There are two modes of dealing with our life:

  • Living in Fear – the mode of seeking “Freedom from” and seeking validation for our past decisions
  • Living in Confidence – the mode of clarifying “Freedom to” and making choices as a responsible being.

Over the last 7 months, I have noticed that I have slipped into the living in fear mode. I knew what I didn’t want, but not what I did. I was waiting to see how the world would work out rather than committing to creating my own clear path.

I share these two modes in the video.

Stay safe.

In an episode of internet procrastination, I came across this tweet… and it led me down a rabbit hole.

Tom Peters, the Original Management Guru

Tom Peters wrote the book “In Search of Excellence” back in 1983 and began a major shift in Business studies. In place of scientific management, business began to look at what leadership might be… and begin to treat employees not as robots, but as human beings. The role of leadership is not to maximise production, it is both to achieve productivity and to make sure that employees, customers, owners and communities benefit in the process.

I came across a recent interview with Tom Peters. He spoke with Vala Afshar of Salesforce and Ray Wang of Constellation Research. I’ll share Vala’s summary of the interview (original article here)

11 Lessons on Life from Tom Peters: 

1. The most important leadership lessons were taught to us in middle school.  

Peters has advanced college degrees from Stanford and Cornell, and yet he remembers his 4th-grade teacher as one of the most influential people in his life. Peters said that his 4th-grade teacher loved him and the other students. It is about people who deeply care about other people. Care about your people. Teach them to be better humans. 

2. Never hire anyone who does not have high emotional intelligence (EQ).

And never, ever promote anyone who does not have a sky-high EQ.

“We only hire nice people” is a mantra that Tom Peters admires. Don’t hire the jerks, regardless of their deep expertise. Can we train for higher EQ? Peters thinks that if we have institutions that are thoughtful, caring, and people first, then we will have teaching opportunities to increase emotional intelligence.

3. Positive reinforcement is 30X more powerful than negative reinforcement. 

Peters talked about a Google study of their top employees and what made them perform. They discovered all of the top 7 attributes of their top employees were all soft skills. Project Oxygen had surprising results — the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last.

The six top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills:

  1. being a good coach;
  2. communicating and listening well;
  3. possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view);
  4. having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues;
  5. being a good critical thinker and problem solver;
  6. being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Peters also talked about the negative impact of categorising players as A-players vs. B-players — the fastest way to demotivate half the population. 

4. Always start with honesty and humility. 

No living human being today knows what they are doing. There are no experts in unsolved problems. Regardless of the size of your business, we must all admit that we do not have the answers. Instead, let’s work together to make forward progress. Be human and care about people. Peters weeps about a 20-person restaurant owner who is struggling now. Peters talked about mangers who had to execute layoffs, but when doing so with compassion and empathy, the workers effected ended up hugging their hiring manager. Be human. 

5. Take care of your employees by protecting their safety, health, and future. 

Peters read a memo from the Blue Mountain Community College, Boardman, Oregon that was communicated to their employees during the work-from-home quarantine: 

  1. You are not “working from home,” you are “at your home, during a crisis, trying to work.”
  2. Your physical, mental, and emotional health are extremely important right now. Take care of yourself!
  3. You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
  4. Be kind to yourself and don’t judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.
  5. Be kind to others and don’t judge others on how they are coping based on how you are coping.
  6. Success will not be measured the same way it was when things were normal.

6. It is about stakeholder value, not just shareholder value. 

Peters talked about long-term thinking companies have produced vastly more income, jobs, and wealth as compared to short-term thinking companies. You cannot expect customers to love your company before your employees do. Caring about your employees, customers, partners, and the community is good for business. If you take care of people, you will make a lot of money, this according to Peters. Maximizing shareholder value is no longer the path to sustainable growth. Values create value. 

7. This is the time to listen, learn, care more, and change. 

Tom Peters was not willing to comment about racial tensions in our country because he said that “I am part of the problem.” I asked Peters to talk about the current state of health, economic, racial, climate, and leadership crisis and he said that no one should pretend to know the answers to these unsolved problems.

8. What you have done in the past two months, and what you will do in the next two months will define your leadership legacy.  

