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140 Top CEOs Say These are the Most Crucial Challenges for Future Leaders

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This blog is provided by Jacob Morgan and author of the book, “The Future Leader: 9 Skills and Mindsets to Succeed in the Next Decade.”  It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled “The Future Leader: Skills and Mindsets to Succeed in the Next Decade” that aired on Tuesday, January 12th, 2021.

 

Leadership has always been challenging, but the future of work will bring fresh challenges to future leaders. Over the next decade, leaders will have to face obstacles and challenges not faced by current or past leaders. But what are those challenges?

As part of the research for my book, The Future Leader, I interviewed over 140 top CEOs from around the world and surveyed around 14,000 LinkedIn users. One of the questions I asked was about the challenges future leaders would face. From their varied and insightful responses, I broke the challenges down to two main areas: futurize and humanize.

Futurize

Future leaders can’t afford to lead their organizations by looking in the rearview mirror. They need to futurize, or bring their organizations into the future. But of course, it isn’t that simple. There are numerous challenges that fall into this category.

Short-Term Vs. Long-Term Thinking

Many leaders think quarter by quarter to please their shareholders and investors. We’ve been conditioned to think in the short term and expect fast results. Future leaders need to be focused on long-term success for both the organization and the people. This requires courage!

Adapting to Technology

New technology is coming incredibly quickly, and it often seems like once we’ve finally mastered something, it’s outdated and there’s a flashy new solution. Leaders need to pay attention to technology and be able to change their perspective to understand what new developments are most important and what else is coming down the pipeline. Technology is not just for IT professionals.

“Today’s leaders need to either decide to embrace new platforms and technology or be prepared to be left behind.” John Legere, Former CEO, T-Mobile

Keeping Up With the Pace of Change

The world is changing incredibly fast, and future leaders will be challenged to keep up. They need to embrace change, stay agile, and be open to new ideas. Whether we look at climate change, globalization, technology, demographics, cyber security, geopolitical issues, competition, or any of the other numerous trends shaping our lives and organizations, it’s clear that change happens quickly and happens all the time. We will experience more change in the coming decade than we have experienced in the past hundreds of years.

“The pace of change is faster and while you don’t have to know everything, you do have to know how to get it. The commitment to being a lifelong learner, I think the premium on that is much higher now for our leaders.” William Rogers, CEO, SunTrust Banks

Moving Away from the Status Quo

Just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it will still work in the future. Leaders need to be confident and bold to take risks that move away from the status quo just because that’s how things have always been done. Leaders must move away from the mentality of “follow me to greener pastures because I’ve done it and I’ve been there,” to “follow me into uncertainty, I don’t know the path but I have a vision of what we can create and together we will make it happen!”

Humanize

We tend to put a lot of emphasis on technology, but a company can work without technology; it can’t work without people. The challenges of humanizing involve balancing humans with technology and ensuring your people are prepared to succeed in the future. We can’t forget that business still fundamentally operates and exists because of people. What we are seeing now with COVID-19 is a very clear example of that.

Leading Diverse Teams

Not everyone in the world looks and thinks the same, and your organization should reflect that. Diverse teams bring in new perspectives. Future leaders need to put together teams of people with different backgrounds, genders, races, sexual orientations, and belief systems to work together towards a common goal.

Attracting and Retaining Top Talent

People are an organization’s biggest asset, but many companies face the challenge of finding and keeping great employees. Instead of job candidates trying to convince organizations they are the best choice, now leaders and organizations must convince potential employees they are a great place to work.

“We’re moving from an era of lifetime employment to lifetime employee ability where if your people don’t feel that they learn and progress and they’re up to speed in their areas of expertise, they will leave you because they will become themselves obsolete.” – André Calantzopoulos, CEO, Philip Morris International

Reskilling and Upskilling Employees

How we work and the tools we have are changing rapidly, and many employees find themselves not having the right skills to do their jobs or thrive in the future. Leaders face the challenge of knowing how best to upskill employees and give them what they need for future success.

Doing Good

People want to be part of organizations that care about more than just making money. But in many cases, the leaders and shareholders are conditioned to think more about profits than doing good in the world. Future leaders need to make sure their work is improving the world and then share that message with others.

Making the Organization Human

With automation and a focus on efficiency, many organizations fall into the trap of focusing on results instead of people. Each individual matters, and future leaders need to understand their employees as people, not just cogs in the machine.

“A leader of the future will have to be astute enough to balance automation with the human touch. They have to decide what types of tasks to automate so that they can spend more time on high-value activities. But also decide which businesses will continue to benefit from human judgment.” – Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson, of Biocon

These challenges are widespread and require serious effort. Based on the survey I did with LinkedIn looking at 14,000 employees around the world, most leaders and organizations aren’t ready to face these challenges. The good news is that we still have time, but we need to start now to develop future-ready skills and mindsets.

 

You can purchase Jacob’s newest book here.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

 Jacob Morgan is a four time bestselling author, keynote speaker, and futurist who explores leadership, employee experience, and the future of work. He is the founder of FutureofWorkUniversity.com, an online education and training platform that helps future proof individuals and organizations by teaching them the skills they need to succeed in the future of work. Jacob also hosts the Future of Work podcast, a weekly show where he speaks with senior executives, business leaders, and bestselling authors about how the world of work is changing.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

 

Leading Sustainability: Look to the Future, Make Bold Choices and Don’t Go It Alone

This blog is provided by Trista Bridges and Donald Eubank, co-founders of Read-the-Air and authors of a new book, “Leading Sustainability: The Path to Sustainable Business and How the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) Changed Everything.”  It is a companion to their interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Leading Sustainability: The Path to Sustainable Business and SDGs that aired on Tuesday, January 5th, 2021.  This article shares practical steps from their book to advance your business efforts to put sustainability at the core of your strategy.

 

The business world is at a fundamental crossroads. The age of the stakeholder is rapidly superseding that of the shareholder. More than just a buzzword, the idea of the stakeholder recognizes that companies have always existed as an inseparable part of the communities and business networks in which they operate, however vast and physically distant.

Contrary to what the shareholder model often implied, good business decisions have never really been driven purely by profit motives. It is becoming increasingly obvious that what is good for society—and thus, by definition, for the environment—is good for business.  This new embrace of responsibility does not preclude the design of efficient, lucrative business models. In fact, when done properly, precisely the opposite is true: socially responsible and sustainable business decision-making opens up brand new, exciting, profitable—and, in all its meanings, sustainable—revenue streams.

