.

Some of my pictures of that day are attached. We were one of the lucky families that all survived although we were all affected by those who did not.

Don’t Issue Orders, Give Intent

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.

The RESULTS Group: Your Strategy Execution Partners”

 

 

Guiding Others to Lead & Succeed

Simon sinek

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;

  1. 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”.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. 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.
  10. 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”.

Team Mates

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Great team mates are the key to any culture and business. No one person is a team and no one person can manage the complexity of leading in modern business. Team and culture are the outcome of good leadership, clear communication and honest robust conversations. They are the result of a conscious decision to invest in people and to work together collaboratively.

Too often this critical aspect of business is left to chance and stagnates at a certain level. The reality of business today is that really the only significant point of difference and Company can have is it team culture. Everything else can be copied, reverse engineered or improved upon. Competitors can take individuals but they cannot take nor easily replicate your team culture. If you get the team culture right then client service and great products innovation will follow.

Pride, Passion And Excellence: Leighs Construction CEO – Anthony Leighs

Last week we were lucky enough to have the CEO (and Founder) of Leighs Construction Ltd (Link here) speak at our CEO Leadership Group in Christchurch. Every two months the group gets together for breakfast to hear a Business Leader tell their personal story in Business, to tell their Leadership journey.

It is fantastic to hear someones journey in both Business and Leadership and to take a few things away to think about. What did I learn from Anthony? A lot actually;

  • His journey from school into the Construction Industry. A near brush with being an Officer in the NZ Army did threaten to take him in another direction & Leadership role.
  • He qualified as a QS, Project & Construction Manager and worked for a large Construction Company.
  • In his first role he was influenced by a strong leader who taught him a lot about Leading and running a Business.
  • He started his own Company.
  • Leighs Construction had to be smart, innovative and deliver great results to initially compete with larger, better established Christchurch Construction Companies.
  • Some early wins and awards made a big difference.
  • Being different is a way of building a brand. Leighs took construction to Antarctica, East timor and the Islands. This required innovation, flexibility and taught a culture of partnerships and close relationships. This ability to create and work in partnerships has been a major contributor to the Company growth.
  • His leadership philosophy is “Great people, Good equipment and sharing success”. The company has 3 stated Values – Pride, Passion, Excellence (PPE). The team keep this as centre to all they do and deliver. It is a way of doing business.
  • Anthony has tried to build a culture of performance. With PPE central in all they do, everyone is expected to perform.
  • Good robust Governance keeps the Business strong. Anthony wished he had formed a board earlier and gets invaluable direction, guidance and support from the Board of Directors he currently has.
  • Leading leaders is the challenge of the future a the company grows. How do you lead clever people well and develop them? Leadership is a key focus for the Company moving forward.
  • Anthony is passionate about what he does and his industry. He readily gives back through his role as Chairman of The NZ Masterbuilders Federation and by his numerous leadership roles in related groups, committees and Business relationships. He is an influencer.

Thank you for sharing your story. I learnt a lot and so did those attending the breakfast.

Other Leadership Blogs I have published:

Average Doesn’t work in Any Part of Life (lInk Here)

Feedback from 200 CEO’s: What They Learnt in 2013 (Link here)

Managing Director and Founder of Leigh Construction, Anthony Leighs speaks about Leadership at a Christchurch breakfast hosted by The Results group.
Managing Director and Founder of Leigh Construction, Anthony Leighs speaks about Leadership at a Christchurch breakfast hosted by The Results group.