Peters strongly urged business and community leaders to recognize that who they are as human beings will be defined by what they are doing now. Leaders emerge in times of crisis. How you behave, the degree which you were helpful, the degree of thoughtfulness will define you. 

9. There are two kinds of virtues — resume virtues and eulogy virtues. 

What will people say about you at your funeral?

Peters referenced the work by David Brooks and his article on eulogy virtues. Brooks wrote: 

“It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues, and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”

David Brooks

Peters reminded us to focus on the eulogy virtues — this is how you can live a recommendable life. 

10. Leadership Team Must No. 1: Put more women in charge. 

In the age of COVID-19, Peters released a new piece titled “Excellence 2020: The 27 Number Ones,” succinct guidance about where to focus your leadership — from hiring and training to culture and management — now and always.

Tom Peters shared several research findings regarding why women are better leaders than men. Peters also talked about the importance of pay equality. Women should be paid the same as men for the same work. Peters also shared encouraging news about more women are graduating from colleges than men. When Peters graduated from Cornell, there was only one woman graduate out of 800 engineering students. Today’s Cornell graduating class consisted of 51% women graduates. 

The final story that Peters shared with us was an emotional story for Peters. The story involved Dwight David Eisenhower and the 76th anniversary of the D-Day landing, where Eisenhower went to the beach, putting his arms around the soldiers and wishing them Godspeed. I want you to see the video (35 minutes, 40 seconds into the video) because the delivery from Peters will bring tears to your eyes. 

11. Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; the third is to be kind. 

Tom Peters referenced the famous quote from Henry James. Peters said that this mantra should be the guiding principle for all schools and businesses. Let us behave well as individuals now. Let us hold ourselves to a higher standard. 

Check out the original article by Vala or watch the full interview here below:

If you liked this post, you will also like 17 Daily Personal Habits for a Fulfilling Life.

In his 30 years of asking this question, Wharton Business School Professor Stew Friedman has heard one word become increasingly common: Flexible

Elements of Flexible Leadership

What does it mean to be flexible as a leader?

flexible adjective

  1. capable of bending easily without breaking; able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances.

What context do we need to know in order to easily adjust our plans and strategy to altered circumstances?

Flexibility requires Context

In order to be consciously flexible as a leader, you must have clear the relative value of different aspects of your life. As a leader of teams, you need to help others develop their own clarity and explicitly use it in your decision making.

Dr Friedman says that too many people take a binary approach. They take for granted that professional and personal are two ends of a weighing scale. Increase one, reduce the other.

This is not a straight trade off. This trade-off approach leads to unnecessary sacrifices.

In Vistage, our stated mission is to increase both profesional effectiveness and enhance quality of life. We place both at the core of the question. We don’t want your life quality sacrificed for professional effectiveness, nor vice versa. We want a conscious integrated decision.

The key of flexible leadership for yourself and for those around you is to get clarity in 3 ways:

  • Be Real
  • Be Whole
  • Be Innovative

What does it mean to “Be Real”?

What does it mean to “Be Whole”?

  • You are good at clarifying expectations
  • You help others
  • You build supportive networks (you cannot live a good life on your own: without peers, coaches, mentors)
  • You apply all of your resources effectively
  • You manage boundaries intelligently (sometimes firm, sometimes loose)
  • You weave disparate strands of life together

What does it mean to “Be Innovative”?

  • Your focus is on results
  • You resolve conflicts among domains
  • You continually challenge the status quo
  • You seek new ways of doing things (crowdsourcing solutions, ask for help)
  • You embrace change courageously
  • You support innovation attempts by others

Video: Dr Stew at Google

How Flexible is your Leadership?  What areas are clear, unclear for you?  What action will you take?

Life 101: Develop competence. Build the discipline to finish small projects. Solve interesting problems. Help good clients succeed. Do lots of small good things for other people. Share the credit. Take the blame. Share your journey. Associate with good people. Help others realise they are capable of more than they think. Give them confidence. Lift them up if they fail. Celebrate their courage. Ask them what they learnt. Be present in their lives. Live with purpose and intention.