Today’s reckoning is not purely an altruistic choice made by businesses; new demands from various civil society organizations and the consensus-driven initiatives of the United Nations have been shepherding along the changes required to make business operations sustainable for years. With the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the implementation of the Paris Agreement, these constituencies have outlined new expectations for not only how governments function, but also how businesses must function in a sustainable society.

The SDGs—more than 50 years in the making—provide a comprehensive framework for understanding all aspects of social, political, and business actions. They are powerful statements of human ambition for a fair, just and sustainable society. Many in the business and investing world today are calling them “A gift”, as the SDGs can provide us with a broader definition of sustainability and a framework to quickly and effectively guide businesses’ efforts to align their operations with the meaningful goals that society desires.

The successful businesses of tomorrow will be the ones that fully embrace sustainability today.

Almost two years ago, we set out to find and catalogue the practical steps that companies today must take to create the new sustainable business models they will need to survive in the year 2030. We interviewed more than 100 business leaders, investors, policy makers, NPOs, researchers and other changemakers, and researched a broad range of companies from across the world, of varying sizes and across multiple industries, that were taking practical steps to improve business practices and become more sustainable. Here’s some of the main takeaways that were collected for our new book “Leading Sustainably—The Path to Sustainable Business and How the SDGs Changed Everything.”

Our takeaways

  • Look to the future of your business—to achieve the best tomorrow, prepare today for the worst.
  • Make changes to your strategies based on the big picture, not on the small problems (unless they are warning you about dangers arising in the big picture).
  • The past created the world we live in today—its environmental crises and social unrest—but it also has been building the platform and the thinking that’s needed to move past these crises. That is, the SDGs, the Paris Agreement and a business world more focused on becoming sustainable for the long run.
  • The business case is already there—the whole business environment is pushing for more sustainable models, from consumers to investors, employees to competitors. Catch up, keep the pace, set the speed or get pushed out of the way.  And watch out, because a whole new generation of “mission-driven” companies have a head start already, having established themselves as fully aligned with society from the get-go. They are laser-focused on bringing fully sustainable innovations and business models to sectors that have struggled to do so on their own, and they are achieving remarkable societal and financial impact.
  • Don’t get confused by the Alphabet soup of methodologies for measuring and managing impact—choose what looks best for you, try them out, see if they fit, and whether do or don’t, adjust, retry, expand, until you figure out what works for your company. Get started today.
  • Capital managers, and even retail investors, believe that sustainability is the way forward, and they are going to talk to you about it. If you are aligned with them, they will provide you capital at a reasonable rate—if not, you will pay more or even be left empty-handed.
  • Be systematic. Understand the steps that you as a business have to proceed through to achieve a sustainable business model. Apply smart managerial and leadership strategies to move through these steps. Make bold decisions. Engage the whole organization. Communicate your directives and the reasons. Build an “A team”. Pursue a multi-stakeholder approach. Be flexible, make assessments and adjust. Work with your customers. Consider outside acquisitions. And leverage the SDGs.
  • You can’t do this alone. Bring your industry along for success and to ensure a fair playing field. Reach out to your industry associations, but also look to new partners, whether from civil society, international organizations, or cross industry. If a few key industries do this right—health and wellness, insurance, fashion, real estate, and tourism—we’ll all be in a better, more sustainable, place.

Before we close, two points bear repeating: For success leverage the SDGs— recognize their power to help and guide the organization and your teams; and be systematic to align your business planning and operations with sustainability principles.

Plus, remember this final, key piece to getting it done: You must bridge the knowledge gap—provide your teams with as many opportunities as possible to learn what they need to know to make sustainability-driven business decisions.

 

See more details about the important lessons from companies—in a range of industries—on how to achieve sustainability in our new book “Leading Sustainably”, available now from Routledge and Amazon.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Authors

Trista Bridges is a strategy and marketing expert with extensive experience across various geographies and sectors including consumer products, financial services, technology, and healthcare.

Donald Eubank is an experienced manager who has worked across the IT, finance, and media industries in Asia.

They advise businesses on sustainability and are co-founders of Read the Air, a coalition of strategy and operations professionals, and co-authors of “Leading Sustainably—The Path to Sustainable Business and How the SDGs Changed Everything” (Routledge).

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Leading During a Crisis: Explosion in Beirut, The Aline Kamakain Story

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Maureen Metcalf, ILI’s CEO and Founder is a Fellow with the International Leadership Association (ILA). In this role, ILA recommends 12-16 interviews for her radio show focusing on innovating leadership. The show focuses on balancing academic excellence in leadership with personal stories of high impact leaders and thought leaders and authors talking about their latest books and frameworks.

The following blog accompanies an interview with Aline Kamakian. This interview, specifically Aline’s Story, was very moving and inspiring. We encourage you to learn more about Aline by listening to her interview titled Thriving During Crisis: A Successful Middle Eastern Businesswoman that aired Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020. If you feel moved to donate during the holidays to a person and organization in Lebanon impacted by the recent explosions, please consider supporting Aline and her efforts to re-open Mayrig to provide jobs for 85 staff.

This is Aline Kamakian’s Story.

As someone who has a master’s degree in business, I recognize that we can learn things in school, from books and lectures, but there are things that only life teaches us.  Being a Lebanese of Armenian origin, I grew up with my grandparents embedded in the stories about my ancestors. Their stories about the resilience and ability to adapt and the respect and gratefulness to the country that accepted them conveyed the values I learned.

On 4 Aug 2020, Beirut was hit by a huge blast.

According to BBC reporting, “The blast that devastated large parts of Beirut in August was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history, experts say. The Sheffield University, UK, the team says a best estimate for the yield is 500 tons of TNT equivalent, with a reasonable upper limit of 1.1 kilotons. This puts it at around one-twentieth of the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945… The explosion was the result of the accidental detonation of approximately 2,750 tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate. The blast led to some 190 deaths, as well as more than 6,000 injuries.

My restaurant, our offices, my house and my car were all blown to pieces in just a second. The terrace outside of our meeting room looked out over the port just 300 meters further. We were having a management meeting. I don’t know how I survived, standing on the terrace, looking at the fire and fireworks in the port. The next thing I remember was standing over my financial controller and giving him CPR. I don’t know how I knew what to do, reflexes from when I was a girl scout? The blast had injured 25 employees, of which five were left with a permanent handicap. It destroyed most of the restaurant furniture and equipment. The building was still standing, but windows, doors, winter gardens were all shattered.

