2018: The Leadership Lessons I Learnt

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The Southern Alps of New Zealand: A great spot to reflect.

I loved 2018. It was an exciting, challenging year packed with fun, great work assignments, tough conversations, big decisions, awesome colleagues and the opportunity to work with business leaders who are at the top of their game.

Each year I ask the CEO’s I coach to reflect on what they have learnt, what they have achieved and to think ahead to the challenges they face.  I  also challenge myself to do the same. “Live what we teach, teach what we live” is a Core value after all.

It does take discipline to stop, take time out, reflect and to bank lessons learnt. If you don’t then you run the risk of not seeing exactly what has been achieved and will likely make the same mistakes or worse not leverage the hard earned lessons you have learnt.

A summary of key aspects of my year and some data (what gets measured gets managed).

Family: My daughter passed her NZCEA level 2 with Merit (whilst rowing, playing netball and Basketball), my son turned one & a wee baby daughter was born on the 28th of December 2018. We moved house, celebrated my parents 75th birthdays, family birthdays and sadly have had to both support ill family members and attend funerals of extended family and friends. That said I loved every minute of my family life.

Personal Fitness, health & well-being: Courtesy of my Fitbit I know I walked or ran 2555km, climbed 2234 flights of stairs, completed 182 work out periods consisting of 261.5 active hours and burnt a grand total of 1,252,315 calories! I took a month break at Christmas and 3 x one week breaks during the year to stay recharged, have time with family and to rest.

Work wise I took 56 flights, led 231 executive coaching sessions (one on one with Directors, Founders, CEO’s and C level executives in NZ, Australia & the USA), Chaired 24 Board meetings, took on a another chair role & taught on the University of Canterbury MBA course. I also led 57 Strategic planning sessions with companies and facilitated 31 customised Executive Leadership workshops. Clients were NZ wide, in Australia and in the USA & included work with Ngai Tahu, the Canterbury Rugby Football Union, tech companies, not for profit organisations and bigger companies than we have traditionally done business with.

In October I traded my shares in the national company & Greg & I purchased the Christchurch Practice & client accounts outright. In November I attended the Institute of Directors five day directors course and then subsequently completed the requirements to be a Chartered Member of the Institute. Through the year clients won a number of national and regional awards and it was a pleasure to attend the Champion Canterbury, NZ Export Awards and NZ High Tech Awards.

Our business partner John Spence (and his lovely wife Sheila) visited down under and we worked together to deliver some unique Leadership Development workshops. We continued to develop strategic partnerships with likeminded professionals as we grow our leadership and execution services offering.

In my role as Commanding Officer of 2/4 Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment I completed 56 days service. The Battalion supported local communities, deployed people overseas on operations and commemorated ANZAC and Armistice centenary celebrations across the South Island. I qualified on the NZ Army fitness test and the rifle and pistol shooting tests which whilst standard qualifications, they require some focus and commitment to ensure I set the example as the Commanding Officer.

A busy and fulfilling year. So what did I learn?;

  1. Push for the break through, be patient and do the hard mahi (work). Good things take time & when you are working in the complex space of behavioural change and leadership there are no magic bullets or instant solutions. You have to be focussed, consistent and reflective. Consistently leading courageous conversations is the catalyst for the break through.
  2. Never underestimate the impact of caring. Play the long game – In a world of pace, shallow relationships & instant gratification it can be hard to make the important things happen. The stuff that needs a longer horizon. The rewards are great if you can play the long game, focus on the long term goal and invest in developing high trust relationships. Time & time again it pays dividends. Give back time, coach others, be genuinely interested in their success & the success of their organisations.
  3. Choose your mindset and control your reaction. You can’t control the action of others, markets, weather, government decision but you can control how you choose you react. Keep a cool head, never react immediately, reflect and have fun. It doesn’t matter how challenging a business situation is…..life carries on. Its not like a military operation after all!
  4. It gets easier to make tough decisions. Tough decisions = an easy life. In a world of populist leadership it will set you apart and allow you to maintain momentum. After all time is short and your most valuable asset. Use it wisely surrounded by good people who challenge you, who are on the same mission and who energise you. Avoid those that constantly take and drain energy whilst offering nothing in return. When making decisions it is important to have a framework and to reflect back on the outcomes.
  5. Keep Grounded. It is important to recharge, spend time with family and friends & to invest in your own education, development and personal interests. It keeps you connected to your purpose and on track.

2019 has started with some great opportunities & I’m looking forward to working hard to ensure it is a success.

