At C-Level #4 is the fourth blog of an eight-part series following a first time CEO’s educational journey in a very challenging business environment, and exploring global concepts in leadership theory and practice.
At the end of each blog are reflection questions for readers to consider as they navigate their own leadership journey.
This guest post by Mike Sayre — experienced software, e-commerce and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO and Board Director—is based on his first-hand experiences as a fledging CEO. Its intent is to provide additional insight or ideas to those in, close to, aspiring to, or trying to understand the top leadership role in any organization. Mike was also featured in the October 4, 2016 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview with Maureen Metcalf on VoiceAmerica focusing on the importance of leader trustworthiness in driving organizational change.
As you know from my previous At C-Level posts, I was a first time CEO of a manufacturing services company lacking in leadership and focus, who created a leadership tool – further refined by the company’s leadership team – in the form of a “philosophy card” containing a company mission, vision and operating guidelines. “The card” was often referenced by the leadership team and employees, now referred to as “associates,” to keep everyone focused in the same direction and reduce a lot of first level noise around decision-making processes.
When I first set out about writing the company mission and vision, I was confused about their definitions and the real difference between them. Because everyone seemed to have a different opinion, I settled on mission as being the on-going everyday goal of the journey. My personal mission is “To improve as many lives on this Earth as I can before I leave it.” The company’s mission started with “To improve the lives of all the stakeholders in the company…” Everyday, the company and I could work in alignment to carry out both of those missions.
My definition for vision was a destination for the journey, somewhere out in the distant future, that the entire team could focus on to keep everyone rowing in the same direction. The company’s vision was “To be the best in the business at delivering collaborative technology solutions to industry-leading technology companies.”
Wow, that’s a pretty nebulous vision isn’t it? Why wouldn’t we put together something more definitive, concise and quantifiable?
The truth is, just like the definitions of mission and vision, you need to do what best serves the company’s and your purpose and circumstances. And you do not want to change it every time a shiny new object catches your eye! People need – and want – consistency and stability in order to focus and improve.
Our company was in need of a transformation – specifically, in leadership, strategy, and focus. Our core strengths included our engineering capability with many computer hardware and operating system technologies in the field at the time and our unique ability to collaborate with our customers at the engineering level of their products. In addition, the company had a lot of manufacturing capabilities, so which products and services should be offered to which markets for the best return for the shareholders was not readily apparent. More specificity was not really an option at the time. Leadership and the next level of focus were needed first.
The company’s associates also needed a positive vision they could aspire to. In talking to our associates about our vision, I often replaced “being the best in the business” with “being the best in the world.” It was a more exciting destination for our team and, without that positivity, it was evident to me that many were just working for the money and were otherwise not that engaged with a higher purpose.
Your next question may be “How did you know if you were achieving your mission and/or your vision without more specificity?” Plain and simple…our stakeholders actually told us!
Operational and financial planning, metrics, goals, reporting, analysis, and actions are all objective, and I am a very big believer in all of those. They played a large role in the company’s transformation.
However, achievement of our mission and vision was more subjective, both internally and externally.
With regard to the mission, I saw an immediate shift and improvement in internal attitude, respect, involvement and collaboration among leadership and the associates, aided by the expectations set with the new operating philosophies and guidelines all aimed at improving their lives.
Over a two to three year period, we worked towards our vision by improving financial performance through customer profitability analyses, consolidating domestic operations, honing and executing new business strategies, implementing Agile and Lean methodologies across the organization, and expanding internationally into Europe and Asia. Major external validation that we were on track to achieve our vision finally came from the company’s largest customer. That customer’s head of global engineering and top decision-maker on supplier selection visited the company’s main facility and took me aside to tell me:
“Although smaller, your company is way ahead of your larger competitors around the world.
- Your engineers actually help us save money by solving problems your competitors don’t even recognize.
- Your facilities all operate the same, talk the same language, and use the same systems so we can see all of our inventory around the world in just one place. Each facility of your “global” competitors has to be treated like a complete separate supplier, even though they all are under the same ownership.
- And, lastly, in my 18 years of inspecting manufacturing facilities worldwide, I’ve only see one facility that might be run as well as your main facility here, and that was years ago in Japan!”
The customer’s statements were absolutely an independent affirmation that the company was beginning to achieve it’s vision. After the customer left, his comments were shared with the entire company.
Leading researchers and educators in the field of leadership development write1 that the future of leadership development lies in the Strategist Competency Model, and identify the seven traits exhibited by Strategist leaders. Strategists
- care about getting it right ahead of being right;
- are unstoppable and unflappable when on a mission;
- have the “Balcony View” and are 360 degree thinkers;
- have developed interests, expertise, and curiosity beyond the job and organization;
- are not constrained by personal appearance but are highly focused on personal behavior;
- have the special ability to connect with people at all levels of the organization to create a shared vision; and
- welcome collaboration in a quest for novel solutions that serve the highest outcome for all involved.
I aspire to the Strategist level of leadership and have been told that I exhibited many of these traits as a leader in my first time role as CEO. But, I am still developing too, and from time to time, based on the challenges and circumstances, I will also drop down one or more levels in my leadership maturity to fit the situation. I understand this is common.
- As you assess your current situation, on a scale of 1–5 with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest, how would you score yourself on the seven traits above? For example, using the first trait, how would you rate yourself on soliciting and selecting the ideas or solutions of others that may be better than your own?
- How can you use your scores on the seven traits to shape your leadership development plan?
If you scored below a three on any of the factors or scored an average below four, please consider creating a personal leadership development plan with us. Metcalf & Associates and I offer leadership development support and executive advisory services, including transformational change and turnaround consulting.
In our next installment, At C-Level #5, Mike writes about the power of a few stated operating guidelines for the company and how they increased decision-making capabilities and quality, and expanded the CEO and leadership team’s capacity.
To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.
About the Author
Mike Sayre, executive advisor and organizational transformation practice lead, has been a successful CEO, COO, CFO and board director for multiple organizations in technology (cybersecurity, ecommerce payments processing and engineered computer products) and manufacturing (electronics and steel products). He shares his expertise with client boards and C-Level leaders, and advises, designs, plans, and oversees the implementation of successful strategies for turnarounds, growth, profitability and sustainability.
Mike brings 25+ years of organizational and business leadership and hands-on implementation experience to his clients. His teams have achieved significant increases in growth, profitability and valuation, as well as shareholder, customer, supplier and employee engagement and satisfaction.
1 The Strategist Competency Model: The Future of Leadership Development – a chapter in the book Leadership 2050 by Susan Cannon, PhD and principle, Evolucent Consulting, Michael Morrow-Fox, principle, Metcalf & Associates, Inc., and Maureen Metcalf, CEO of Metcalf & Associates