First, I needed to make sure all my employees were safe and had a roof over their heads. I had never felt a victim, but there was no way I could get back on my feet without external help. So, I decided to open a fundraising page to help us. One week after the blast, we started cooking over 1,000 meals per day in our central kitchen to be distributed among those who lost their homes. We prioritized, first comes the team, holding on to our values, generating income, moving on, and moving fast.

On the 4th of September, just one month after the blast, the restaurant opened its garden and kitchen again. While we were still working hard to repair and rebuild the inside of the restaurant. The first evening that the restaurant was again partly operational, the whole team had dinner on the Mayrig terrace.

Here is the reporting about the restaurant:

 

When 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate tore through Beirut, only a highway separated the city’s port where the explosives were stored from 282 Pasteur Street. This is where Mayrig, the famed Armenian restaurant known as much for its delectable sour cherry kebab as preserving Armenian culture in one of the diaspora’s strongholds, has stood since 2003.

Located in Beirut’s lively Gemmayzeh neighborhood in a building from when Lebanon was under Ottoman rule, the restaurant was destroyed.

It joined the rest of the city that stood in ruins, where over 170 people have died, thousands more injured, and an estimated 300,000 left homeless. The decimation the blast caused came on top of a Beirut that was already in political and economic crisis. The Lebanese pound was tumbling to shocking lows that have caused widespread poverty. Electricity and food shortages are the norms.

But the destruction of Mayrig stung beyond a crumbling building: around 85 families, whose livelihoods depended on the restaurant, were suddenly left jobless and homeless. Not a single staff member escaped unscathed, and some are still in critical condition.

And then there’s the other, more existential loss: the idea that an institution fighting to preserve and progress Armenian culinary heritage, which has always teetered on the brink of either being forgotten, denied, or erased, could disappear forever.

“Mayrig” means “mother” in Armenian. For the last 17 years, this woman-owned culinary institution has brought centuries-old recipes from inside the homes of the Armenian community in Lebanon to a restaurant enjoyed by both local and international patrons and built on those traditions to create new dishes. Staffed by the same Armenian mothers who have always led the preservation and passing down of food culture to future generations through their labor and knowledge, “Mayrig” was founded by Aline Kamakian.

Being at “Mayrig,” she said, is being alive.

Her grandparents, Armenian Genocide survivors, found refuge in Lebanon, becoming part of the Lebanese-Armenian diaspora, which now numbers over 150,000 and has contributed significantly to the social, political, and cultural life of the city while keeping Western Armenian heritage alive. Bourj Hammoud, one of the first places refugees settled, became the historic center of the Lebanese-Armenian community. The area was heavily impacted by the explosion.

Aline’s early Story

I was five years old when the war broke out in Lebanon. I have seen my father as an entrepreneur struggling to raise his family and keep us safe during the war. This taught us to be creative and find means under pressure and create solutions to the absence of necessary provisions such as electricity and water and fundamental civil human rights. For example, to open my restaurant in 2003, I had to build my water reservoirs, bring a generator to produce electricity, ensure the team’s transportation and basic needs, and find other locations during the war.

Preparation for Management During Crisis

In the war in 2006, we took three days to find a safe spot up in a mountain resort. This move made it possible to guarantee the continuity of the restaurant and the employees’ income. We had to build our reserve in fuel; bring walkie-talkies because there was no phone; secure a safe location for employees to sleep, and secure kitchen equipment from the kitchens of friends and family. We created a restaurant in 1-weeks’ time. The most important tools were: sharing information, make the team part of the decision making, delegate responsibilities. In these circumstances, it is about operating a restaurant and the security of the team. Almost half of them were living in dangerous areas. The team managed to work and did so without days off, without hours to rest to cover for the others. We agreed that we would see how to cover extra hours or vacation after we passed this crisis. We learned to adapt to respond to this disruption quickly. It turned out to be a right decision because it generated enough income to secure the salaries, and it offered the chance for the employees to continue working.

Every two years, we have a minor to big crisis that asks for our adaptation. In 2019 the revolution started after three years of financial difficulties and corruption scandals. The challenges were different and led to significant hardship.

  • The internal security was terrible; roads were blocked, breaking and burning buildings and public property.
  • The banking sector turned into an unpredictable mess. Lebanon was known for its strong banking sector and was the saving place for all the Lebanese diaspora. And suddenly, the banks stopped giving out money. There was a limitation on cash withdrawals and transfers. The impact was dramatic since Lebanon is mainly an importing country. Its own industries ae very limited and the country has very little raw materials.
  • Inflation towered: Lebanon rates now 3rd worldwide after Venezuela with an inflation rate of 365%. The challenge is that it is not just inflation but also inflation that the government doesn’t recognize. There is an official rate, a rate from the banks, and a black-market rate.
  • Covid-19 led to lockdowns in many countries; in Lebanon rules were not applied evenly over the whole territory as some political parties allowed their followers to disregard the rules. COVID spread fast in autumn, and governmental regulations are often contradictory from one week to the next, unequally applied and harmed first of all the whole Food and Beverage sector.
  • With a government that is corrupt, and incapable comes the explosion of 4 August. The government resigned, but since it hadn’t formed a new government yet, the old government continued in the same corrupt, incapable way.

How to lead in such a context?

University lectures didn’t teach us to navigate this type of crisis. I didn’t learn a to-do list.

In the restaurant business, never compromise on the quality. The challenges were to keep the quality. We couldn’t look at saving money during this catastrophic crisis. We were committed to living our values during the crisis.

  • We needed to keep the employees safe and secure cash. I created a pop-up project in Saudi Arabia and took part of my staff there for three months.
  • We were committed to maintaining food quality. The aim is to find the best product at the best price, not the cheapest product. We needed to keep the team quality-oriented, encourage sharing resources, information, and pay attention to finding the best ingredients.
  • I communicated very openly, explained the companies’ situation, and explained the difficulties of living in Saudi Arabia. We went as one team and worked together to maintain the team as in Lebanon, there was no income.

My goal was to jump on opportunities that would allow me to take care of my family and my team! I didn’t have all the info, but the circumstances required me to keep going. I knew I needed to be transparent, genuine, honest, and always make values-based decisions. In this case, I was focused on my team’s safety, health, and economic well-being.

Again I did the same thing: first comes the team, holding on to your values, generating income, moving on and moving fast.