A link to to the Lessons I learnt in 2017.

2017: The Leadership Lessons I learnt

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Life is a journey and you have to stop every now and then, get off the track and reflect. It is essential to pause and reflect on what has been achieved, the patterns you see, the lessons you have learnt and what you need to change as you start another busy year. 2017 for me was a full on year. A CEO role (stepping down on 1 December 17 after 5 years, the last 3 of which has seen 30% growth in the business year on year), my first year as a Battalion Commander in the Reserve of the NZ Army, Chairman of a growing global tech company that was a finalist in the NZ High Tech Awards and working alongside & supporting some very high performing client CEO’s and their companies.

A year in which I took took 62 flights, hired and fired some key staff and exited a number of clients, supported clients across NZ, Australia and the USA, spoke at Universities, funerals & business events and most significantly had a baby son born in June bringing a lot of joy to our growing family. I also took my annual 7 weeks off across the year to recharge the most important break being a month over Christmas.

I tracked some other data too. On average I slept 7 hours a night, walked & ran 2555km, did 156 work outs (weights, running, cycling or boxing), climbed 4380 flights of stairs……the joys of a Fitbit keeping the data.

2017 was another year of full on learning as I worked with good companies as they adapted, grew and executed in the increasingly complex business environment. I supported and coached CEO’s and executive teams from public, listed and privately held companies. Revenues ranged from $3m p.a. through the $14bn p.a. Tech companies (mining, gaming, AI/OI, motor sport), professional sport entities, Army leadership teams & Infantry Combat teams, professional services companies (legal, psychology, accounting & finance, survey, software implementation, banking), manufacturing and distribution companies, commercial and residential building companies, civil construction and sub contracting companies, insurance, retail, medical, science, large scale agribusiness…….the list goes on.

So what did I learn as a leader? Good question and here are my reflections;

  1. There is a time to walk away. I take 100% accountability for my actions and 0% for those of others. If you coach, mentor, encourage, teach, collaborate, discuss, seek buy in, plan, agree……and they still don’t change their actions you have to be the change. Its never easy but some people simply can’t, won’t and don’t change.
  2. If its messy keep going. Clarity will prevail, give it time, take time to reflect on the patterns and what you are seeing. Often when you are leading change it is really messy when you are in it. Clarity will come if you create the space to reflect.
  3. Give your time. The most valuable thing you can give someone is your time. Cast a big shadow. Ensure people value it but invest in people, care, play the long game and go the extra mile for good people. They will give back when you need a hand, advice or time.
  4. The power of networking. The most valuable asset you have are your friends and your network of people you know & trust. Hang out more, ask questions, support them, interact, go to events that interest you, learn lots. My network is absolute gold and allows me to seek information, referrals and help.
  5. Ask for Help. One of the goals I set myself early in 2017 was to ask for help more, to let others step up, to seek feedback and advice more. It has paid huge dividends in learning, reduced work load and it actually the best way to engage your team and get out of their way. It is hard to let others step up but persevere and free up your time. Top leaders create other leaders rather than followers.
  6. Look at what people do. I always look at what people do rather than what they say. As a leader and as a coach this is where the gold is. The gap between what they say and what they do. The magic happens if you can close that gap. Also you see who people really are and what they care about by looking at what they do. Be tough and hold people accountable for their actions because people want to be led well and to be given a chance to be better at what they do.
  7. Get rid of the takers. As the African proverb says “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.” Some people take and never give and they play a short game continuously. Get rid of those who simply set out to get ahead themselves. They are not team players and the world operates best with people who can play in a team. In fact these are the people who continue to ask advice and never take it.
  8. Don’t take advice from those who don’t inspire you. Inspiration tends to be about the future rather than the past or the present. Get advice from pragmatic, forward thinking, positive people. Everyone has an opinion so make sure the advice is balanced between data & real life experience. Data wins arguments and shifts both conversations & thinking.
  9. Clever people just need gentle reminding. More often than not people know the answer and they just need to be reminded of what they need to do or should do. Typically there is no substitute for hard work, tough conversations and having the grit and motivation to push forward when things are tough.
  10. The way you do things is what matters. The devil is in the detail i.e. its not what you do but how you do it. Take action, try new things, iterate, measure. Engage people, ask lots of questions, get people to reflect and take them on the journey with you. The world is full of people with great ideas but sadly very few can make shit happen. Value the leaders, the people of action, the doers, those who make mistakes trying new ways.