The days of sending your CV over to HR and waiting for the job offer are dead. No great job offers come through HR.

As Seth Godin says “No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.”

  • “My boss won’t let me”
  • “They won’t give me permission”
  • “I don’t have a publisher”
  • “Oprah Winfrey won’t respond to my emails”

Stop “waiting to be chosen” and “Pick yourself”.

If you want to write, write. If you want to make videos, make videos. If you want to be creative, make things with creativity. If you want to run an event, invite 50 people to an event. Don’t wait for permission… because there is nobody left to actually give you permission.

If you ask your boss for permission to do something, this is what they hear: “If this fails, blame goes to you (because you gave me permission); if this succeeds, credit goes to me (because I did it)”. Only an idiot would take this deal. Your boss didn’t get there by being an idiot.

Great problems create great leaders. Take the time to build the foundations before you build the skyscraper. Take responsibility. Become a trusted team member.

I’ve been reading about habits recently, and James Clear’s book Atomic Habits and his regular newsletter have been a great source of practical ideas. If you want a review of what I have learnt, yesterday’s livestream centred on the theme of Changing Habits.

In a recent edition of James Clear’s newsletter, he shared 3 levels of Employee:

  • Level 1 — You do what you are asked to do.
  • Level 2 — Level 1 + You think ahead and solve problems before they happen.
  • Level 3 — Level 2 + You proactively look for areas of opportunity and growth in the business, and figure out how to tap into them.

From James Clear’s May newsletter.

Livestream Session: Changing Habits

A friend shared with me a wonderful resource on business innovation over on the Visual Capitalist website. I’ve share links to the original source at the bottom of this post, and a number of other valuable resources that can help with business innovation.

I remember a lesson from my MBA. “…to remain profitable in the long term, your products must remain different over the long term.”

Warren Buffett and “Big Moats”

Warren Buffett talks about businesses with “big moats”. A big moat for a medieval castle kept the attackers from reaching the castle walls. A big moat for a business means that competition finds it difficult to offer a similar value proposition at a similar price point. If your product or service is not different from the competition, you have no moat.

In today’s open society, outside of state regulated monopolies, the only long term source of differentiation is innovation. Where does innovation come from? How can a company think about the different directions to innovate their product offering?

The 10 types of business product innovation:

#Innovation TypeDescription
1.Profit ModelHow you make money
2.NetworkConnections with others to create value
3.StructureAlignment of your talent and assets
4.ProcessSignature of superior methods for doing your work
5.Product PerformanceDistinguishing features and functionality
6.Product SystemComplementary products and services
7.ServiceSupport and enhancements that surround your offerings
8.ChannelHow your offerings are delivered to customers and users
9.BrandRepresentation of your offerings and business
10.Customer EngagementDistinctive interactions you foster

Innovation Tactics: 100 approaches to Identify Innovation

One useful resource is Doblin’s (part of Deloitte) list of over 100 tactics (pdf) that correspond with 10 Innovation Types framework.

Further Reading on Business Innovation

The original Visual Capitalist post is very much worth a read… and provides much more depth on each of the 10 types of business innovation:

I am listening to Mandy Hickson sharing her life story with Vistage this morning. Mandy was the second ever female pilot flying combat missions for the British military. She shared her dream as a young girl of flying fast jets, and all the obstacles that she needed to overcome to make that dream come true.

Every Pilot has a Blind Spot

Mandy shared that a pilot cannot see their “6 O’clock”… directly behind you. There is no physical way that you can see what is directly behind you.

That is why you fly with a wingman.

A wingman flies 3/4 of a mile off your wing. This way they have a very clear view of your 6 o’clock. They can see what you cannot see.

We can only see 360 degrees with the help of the people around us.

Our Vistage Spain call today had “The Role of the Board” as our theme. This post gathers together some of the valuable resources shared by the group.

The HBR Article Building Better Boards from May 2004 came highly recommended by the leaders of today’s workshop, much of the content below comes from that article.

What does a High Performing Board do?