 

Aline Kamakian acted in the best interest of her team during the most challenging experience of her life. She truly exemplifies someone who is living her values! She supports the families of the employees who are unable to work and who continue to require significant medical treatment. During our call, she deeply inspired me as a leader and person who acted as her best self during this crisis. We often look to movies for superheroes. I believe Aline is a real-life superhero. Her actions inspire and invite all of us to act with courage, integrity, and selflessness. To support her campaign, please consider donating to the Mayrig Family Go Fund Me campaign.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

Aline Kamakain began her career as an insurance broker at the age of 18 to put herself through college. She graduated with a double major in Masters in Finance and Marketing, Aline’s skills as an insurance broker allowed her to build one of Lebanon’s top 9 Brokerage Firms. All through her successes, Aline never forgot her love for food but most importantly she never forgot her Armenian roots. In June 2003, she opened “Mayrig” an avant guardiste traditional Armenian restaurant to introduce to all those who appreciate homely, healthy and tasty food, the forgotten flavors of Ancient Armenia. Aline was also voted Women Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 in the Brilliant Lebanese Awards. She is a board member of the Lebanese Franchise Association as well as a board member of the Lebanese League of Woman in Business and a successful candidate of the 2014 Vital Voices Fellowship Program.

Photo by rashid khreiss on Unsplash

 

Navigating Change

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This blog is provided by United States Navy Rear Admiral Deborah Haven, Retired.  It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Leading Through Change: A Military Perspective that aired on Tuesday, December 1st, 2020.

 

Here are my observations and takeaways from my experience navigating change in a wide variety of global logistics organizations supporting the US Military and our allies. Much of my experience has been leading change which ranged from crisis response establishing and maintaining a logistics hub to support the Haiti citizens from their devastating earthquake to contingency operations mobilizing Naval Reservists in support of expeditionary logistics missions in Iraq and Kuwait to operating system upgrade implementing a SAP system which replaced a legacy system.   These experiences shaped my approach to leading change in a dynamic environment and provide the foundation for the following article.

How a leader handles change will determine the team’s future.  A leader’s attitude toward change will be a key to success. I learned early on that I could spend energy resisting change, or I could embrace the change to keep moving forward.   A leader must look at change in a positive and realistic light. The leader needs to be the steady rudder to keep everyone on course.  This will require the leader to keep their “resiliency tank” full at all times to stay tough during the challenges ahead.  Figure out how to keep your “resiliency tank” full, whether it is meditating, exercising, or playing chess.  Your strength will be needed so a resiliency routine will have to be a priority.  Encourage your team members to establish a resiliency routine too.

The leader’s job is to clearly articulate the WHY …and repeat the message …over and over.  This gives time for the team to catch up.  In most cases, the leader has had time to absorb the new information before the idea is introduced to the entire team. When the change is introduced to the team, the team needs time to grasp and embrace the new idea. The leader is going 100 miles an hour down the highway with the new idea and team is just getting to the highway on ramp.  As the leader, you may need to slowdown so your team can speed up.  I did not say stop. Once the team absorbs the idea, understands the mission, and is empowered to execute, it will accelerate and exceed expectations. One key point is knowing that not everyone engages the change in the same manner.  Some individuals struggle with the new idea and may feel threaten by what they see taking place.  The employee’s role may change.  He or she may go from expert to novice in the new arrangement.  Resulting in an unsettling emotional reaction.  And will usually get better over time for most individuals. This is something to be aware of during the process. A leader needs to watch out for those struggling and engage through listening and understanding the challenges the workforce is undergoing.  Sometimes an empathetic ear from the leader can be the tonic to pull the team member through the rough waters of change.  Also, some individuals just take longer to adjust to the new environment, but others soar to the future state.

I have also noticed that the technique that makes teams more successful in new unknown areas is to create an open dialogue about the challenges and work through them collaboratively with the stakeholders. Easily said, not always so easy to do but rewarding in the end.  Continual communication about the compelling need for the change is a must do and must be repeated often.

Some best practices when dealing with change:

  • Set trust as the foundation for all relationships.
  • Identify the key stakeholders and communicate the compelling reason for the change …the WHY.
  • Uncover the blind spots as quick as possible through listening and learning.
  • Create collaborative teams to develop solutions for the blind spots identified.
  • Build coalitions that do not exist and shore up ones that need to be reinforced.
  • Stay strong throughout by listening and understanding the barriers or challenges anchoring others.
  • Be agile. Do not get defensive when new information is received, and adjustments must be made.
  • Establish a routine and regular check-in, set goals, and follow up on progress using accountability metrics.

Have a bias for action…keep moving forward.

The takeaway here is that during a significant period of change is when the leader really earns his or her money.  They need to be authentically enthusiastic and fully engaged to ensure the team members are making the transition.  This can be exhausting work but extremely rewarding.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

United States Navy Rear Admiral Deborah Haven, Retired, has been a successful leader in a wide variety of global logistics organizations, both civilian and military for over 30 years.  She is particularly skilled at introducing change in large organizations.  She has a keen ability to understand the landscape, identify barriers and develop an actionable plan to improve organizational effectiveness.  Deborah is a graduate of the Naval War College, holds an MBA from the LaSalle University in Philadelphia, and a BS from the University of Maryland, College Park. She is an executive coach, independent consultant, and a member of the board of directors for the Flag and General Officer Network.

Nimbly Moving Through the Next Inflection Point

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This blog is provided by Lisa Gable, CEO of FARE, Food Allergy Research Education.  It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Managing Inflection Points that aired on August 11th, 2020.

 

Having worked through many times of significant global change, most notably the dot.com bust and 9/11, I quickly learned the importance of being agile in my professional and personal life. I had to “zig and zag” while maintaining a positive outward face in business, while building a home environment based on readiness and resilience.

For those of us who are not experiencing our first inflection point (aka the Covid-19 crisis), we have the advantage of a lifetime of managing and surviving stressful situations.  By your early 50s, there is a higher likelihood that you will have suffered a few life altering events and have managed through booms, busts, and heartbreaks.

I’ve seen probably more than my fair share of inflection points in history, including with my time at the Reagan Defense Department during the final days of the Cold War. And, when I joined FARE back in 2018, I inadvertently created an inflection point for the organization.  My remit was to restructure the organization and drive philanthropic and industry investment to help fund new therapies and diagnostics.