2018 for me is one of creating new opportunities to be involved in governance, succession and executive leadership coaching. I believe that in order to thrive in the future you have to be 20% better every year and to be passionate about what you do and why you do it. CEO’s are often isolated and they need good solid support from people who have experience and who can introduce them to a network of like minded leaders.

What did you learn in 2017?

Other posts I have written;

Reflection: The secret skill of high performance leaders

Fight to win: Business Lessons from the Army

Are your leaders male, pale and stale?

2 Mins on my approach to Executive Leadership Coaching

Data Wins Arguments: Less “Think” More “Know”

unnamedIn 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.

Keynote: Leader of the Future

I do quite a few keynote speeches both for businesses, conferences and universities.

One I did recently in the USA was for the global software company Optym (www.optym.com). They videoed it and kindly made it available for my network.

If you are looking for a practical keynote around leadership, strategic thinking or execution (getting things done)  please connect.

Leader & Business Succession = The Big Opportunity

So often the topic of succession is ignored or seen as negative. The reality is that it offers a big opportunity to ensure business continuity, a legacy to be realised or an investment to be realised. A culture that invests in leadership assists greatly in ensuring that a business will thrive beyond its current leader (be that a founder, owner or professional CEO).

In this video John Spence and I discuss the topic and some of the challenges and opportunities.

2 Minutes on Strategic Execution

Recently I took part in a leadership panel with three other CEO’s. This is a short clip taken from the wider panel video (the link is attached).

The Leadership panel was held recently in Christchurch for a large group of CEO’s, their leadership teams and business leaders. The other CEO panel members were Shaun Maloney of ARANZ Geo, Lincoln Booth of Cookietime, Keith Jessop of EMDA.

You can link to the longer panel video here.

Leading Leaders: Disciplined Execution is a People Challenge Requiring Courage

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One of the biggest challenges in business today is Executing Strategy which is critical if a business is to succeed in the future. I lead a business which is at the forefront globally of Strategic Execution and our team works with CEO’s and companies around the world each day as they actively seek to evolve and change by executing their strategy in a deliberate and disciplined way. This is a behavioural leadership problem to solve and one which requires a lot of courage. The courage to change, listen, make mistakes, make tough decisions, ask for help, get their people to change and to do what is right to move the company forward.

Business change is constant, fast and ever increasing so the challenge is very much about getting ahead of it because leaders who want their businesses to thrive in the future need to be able to effect change before it is needed. To be proactive instead of reactive. Whilst this sounds logical and achievable the reality is that it needs courageous leaders who are adaptable, emotionally aware and committed to getting better and better at this “behavioural leadership”. As this recent blog (Harvard Business Review) outlines: Strategic execution is a people challenge.

An simple executable plan is needed for sure, but this is the easy bit. Too often there is a great plan in place but the senior team executing it doesn’t buy into it & generally this is because they have not been involved in developing it and don’t understand the “people behaviour” skills needed. I see this play out time and time again. Leaders who are really frustrated at a lack of action but who have no idea why this is so & how they can practically overcome the problem. Here then are some practical ideas;