“The board has two vital roles: Craft a strategy and hire & fire the CEO”

Terry Neill

The quote above is from my father who has spent over 15 years as a board member on 4 global corporate boards, he continues to serve on a number of charity and university governance boards. I like the clarity and focus of that statement. The board can help in many areas, but it has two non-delegable tasks.

herman-daems

The following are my notes from Professor Herman Daems’ session on the IESE Advanced Management Program.  His course is “The role of the Board of Directors in Evaluating and Selecting the Strategy”.  

Dr Herman Daems is professor at University of Leuven and visiting professor at Harvard Business School, and currently he is the Chairman of the Board at BNP Paribas Fortis SA/NV.  He has been part of many public, private and charitable boards over his career.

Herman Daems: What does the board actually do?

  • Develop an Ambition for the Company – an ambition is not a strategy.  An ambition might be to “Climb Everest”.  A strategy would be the specific path to gather the necessary resources and execute the climb of the mountain.
  • Find the Leadership to develop a Strategy to realise the ambition – management must develop strategy.
  • Approve a strategy – Important to be clear that a board does not make the strategy, only approve that the leadership’s strategy supports the Company Ambition.
  • Provide Resources (Financial and Human) – importantly the board establishes the dividend policy
  • Balance the Power of Differing Interests (shareholders, management, employees, government, public) – board members must have general business experience.  Specialist members do not make good board members.  Board must make collective general business decisions, not just good specific decisions.  Individual members must have credibility and be willing to raise their hand and make an impact.
  • Monitor and Control Strategy – the board plays a much greater role on controlling strategy than on deciding the strategy.  Management will rarely say that their strategy is not working.  This is where the board is really necessary.
  • Control the use of Resources, control the risks involved – see next item…
  • Assume responsibility for the actions and risks of the company – The Board of Directors have “collective responsibility” for the actions and risks of the company.  Members are not personally responsible.  Some legal attempts to hold a finance expert or an audit committee member personally responsible have always been pushed back by courts on the basis that board is collective responsibility.  In banking crisis, some executives have been held personally responsible, but in no cases have board members been found personally responsible.

Checklist: Tasks of the Board

The following is a checklist of all the areas where a board can provide input, leadership and critical push-back for the management team.

The high performance board contributes positively to management decision making in the following 9 areas of strategy, operations, people management and capital structure.

Strategy

  • Strategic Direction
  • Strategic Plans
  • Strategy Implementation

Strategic Transactions

  • Major Investments
  • Portfolio Change (M&A)

Operations

  • R&D
  • Manufacturing
  • Marketing and Sales
  • IT

Human Resources and Organisation

  • Leadership Development
  • non-CEO executive compensation
  • human capital
  • Organisation
  • Corporate Culture

Financial Management

  • Financial Strategy
  • Capital Structure
  • Liquidity Management
  • Dividend Policy
  • Financial Reporting

Risk Management

  • Entreprise Risk Management
  • Ethical Perfomance and Compliance
  • Audit

External Relations

  • Brand Positioning and Integrity
  • Shareholder Relations
  • Legal and Regulatory
  • Other Constituencies

CEO Effectiveness

  • CEO Performance Appraisal
  • CEO Compensation
  • CEO Succession

Corporate Governance

  • Board Effectiveness
  • Director Selection
  • Director Assessment

How Engaged should the Board be?

At different times, the board may play a more or less engaged role in day to day operations. The directors and the CEO should have a conscious explicit agreement about which of the following levels of engagement are appropriate to the current context.

  • Passive – uninvolved, often under complete control of the CEO
  • Certifying – reviews and approves strategy, sometimes meets without the CEO being present
  • Engaged – contributes to strategic development, recognises their responsibilities to oversee CEO and company performance
  • Intervening – engaged and contributing actively in specific areas of the business, convenes frequent meetings
  • Operating – setting strategy, taking decisions, running day to day business operations; fills gaps in management experience

What does a Board Member Do?