If Covid-19 is the first time you are confronting an inflection point, don’t worry – there is time to more fully develop very specific resilience and coping skills. In the meantime, here is some advice for budding and senior managers during this crisis and others that will inevitably follow:

  • Offer mentorship and coaching and consider what you can do to help alleviate the unique stressors of Covid-19.
  • Work to balance the needs of business against people’s fears. Be human and approachable. Share your own story in a manner that is comfortable for you so that you can take part in open dialogue.
  • Encourage co-workers not to hide their challenges, but to share them. Challenges may that remain tucked away can negatively impact the ability of peers to meet their goals, including thriving personally through the inflection point. Awareness of a unique situation become points of information for creating systems and tools.
  • Foster a culture of collaboration which transparently recognizes barriers and encourages teammates to work together to build a path forward which works for the team.
  • Realize that everyone will hit a mental wall at some point – even you. Even the strongest employee will eventually become overwhelmed. Be prepared for the moment and provide a safe environment for the individual to take a mental health break for a few hours, the afternoon, or a day.
  • Take your vacation and encourage others to schedule theirs, also. Burn out is real and renewal is required to meet the uncertainty that is still to come.

The point about inflection points is – you just don’t know when they will arise. They just happen. To everyone. So, to be prepared means you are a better prepared manager, colleague, friend, and parent.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Lisa Gable is CEO of FARE, Food Allergy Research Education, the largest private funder of food allergy research advocating on behalf of the 32 million Americans living with potentially life-threatening food allergies. Lisa passion, expertise, and fearless workstyle have propelled her to achieve the titles of CEO, US Ambassador, UN Delegate, Chairman of the Board, and advisor to Presidents, Governors, and CEOs of Fortune 500 and CPG Companies worldwide.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

How Hiking Supports Strategic Thinking and Reflection

This post is written by guest Damian Taylor as a companion to interview with Ken Wylie, Outdoor Adventures, A School for Leadership and Discovery his interview, on the Voice America Radio Show, “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on July 24, 2018.

As leaders, many of us struggle to find time to refresh our bodies, minds and spirits. I have been a hiker now for decades. Some of my most interesting vacations involved what were for me epic hiking trips such as climbing Kilimanjaro and hiking the Incan Trail. My next target is hiking a portion of the Camino.

As a leader, someone who is generally over committed with tasks and who values taking time to reflect, I find that waking daily and periodic hikes really support my overall success. I have engaged in walking meetings for years and on occasion actually do more hiking that walking meetings. These are with people I want to have indepth interactions with, often of a strategic nature.

This article talks about the benefit of hiking to address anxiety and depression along with building resilience. I want to point out that a significant percentage of our workforce struggles with these issues and we know that being out in the natural world can help address some of the symptoms. Whether you are attending to anxiety or taking time for reflection and strategic thinking, or doing both, hiking is a great option!

Anxiety and depression are incredibly common ailments of 21st Century humans. But while there are a number of different treatments for these illnesses (and you should always discuss your symptoms with your doctor and seek the treatment he or she recommends), too many people overlook one of the best: hiking.

Hiking is often very effective for easing anxiety and depression, and it is a treatment option that is accessible to the vast majority of people. In fact, there are a number of reasons hiking is such an excellent way to feel better, which we’ll outline below.

Exercise Promotes Brain Health

Hiking is a fantastic form of exercise that provides a variety of benefits for your body. It’ll help you lose weight while simultaneously strengthening your muscles. And if you keep at it for long enough, it’ll likely help lower your blood pressure and reduce your chances of suffering from strokes, diabetes or heart disease.

But while these benefits are all clearly valuable, exercise also helps to promote a healthy brain too. If your hikes are strenuous enough to elevate your heart rate and cause you to sweat a bit, they’ll likely help increase the size of your hippocampus – the portion of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning.

Exercise also causes the body to release growth factors – chemicals that help encourage blood vessel development in the brain and support the production of healthy brain cells. And don’t worry, you needn’t hike for very long to start enjoying improved brain health; research shows that even a 20-minute hike can improve the way your brain processes information.

Hiking Is Easy to Do and Affordable

Unlike so many other treatments for anxiety and depression, hiking is available to just about everyone, regardless of your location or tax bracket.

Most Americans probably live within a short drive of at least one hiking trail, even if it is nothing more than a 1-mile loop around the local park. You may have to do a bit of digging to find longer, more challenging or more scenic trails, but you’ll still likely find multiple options within driving distance.

Additionally, hiking rarely costs much – if anything – at all. Some trails require you to pay for parking or for entry to the park, but even these typically offer “frequent use” passes, which will allow you to enjoy the park or trails for very little money. You may also have to purchase a water bottle and pair of hiking boots, but with a bit of effort, you can likely find these things at very affordable prices.

Hiking Helps You to Disconnect from Day-to-Day Life

Chances are, you are constantly barraged by stimuli from the moment you wake up until the moment your head hits the pillow. Your phone, TV and radio constantly buzz with messages, information and entertainment, and you probably don’t have much time to quietly reflect on your thoughts.

But to get away from all of this, all you need to do is strap on your hiking boots and hit the trail. In contrast to our neighborhoods, homes and offices, wilderness areas are generally quiet and peaceful. This helps you to shed some of the stress caused by daily life. Disconnecting from your day-to-day life in this way can be very restorative and help reduce your anxiety and depression.

Obviously, you should still bring your phone along with you for safety’s sake, but maybe you should turn off the ringer for a while – at least until you get back to your car.

Hiking Provides Perspective

Often, anxiety and depression cause people to lose sight of the big picture. Instead of enjoying life, people struggling with depression or anxiety become stuck focusing on the small challenges, failures and disappointments that happen on a daily basis. But hiking in natural settings can help you bust out of this rut and gain a bit of perspective.

If, for example, you find yourself overwhelmed by a big work project coming up, you may find that a hike through your local mountains will help you remember that the project is just a tiny part of your life, and that there is a big beautiful world out there waiting for you to enjoy it.

Hiking Helps You to Build Resilience and Self-Confidence

If you hike for long enough, you’ll surely experience a tough day on the trail. Your feet may blister, you may get lost, or you may find that the trail you chose was a bit too strenuous. But chances are, you’ll find some way to tough out the hike, and overcome these challenges.

This will help build resilience and boost your self-confidence in profound ways. In truth, any challenge you face and overcome will help in both of these respects, but doing so in the natural world often provides the most profound results.

Just be sure that you don’t take this concept too far. It’s always good to challenge yourself and set increasingly difficult goals as you progress, but you must keep safety in mind. Always keep a cell phone on you so you can contact help if you need it and let someone know when you’ll be returning.

You Only Compete Against Yourself: There’s No Pressure to Perform

Many people understand the health benefits that exercise provides, but they aren’t interested in engaging in an implicitly or explicitly competitive pursuit, such as joining the local softball league or gym. This is certainly understandable – especially when you are already feeling depressed or anxious.