  • Take time to get to know your team and build trust. Trust is the foundation of any team and its future success. Get to know the personality’s of those you lead, spend time listening to them, get into their environment, understand where they have come from and where they want to go and set about making them as successful as you can. Profile them, share yours, share them as a team. Have fun, tell them about what you are seeing, learning and offer them feedback & guidance.
  • Force reflection. The best leaders constantly learn, evolve and iterate. Soft skills and the ability to self regulate behaviour through awareness is a very valuable skill and one effective leaders focus on mastering. Keep a journal of observations, key decisions and their outcomes, lessons learnt and make your direct reports do the same. Too often I find senior leaders who simply cannot reflect on what they are seeing and make observations or draw conclusions to make things even better.
  • Have a simple and clear framework for leading. Prioritise meetings, get the agenda, frequency and content right. Use key numbers and ensure there is an action log. Seek feedback, let others run them, do more of them if the pace is increasing. Avoid the tendency to cancel you functional and leadership meetings when things get too busy. This makes for more confusion, lack of alignment and inefficiency. Use one on ones, reviews, full team (town hall) meetings, social media, internal comms and stand ups to get messages across many times. Get the mix of weekly/monthly/quarterly and annual reviews mapped out and in the diary a year in advance. Make sure professional development, technical and leadership training are conducted regularly to keep people engaged.
  • Have fun. Too often life and business is all a bit serious. Take every opportunity to hang out, socialise, tell stories & make it something everyone looks forward to. Bank the wins both big and small & recognise those who do the right things.
  • Provide clear expectations. Team rules, meeting rules, constant feedback and observations all make for better clarity. The role of a modern leader is to coach and mentor and guide alongside the traditional “management” role. Clarity and simplicity make for a better and more efficient team environment.
  • Be consistent. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make are they are not consistent. This undermines trust. People want to know where they stand, want familiarity, and to be able to rely on not only colleagues but their leader to be there for them. Consistently confronting issues early, giving frank and honest feedback etc will build high levels of trust.
  • Be deliberate. Too often the important components of teamwork and leadership are left to chance. Be transparent and open in your communications. Ensure the team reviews meetings, decisions, projects, client feedback, financial/sales results. Ask for input and draw lessons learnt. Have the soft conversations about issues, things that went wrong and commit to getting better. The important things in life are easy to do. They are also easy not to do.
  • Be courageous. Have the ongoing tough discussions as they are needed. Don’t wait, dive in and shape thinking and outcomes to keep things on track. If you have a decent sized team then it is important everyone keeps moving in the right direction and stays aligned. This will be constantly needed. Be humble, ask for help, discuss when you got it wrong and lead the way to show others in your team how to get better in this space with their team.
  • Be prepared to fail on this stuff. People are all different. You can’t & won’t get it all right. There will be times you push too hard, not hard enough or simply get it wrong. On the people stuff you have to be 100% accountable for your actions but also understand that how others react will be up to them. Be open and honest and when you get it wrong admit it & share it with your team so you reflect and learn. Don’t beat yourself up but do regroup and recommit to improving.

Too often CEO’s try to outsource many of the important things that drive a high performance culture. These skills are ones which must be developed in order to lead a growing thriving business that can change ahead of competitors in an increasingly complex business environment. This means they must be consciously developed and worked on to stay at the top of the leadership game.

Further reading;

 

Adaptability is the New Success Indicator

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I recently attended the 3 day Singularity University Summit in Christchurch. A 36 hour fire hydrant of the latest information looking at the mountain of change all of us on this planet face over the coming years. It was at times overwhelming, often daunting, incredibly exciting and certainly full of opportunities.

As businesses face the prospect of disruption through technology change I am struck by the two most common responses. Either;

  1. They know it is coming but don’t know where to start planning for it and how change might impact their business. So they don’t start the journey to understand what they don’t know yet.
  2. They are so inward focussed on their own business they simply have no idea things are even changing around them.

Some actual recent scenarios I have had working with the Senior Leadership Teams from a range of industries ($10m revenue companies through to $1Bn plus) as they lift the horizon of their planning to beyond the next 1 – 3 years. In the last few months;

  • A manufacturing company who thought robotics & automation would not impact their business in this decade but after research & discussion realised the impact on their plant, equipment, people is less that 2 years away.
  • The company who realised that their business model would probably be totally obsolete in 15 – 20 years but were not doing anything about it because none of them would be in the company then and they never looked that far ahead nor had any sort of agenda to discuss it as a group. When we led the discussion they have totally changed this view point as leaders of a large organisation.
  • The transport company who as a senior team felt that automated vehicles are 10 years away but after committing to explore this & visiting Europe they discovered that not only will their whole fleet and drivers be impacted significantly, it will start in Feb 17 when their next 3 trucks are delivered with a driverless capability & already they can see that their insurance companies will reduce premiums because this technology is safer. This will drive the change faster across the industry.

I could go on. My point is that this will be the biggest leadership challenge any of us leading in business over the coming 5 – 10 years will face. We can’t duck dive the wave of change but we can choose to consciously start to understand how it will impact us and our organisations. I am reminded of a quote I once heard “You might hate change but you will hate irrelevance even more.” Ignoring it is not an option and the sooner you start the easier it will be to adapt.

At Advisory.Works we believe that leaders and organisations must adapt & constantly change in the future so that they can thrive. There is massive business opportunity within this change and for many “what” they do may not change but “how” they do it certainly will. Those of us leading now must build the Adaptability Quadrant (AQ) of ourselves, our people and our organisations. Moving forward AQ will become a key predictor of success much as IQ & then EQ did.

Leaders and organisations must be adaptable so they have the resilience to constantly adapt, iterate and evolve. Now more than ever leaders must invest in professional development and this start with an awareness of what they will face in the future.

Without this you will simply just hit a brick wall as an organisation.