A good board member will have two important elements: independence and competence. Independence is that they are free to take a contradictory stance and question the CEO and management. Competence can be judged in the following list of areas where board members need to bring capabilities to the table:

Knowledge of Key Areas

  • Strategy
  • Finance
  • Industry
  • Risks
  • Shareholders
  • Business

Understanding of Role

  • Relates well to Management
  • Knows Role
  • Prepares Well

Quality of Input

  • Insightful
  • Curious
  • Logical
  • Persuasive
  • Valuable

Contribution to Interaction

  • Effective with Others
  • Constructive
  • Listens
  • Engages

Further Resources

On Tuesday 26th May I had the privilege of speaking with over 50 leaders across Ireland who are alumni of Timoney Leadership Institute. Timoney has had a great relationship with IESE Business School and many of their leadership programs are taught by IESE Business School faculty.

This is a wide ranging conversation about leadership and learning in these times of uncertainty.

Questions that I didn’t get around to answer during the webinar:

James G. : How do you communicate your vision in times of challenge without being selfish

In Vistage when we talk about the 7 critical skills of leadership, number 1 is “Create a Shared Vision“. What is important is not so much that a vision exists, but that it is the result of input from every person involved in the organisation. The leader’s role is not to create the vision. The leader’s role is to cultivate an environment and facilitate an ongoing process where every person contributes in some way to the vision.

If you as a leader know the vision, but if I enter your building and speak to the receptionist and ask “what is the vision?” and his or her answer is a blank stare… you have not been effective in creating a shared vision.

As I mentioned in my answer to Ann M’s question… a lot of this process is run by active listening. The 4 questions that I recommended that you ask over and over again are:

  1. “What’s going well?”
  2. “What’s not going well?”
  3. “What would you change?”
  4. “What else?”

It is more important that everyone believes that you care, and you understand their specific joys and difficulties, than having a beautiful well crafted poetic vision statement.

Before any work on vision, one of the activities that I do with people that work with me is ask “What are the characteristics of the best Vistage team mates?” “What are the poisonous characteristics that we must avoid in new people?” and make sure that everyone has explicitly contributed to articulate what type of people we want to spend our time around.

Dermot D. : Great talk, Conor! Any tips on how to become more courageous, in business leadership terms??

Dermot, I believe that courage is a practice. If you practice small brave actions in the little things, you prepare yourself to take brave actions in the big things. A friend of mine says that there are no big things… the big achievements arrive out of a series of small things. If you do the small things well, you don’t need to worry about the big things.

When I take a group of leaders on a retreat, we work on trust and vulnerability. If I can create an environment where you are willing to be honest with what really challenges you… then there is a high possibility that you will take valuable experiences out of the time we share together. If you choose not to be honest, there is little we can do to support you. When someone says “but I don’t know what type of vulnerability you are looking for”… my answer is “are your hands sweating as you think about sharing it?” If no, it is not honest sharing.

One of the bravest actions of leadership is to admit what you don’t know, admit what scares you, admit that sometimes you our way out of your depth. Your role is not to know the answers. Your role is to facilitate a process that leads to answers.

PS Admitting that you don’t know is not a ticket to enter the state of victim… you don’t get to not take responsibility for facilitating the search for good answers.

Philip C. : Conor, your conversation and guidance is very inspiring. I have just signed up for your YouTube channel. Can you tell me if you have any books and if so where can I obtain them.

One of my big life goals that I have not yet completed is “write a book”. I write lots of blog posts, I write many articles and teaching notes for IESE Business School… but have never had the sustained discipline and clarity needed to do the 6-9 month work to complete a book.

I did write a book about my experiences of parenting… Keep Wonder Alive but it is more a manifesto than a full book.

Sean O’K.: Great talk Conor, really inspirational and helpful ideas for all of us. It sounds to me like you firmly believe that each of us can create our own life story? Would you agree?

100%.

If you don’t do the work to plan the life you want for yourself, you will contribute to someone else’s life plan. In the case of our children and our good friends, this is a wonderful opportunity. If you are just handing over your energy, your imagination, your intelligence, your activity to other people’s projects… it is no wonder that you feel that life is somewhat empty.

Burn out doesn’t come from too much activity. It comes from too much activity on stuff that is not important to your life plan.

Louis D.: Hi Conor, thanks for all your wisdom. Can I ask if faith plays a roll in your life and success? Is this a topic people are reluctant to discuss and why is that? Love all your YouTube stuff, thanks.

I have faith.