But hiking is a fantastic exercise, that lacks the competitive aspects that many of these other types of exercise feature. You are only competing against yourself and – to a lesser extent – Mother Nature. You get to celebrate those times you hike a bit further or complete a loop a bit faster; and yet your tough days, when you don’t perform quite as well, will remain your secret.

Additionally, it doesn’t matter if you go out and hike 1 mile a week or 50 miles a week – the only person you have to impress while you’re hiking is yourself.

Hiking Relieves Stress

Stress is often a contributing factor to anxiety and depression, so anything you can do to help relieve stress should help you feel a bit better. Hiking definitely fits this bill, as it not only provides great exercise (which helps to relieve stress too), but it takes place in gorgeous natural settings.

Scientists have even found that spending time in nature – even simply looking at nature – helps relieve stress and recharge your mind, body and soul. In fact, looking at a natural setting helps reduce pain and accelerate the healing process. And if you hike with a friend or loved one, you’ll often find this helps alleviate your stress even more thoroughly.

As you can see, hiking provides myriad benefits to those battling with anxiety or depression. So, find your closest trail and start trekking. Don’t forget to discuss your anxiety and depression with your doctor (and make sure you are healthy enough to begin hiking if you aren’t normally active), but you’ll likely find that regular hikes are exactly what the doctor ordered.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

Five Key Ways Leaders Can Drive Brand Value

This post is from a Forbes article written by Maureen Metcalf in collaboration with Brad Circone. It is the companion to a Voice America interview with Brad, From Banding to Branding: How the Wisdom of Rock n Roll taught The Artful Discipline of Leadership on  the Voice America Radio Show, “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on December 5, 2017.

Given the pace of change across industries, and specifically, the pace of change leaders are required to personally keep, do you refresh your brand as your ecosystem changes? And do you, as a leader, live that brand?

A brand can be one of the biggest differentiators for an organization, whether positive or negative. It impacts what feelings are evoked when people interact with a product. Some of the most successful brands, like Google and Apple, invest a great deal in defining and living out their brand.

Brand equity often drives revenue, customer retention and price. Everyone in the company should live the brand. As leaders, we are key brand stewards — it is critical for us to have a clear picture of what the brand is, how it behaves and to humbly respect it enough to follow it. Your brand runs your company too.

1. Identify your organization’s mission, vision and guiding principles.

As leaders, we use these as the basis for all decisions. Here’s the guiding principle of a public radio station in Columbus, Ohio, of which I’m a board member: “This station will be the home of creativity and innovation in all forms of audio content — journalism, music, fiction, culture, and art — regardless of platform. We’ll accomplish this by helping every colleague explore and achieve his or her full potential, all in the service of bolstering our community and improving humanity.”

This purpose is grounded in action by leaders who use a set of behavioral guidelines and agreements that support making this possible. One key area of focus is seeing the best in everyone on the team and promoting experimentation.

2. Position the brand.

Determine how to position the company and the subsequent brand offering to evoke the feelings you want people to experience when they interact with you.

In the case of the public radio station above, its leaders selected the brand based on both internal capabilities and the gap they saw in the market. The station regularly hears from listeners who say they support the news hour and that the local content keeps them informed and connected. They also hear from local musicians who say the airtime they got launched their successful careers when others would not give them a chance. They are experimenting with several elements of funding and content to remain valuable.

When talking about the feelings they want their listeners to experience, leaders’ goals include: a feeling of connectedness at home and in the community, feeling intellectually challenged and informed and a feeling that they, too, can experiment to accomplish greater results in their lives. They want to inspire the community to grow and evolve.

3. Personalize the brand’s attributes.

If your brand was a person, who would that person be and what would they do? Leaders must take the perspective of their brand avatar when making key decisions.

As the founder of a coaching firm, our avatar is now evolving to reflect the leadership team, and more importantly, the brand our clients want that will inform our actions and preserve our promises. As change accelerates, leaders are feeling increasingly overwhelmed.

Having an external thought partner and advisor who works confidentially and addresses their biggest challenges gives a sense of support and confidence. We call this avatar “The Brand of Yoda.” Yoda prepared Luke to fight the Dark Side. He was eminently wise, able to teach complex skills and thinking, and he was supportive and tough. Luke not only had different skills, he was significantly more effective because he saw himself and the world differently. 

4. Amplify leadership behaviors and internalize the brand message.

To ensure leaders consistently live the brand, it is critical that they understand and amplify the behaviors they expect from not only themselves but everyone in the organization. Once brand attributes are clear, it is important to identify how one lives the brand.

Our company is committed to transforming leaders, therefore, each member lives the brand as Yoda, supporting client transformation. This behavior requires foundational agreements about how our team members and our strategic partners operate to ensure we reinforce the agreed-upon brand platform.

5. Activate external messaging.

Once leaders know how to live the behaviors called forth by the brand, it is important to clarify external messaging and activate it. This is where knowing becomes doing.

How do you convey your differentiation, the value you add, and create the feeling you want to evoke? It is important that all brand image elements and content are immutably aligned, from written to visual to behavioral. This messaging is informed by each prior step.

We, for example, are currently updating our own materials to convey our balance between leading, thinking and research, and the personal connections we create with our clients to help them make the changes they seek. This must be activated through our brand at every touch, relentlessly.

As a leader, if you are trying to amplify the value of your company by leveraging the brand, it is critical that you live it and lead others to do the same. Irrespective of an employee’s role within the company, they represent the brand. When one associates them with their role within the company, they are representing the brand and therefore help control and determine its ability to be loved or be left quietly alone.

Are your leadership behaviors increasing brand equity and building on the feeling you want your customers to have when they interact with your organization?

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

How to be Innovative – Ask Inciting Questions

This guest blog was written as a companion to the VoiceAmerica Interview with Tamara Kleinberg, founder of LaunchStreet on August 1, Translate Success Today To Success Tomorrow Using Innovation. In the interview and the blog, Tamara explores the art and science of innovation – how to create a culture and mindset of innovation.

How to be innovative is found in the questions not the answers. But we have to pick our questions wisely. If we ask the same questions in the same way and even of the same people, it’s no surprise that we get the same answers. And those answers are the usually the incremental ones. Or, maybe it’s slightly better but not enough to make an impact.

If you want more breakthrough thinking, you’ve got to change from usual questions to inciting questions.

What’s the difference? Well, usual questions are the questions you always ask. Yes, they sound smart, even right. But, most likely you’ve been asking the same questions for a while. Or, maybe it’s the same questions everyone in your category is asking. Or, maybe it’s the question that leads you down the same path to the obvious answer. Usual questions become almost a matter of habit at every brainstorm. Here’s the challenge. Yes, those are questions you want answered. But, given their customary nature, you’re not going to get to those innovative ideas you need. You know this because you see it over and over again. Unlike, inciting questions. To incite is to stir, to encourage to stimulate, to prompt.

Inciting questions take you down new paths to those provocative answers you were looking for.

I found that there are two ways to tackle inciting questions. One is to ask questions that shake up your assumptions. Questions like:

  • What would happen if we didn’t solve that challenge?
  • What would it look if we did the opposite of what we usually do?

Or, before we go into solution mode, let’s work backward.

  • What’s the problem that caused the problem?

It’s funny, that last one gets people all stirred up because we want to quickly move into solution mode and assume the first problem we identify is the one we should be solving. I think our clients will tell you that when we start digging in, we find that the first challenge we are solving is not always the right one if we want to get to lasting change and results.

So the second way to ask inciting questions is to challenge the big assumptions in your category.

It’s really challenging the assumptions about how things should be done in your world. Here are a few of my favorite examples from organizations you know and some I think you’ll be excited to get to know. Why do cars have to be either fuel efficient or sexy? Tesla – sustainable and sexy cars. Why do razors need to be on store shelves at the grocery store? Dollar Shave Club – subscription razor service. Who says you have to go to the grocery store for your food? Instacart – grocery delivery. Why do libraries have to be a warehouse of books? Anythink Libraries – the lowest funded library district in Colorado and the outdated come check a book model and turned them into a beacon of discovering their communities and is elevating the entire library world with their innovations.

What are the big hairy assumptions in your world? What would happen if you flip those assumptions on their head and turn them into inciting questions? By the way, if you want to know if your questions are just interesting vs. inciting look for the response from other people. If they look shocked or like you just committed heresy then you are asking the questions that are going to get you to those provocative answers. So, go ask some inciting questions that make people go… what?!!

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

What Questions Help Identify High Quality Leaders For Your Organization?

This article was originally posted in Forbes in August 2016. It is the companion to the VoiceAmerica Interview with Richard Oliver on July 25 Executive Perspective: Building Vibrancy, Increasing Engagement, Improving Performance. In the interview Richard talks about his experience of dramatically increasing employee engagement at a 60 year old manufacturing company as their President.

As leaders, we are expected to be highly effective at identifying strong leadership, then rewarding it, retaining it, and developing it. Additionally, we are expected to remove bad leadership. Yet leadership is quite subjective. How do we know what “effective” leadership is?

In recent conversations, I realized that how we answer that simple question generates wildly different answers from my respected colleagues. For example, some might say effective leadership is generating strong financial results, while others might measure it based on personal recognition, promotion, social impact or building legacy. It is by asking the right questions that we can clarify what effective leadership is so as to reach the best outcome for our organizations.

I suggest starting with a list of questions from ecosynomics, a framework developed by Jim Ritchie-Dunham, an adjunct researcher at Harvard. Specifically, this framework poses four questions that organizations should consider in order to identify the greatest leadership potential and, consequently, to experience the greatest value from that leadership.

1. What Is Your Potential Leadership Capacity (How Much)?

Sustained value is one measure, but we can’t necessarily predict who will sustain value based on past performance. As we look across the organization’s ecosystem, performance is a starting point but not the final indicator because organizations, and people, run into unavoidable and unpredictable disruptions. As a result, such disruptions may reflect negatively on performance, but may not be an accurate reflection of sustained value of an individual.

Another measure is a set of behaviors or competencies that signal leadership potential. When we move from looking for results to looking for potential, we have moved out of our standard conversation. If we don’t talk about potential, we are missing an important variable when selecting leaders. As we consider potential, we need to also look for employees who are curious and continually learning in a changing environment. It is leaders who continue to “innovate how they lead” who will be able to consistently deliver over the long term.

2. Who Decides Our Leadership Potential?

Often leadership teams “rack and stack” their teams during an annual review process. These are often long and arduous processes. Many companies are revising the performance feedback process in favor of new approaches designed to provide ongoing feedback, but still need a mechanism to determine financial compensation beyond market value, promotion, performance improvement or exit.

The other side of this evaluation is the hiring process. Who is deciding your leadership potential? Is it the leader? The leader’s peers? A group of more senior leaders? Do they have the correct criteria and information to make decisions? What does it say about your leaders and to your leaders if they and their peers are not involved directly in the process in a meaningful way? An example is an organization that uses the vibrancy survey or similar tool within work groups to identify leadership impact on employees.

3. By What Criteria Do We Determine Value?

It is easy to measure the financial impact a leader delivers, but measuring results is more complicated. When we look at results and behaviors, we can look at tools like 360-degree feedback along with financials. These can seem like relatively straightforward equations but, again, who gives feedback and who administers the process to ensure it is impartial and that each variable in the equation is weighted properly?

Some companies have specific equations to measure the balance between results and behaviors. A “nine box,” for example, looks at a 3×3 matrix that places results on one axis and behaviors on the other. While I am a proponent of competencies that consider mindset in addition to behaviors, these are still relatively difficult to measure so behaviors may be our closest reliable approximation. If these measures determine and drive your leader’s performance, it might be worthwhile to be as rigorous in determining what to value (part of mindset) as much as how they performed against those values. As an example, leaders who value collaboration will consistently build collaboration into all of their actions vs. someone who collaborates to check a box because they were told this is important.

The difference is that if the idea of collaboration is built into my thoughts and actions, when it comes time to actually collaborate, others will be expecting it and trust my intentions. If I am making judgments on team members through checking a box, they may not trust me and may not be willing to collaborate fully. It is important to consider the question from multiple views: What does the leader, culture and organization value and reward?

4. How Do We Interact To Realize Our Greatest Leadership Potential?

Your organization’s culture sends a clear message as to how leadership is discovered and developed. Do your culture and organizational structure promote leaders working together on shared goals, or are they pitted against one another to maximize their own units?

How much time are leaders actually spending on mentoring, for example? If I came into an organization to evaluate performance against this question, I would spot-check mentor calendars to see if they are meeting regularly with their mentees and find out whether they discussing development goals and working toward employee success. I would be checking for tangible evidence that the organization has a structure that promotes matching high potentials with seasoned leaders and has a budget for regular interactions that could include books and lunches. When selecting leaders, we must define what our organization’s approach is to leadership culture and understand how this drives the results we want.