I love working with people to find their own path to self-belief. I do believe that this process is a dialogue and a mutual exploration… not a static blog post or video.

What I think about online sharing of these ideas: The concern that I have about words that capture a spiritual experience is that they can be read out of context. I am more than happy to share my experiences in private courses…. where we have had a chance to connect and build mutual trust.

Words are dangerous… If I say “honesty” we each have an interpretation of what it means… and each of us has a slightly different definition. The more abstract the word, the more our interpretations are likely to vary. Words like “airplane” and “bird” are safe on a blog post. Words like “faith” and “spiritual” and “peace of mind” are more prone to widely varying interpretation.

James G.: Is 52 yrs of age too old to be successful

As a premier league footballer, yes.

As a chess grandmaster, possibly.

As a rock star, probably.

As a leader who positively encourages others to become the best version of themselves? No. Plenty of time.

Karl D. : How important is it to learn from past decisions and experiences and do you factor those lessons in when making a decision today. Great and insightful tal Conor…well done.

Vitally important.

I love Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach. He often distinguishes between his brain and his mind. His brain is the same brain he had as a child… but his mind… is all the brains that he has access to today. His brain is limited. His mind is infinite. Our mind can take decisions not just on our own experiences, but on all of humanity’s combined experience. This type of decision making… an openness to not having to be the smartest, but to be the one willing to listen to the smartest is the greatest type of leadership.

Michael B. : Conor in our early entrepreneurial experience, would you agree that the unbridled drive and zest you need to get the plane off the ground means you tend to put projects first and people second – would you not expect this from a younger, raw, driven business person?

There is a Buddhist idea that every 7 years there is a specific phase of human development. Zero to 7 is “realise I exist”, 7 to 14 is “realise others exist” (and their dreams and fears and plans are as important to them as mine are to me), 14 to 21 is “kill your parents” (which is a metaphor!… it is a realisation that nobody is better than you, nobody is worse than you… inside you are all the positive aspects and negative aspects of humanity…) and the list goes on… you can only move to the next phase by fully living the previous phase. I can’t take a 7 year old and force them to achieve the compassion that a fully developed 70 year old can take towards the world.

I sometimes listen to my daughter talk about a difficult situation between friends, or in school… and I wish I could take what I know now and just shove it into her mind… but that is not how it works. She will live her own life and find her own way of coming to terms with life’s joys and struggles. I will always encourage her to take a positive, resourceful, creative stance towards the world… but beyond that, her answers are her answers.

I can wish that my younger self was less arrogant, less greedy…. but I wouldn’t be who I am today if I had not been that earlier arrogant and greedy self.

Mark McC. : Thanks Conor I was going to ask you what is the best way to explain resilience to a leader in these times www.createthegreatinyou.com

I took an idea from a webinar 3 weeks ago for EO with Sadhguru. He said that

Right now you are home with family. Nothing is missing.  Your memory can haunt you and your imagination can scare you. It is you who generates suffering. 

Where is your intelligence working?  For you?  Or to scare you?  Or to haunt you?

Sadhguru

Memory and Imagination – this is what we are suffering. My cancelled plans for the future… never existed except in my head. My cancelled plans for my business… never existed except in my head. My memory of how much we sold last year… is in the past.

I find it so hard to let go of what I had expected to be doing. I find a lot of motivating for me comes from working towards a future that I have imagined that is “better” than this current moment.

I think we are born resilient, but we learn to be victims. I love the book “Who moved my Cheese” by Spencer Johnson. It goes direct to this difficulty of human to let go of what I had expected.

Joseph Campbell said “we must let go of the life we have planned so as to live the life that is waiting for us”. I struggle with this. My thinking is so often focussed to avoiding change and not accepting new situations that are not what I had hoped for.

Thank you for these great questions.

Thanks again for your participation and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sam Reese, CEO Vistage

This article by Vistage CEO Sam Reese was originally published on the Vistage blog. Over his 35 year career as a business leader, Sam has led large and midsize organizations and has advised CEOs and key executives of companies all over the world.