In summary, as the world changes at an ever-increasing rate, it is important to update our way of evaluating, structuring, measuring and rewarding leaders to ensure they are equipped to meet changes effectively. For organizations, it will be useful to evaluate your current criteria and determine if it will meet your needs going forward.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the author Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Innovative Leadership Institute, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

At C-Level #7: Unprofitable operations – underutilized capacity, underperforming operations, logistical challenges

c-level 7At C-Level #7 is the seventh 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 a first-time CEO with a couple of years leading and starting up new manufacturing and distribution operations in an operations leadership role, I was still not totally prepared for operational challenges we faced as I took on this role.

  • Prior to my new role as CEO, we had acquired a competitor across the country with the same large customer/small margin challenges that we had. However, the competitor’s leadership had not been willing to face those brutal facts and was about to close its doors when we acquired it. The primary reasons for the acquisition were increased sales, engineering capability, overhead reduction and profitability. Nonetheless, the circumstances and late timing had not given us enough time to sort that out and benefits from the acquisition had not yet been realized.
  • Both of our operations had significant inventory and production control, as well as quality and delivery, challenges – and neither operation was a very impressive place to walk a potential new customer through. Those challenges had also driven at least one of our largest customers to demand daily order status calls so they could pressure our customer service staff to improve shipping performance (our staff referred to them as “the daily beatings”), and, thus, we were about to lose one of our best program managers.
  • Our bid opportunities for additional work for our core service business were dwindling because we were doing work for global electronics manufacturers who began requiring operations in Europe and Asia to reduce transit time and logistics costs, and we only had a presence in the U.S. We had to expand globally.

Although I did not know all the theories I’m now writing about, I believe that I enabled our turnaround success on some key tenets of those theories that I now better understand. I am sharing them with you in this blog series because it has been easier to replicate my success since I understood the principles on which that success was based. And I hope this may be the same for you. Some of the principals:

  • The tenets from Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, referenced in At C-Level #1, the first blog of this series:
    • The right people in the right seats on the bus make all the difference;
    • Find the truth and act on it by facing the brutal facts of reality while maintaining an unwavering faith that you will succeed; and
    • Greatness comes from sustained commitment to disciplined people, disciplined thinking, and disciplined action that creates breakthrough momentum.
  • Additionally, I relied heavily on the Conscious Capitalism concepts introduced in At C-Level #3 that take into consideration all of the key stakeholders in making important decisions – in particular, the employee stakeholders in this installment of the series.
  • Remember the Strategist Competency model from At C-Level #4. It said that Strategists are unstoppable and unflappable when on a mission. This one was foundational for me in every difficult situation we encountered. I won’t say it was easy. While personally feeling the pain of making all these changes, I tried to make sure we were doing the “right thing,” and with that in mind, I mustered the courage to stay the difficult path that we, as a leadership team, had set.

Here’s how we approached those challenges. Our changes focused on people, process, and investment.

  • We faced the brutal facts, closed the acquired operation across the country and moved the work to our existing local operations, cutting our total combined expenses by more than 7 percent. Treating the people who were being laid off in the acquired operation as we would like to be treated (the Golden Rule) gave us three months of solid production and work transfer help from the people being laid off. They were awesome.
  • I called the customer and stopped the “daily beating” calls. With a Golden Rule philosophy, we could not allow someone to berate our people like that and I told that to the person who was making the calls. He was very upset and threatened to come into our operation from his European location to monitor his orders and manage our people. I told him he would get no further than the lobby. The news of our conversation spread quickly and had a tremendous impact on associate morale and engagement. Having said all that, we knew that his expectations were not unreasonable and we could not continue to miss our shipment commitments to our customers. So, I promised him a daily email with the status of any orders that were not on track to meet our commitment, and what we were doing to get them back on track. The customer could call us with any specific questions or challenges of course. That call and process change had three major effects on our organization:
    • It affirmed to our associates that I meant what I said about following the Golden Rule, showed them that I cared about them, and they stepped up. It took awhile to correct the shipping problem.
    • Although the customer’s shipments did see some early improvement, it took awhile to correct the shipping problems, but there were no more “daily beatings.” Because the e-mail I promised was sent out daily without fail, the customer always knew what was going on with their shipments and our team was more committed than ever to solve our shipping challenges.
    • It also saved us a lot of time…there were several people in those meetings and it only took one person to do the email! The rest could now work on the root issues of our shipping challenges.
  • As I wrote in the last installment of this series, At C-Level #6, we raised capital, bought an operation in Europe and started a new one with a partner in Asia.
  • We implemented Lean Manufacturing at all three of our operations that made our associates more excited about what we were doing and more productive, in addition to making our operations better organized and better run for existing and potential customer business and production audits.
  • We also used some of the capital we raised for our first Agile development process to build an inventory tracking system that was used at all three operations and gave our global customers one place to track all their products within our company.

It took a couple of years of intensely hard work with the team to reorganize and turnaround our operations. It also took the hiring of very talented and experienced operations and IT leaders to help implement the Lean Manufacturing and Agile methodologies that I wanted to help drive the turnaround process. The large customer that was holding the “daily beatings” was the same customer (not the same person) that later confirmed to me that we were indeed accomplishing our vision of being the best in the business (the world) at what we do.

There is one more concept in play here that was essential to our successes: the resulting shift to a much higher level of “harmonic vibrancy.” The Institute for Strategic Clarity defines harmonic vibrancy as the overall quality of life people experience in their relationships with themselves, each other, and the various communities or collectives in which they participate. When harmonic vibrancy is high, they typically experience gratitude, joy, enthusiasm, creative capacities, trust, and social solidarity; when it is low, ingratitude, anxiety, apathy, mistrust, and anti-social competitiveness. The changes we made significantly raised the level of harmonic vibrancy in our company. Ironically, you can grow a business without it, but sustaining success is much more likely with a vibrant organization than one that operates by fear and manipulation.

Reflection questions:

  • What are the two to three major strategic operations challenges in your business today? What are some of the brutal facts?
  • Are you acting on them? How?
  • In your current situation, on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest, how would you rate the harmonic vibrancy in your organization or company? More importantly, how do you think your associates would rate it?
  • How might you and/or your leadership team improve it?

If you identify with the leadership models I’ve been writing about in these blogs and need

  • Leadership assessments (including a harmonic vibrancy assessment) and development for you and/or your team based on these models, or
  • Executive advisory services on how to implement strategic, financial, operational and/or cultural transformations to turnaround and/or grow your company, please contact Metcalf & Associates or me for further information on our services.

In At C-Level #8, Mike wraps up this blog series about his experiences being a first-time CEO responsible for overall company strategy and execution during a steep economic downturn affecting the business.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

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.