Over to Sam…


The COVID-19 pandemic presents new challenges for leaders, but it also offers fresh opportunities to learn how to navigate their companies through uncharted waters. As employees accept the current crisis and adjust to new environments, routines and protocol, they look to leaders for transparency, stability and conscious decision-making.

Through coaching more than 100,000 CEOs of small to midsize businesses over 60 years, Vistage has identified 7 fundamental truths about great leadership. The following laws ensure solid decision-making through these unpredictable times and beyond: Free guide to help lead your company through challenging times.

A CEO's Guide to Leading in Challenging Times

1. Reject shortcuts to growth

Great leaders know leadership excellence is a challenging, continuous journey that requires hard work and determined attention.

Sam Reese

Great leaders know leadership excellence is a challenging, continuous journey that requires hard work and determined attention. They reject shortcuts and take ownership of their development, especially in times of crisis. They bring rigor and grit, working hard to hone their expertise and continuously improve. They recognize it is important to keep an organized rhythm of communications and work progress that will keep their businesses busy and aligned during a crisis.

2. Carve out space to work on the business

Successful leaders routinely carve out time and space away from the business to reflect, acquire new knowledge and focus on strategy. This discipline allows them to gain the clarity they need to navigate the day-to-day challenges and understand the environment outside their business. The stress of leading through a global pandemic requires a leader to pause and regroup.

3. Challenge your thinking with fresh perspectives

Great leaders seek diverse perspectives on important decisions from trusted peers. They actively work to combat insular thinking and confirmation bias. They find other CEOs and business leaders who’ve tackled similar issues but in different industries. These peers understand the nuances and challenges of the role but bring fresh perspectives, unhampered by institutional knowledge. Now more than ever, when a group of diverse leaders learn from one another, this effect is amplified. CEOs can share the real-time learnings that come from leading a company through a pandemic.

4. Stoke curiosity

World-class business leaders are high on curiosity and low on ego.

Sam Reese

World-class business leaders are high on curiosity and low on ego. They are inquisitive, welcome new ideas from trusted sources and eager to explore. Vulnerability is viewed as an asset, and they are the first to admit they don’t have all the answers. They ask questions to seek input and pressure-test their assumptions, so they can come to the best decision for the business – not to prove their own point. These trying times present the opportunity to be open to and apply new ideas.

5. Apply discipline to decision-making

High-performing leaders follow a disciplined approach to decision-making. They use a systematic process that takes into account their instincts; judgment based on experience and data; and perspectives from peers, mentors and employees. The key is to focus on what can be done today, not necessarily developing long-term strategies that may need to be changed after a crisis. Focus has to remain on mission, vision, purpose and values as the North Star. With these values as the foundation, leaders can make decisions with speed, consistency and accuracy – even under the heavy pressures of a pandemic.

High-performing leaders follow a disciplined approach to decision-making.

Sam Reese

6. Find a trusted guide

Successful leaders view a coach or mentor as a critical component to leadership excellence, especially in stressful times. They value a trusted guide who challenges their assumptions, identifies their blind spots and holds them accountable. The most effective coaches and mentors approach the CEO as a whole person, not just the leader in the corner office. Leaders who take a comprehensive approach to development that includes feedback from trusted peers, effective mentoring, and insights from subject-matter experts continuously outperform their competitors.

7. Rise by helping others

Great leaders help others think critically through their challenges and in the process fine-tune their own decision-making skills. Leaders also recognize relationships matter even more during a crisis. Whether these relationships are with coworkers, customers, suppliers, partners or investors, CEOs and decision makers help others as they remain in constant, transparent communication. Accessibility is the No. 1 quality employees look for in their leaders during a time of crisis. By staying available, you will become acutely aware of the challenges that need to be addressed and convey a sense of stability and continuity during a crisis. High-integrity leaders leave a legacy. The way you manage in a crisis like this will be a key part of the legacy you leave and an example for those who follow in your footsteps.

The coronavirus has brought disruption and caused unprecedented challenges for CEOs, but it can also inspire innovation and lead the way to a company’s future success when life returns to normal. COVID-19 shines a light on the challenges of leading through change and crisis. By using these seven laws and providing clear communication, decision makers can take effective action for their companies today and tomorrow. 

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