What do excellent CEOs do? (according to McKinsey research)

A company has only one ultimate decision maker: the CEO.

The CEO is the only person in a company without peers. No other individual holds such a full and final responsibility for the company. The CEO is the most powerful and sought-after title in business, more influential than any other. The CEO takes the company’s biggest decisions. These decisions account for 45% of a company’s performance.

This power and influence comes with a heavy burden.

The role of CEO can be all-consuming, lonely, and stressful. Just 3 out of 5 new CEOs live up to expectations in their first 18 months… and many CEOs struggle with their quality of life (health, family relationships, friendships) in the face of the pressures they face.

I run Vistage in Spain. Vistage is the world’s leading CEO coaching organisation. Over more than 60 years, Vistage has worked closely with CEOs to take and implement better decisions which enhance their performance and increase their quality of life.

The following post draws heavily from a recent McKinsey article “The mindsets and practices of excellent CEOs“.

The Biggest regret of CEOs

I spend time with hundreds of CEOs each year. They are good people and they want the best for the good people around them. This makes it extremely personally challenging for them to deal with underperformance. They like the people around them. They want to give them lots of opportunities. They feel that it is a personal failure when someone close to them repeatedly underperforms expectations. They give more time. They allow for environmental factors. They wait and hope.

The single biggest regret of CEOs is not dealing quickly with underperformance.

In my work with CEOs through Vistage, over half of all of our work is about the current and future performance of the people and teams that surround the CEO. We challenge CEOs to stop waiting for underperformance to fix itself.

The Differentiator between Great and Good CEOs

According to McKinsey, the distinction between good CEOs and the great CEOs is the ability to focus.

Great CEOs place “big bets”. They focus on the top 3-5 most important initiatives. They dedicate 90% of their time, energy, resources to the 5 most important projects. They say “no” often. They don’t allow their time to fill up with many different activities and different priorities.

The Good CEOs avoided this level of focus. Their prioritisation of what is truly important is less clear. They are involved in many initiatives. They allow their agenda to fill up and try dedicate a couple of hours each week to the most important projects. They try to fit the important initiatives in around their “day job” of running the company.

The Great CEO has delegated the running of the company to an effective leadership team. They have made themselves unnecessary for operating the company today, so they can dedicate themselves to building the company of the future.

Jeff Bezos says that he spends 5% of his time running the company, and 95% of his time building the future company.

The Job of the Great CEO (according to McKinsey)

What specific behaviours can make current CEOs most effective? This is a summary of the McKinsey article linked above.

The Great CEO’s job has 6 main elements.

  1. Setting the Strategy
  2. Aligning the Organization
  3. Leading the Top Team
  4. Working with the Board
  5. Being the face of the company to external stakeholders
  6. Managing one’s own Time and Energy

1. Setting The Strategy

Objective: Focus on Beating the odds…

  1. Vision: reframe what winning means, where do we want to be in 5, 10 or 15 years?
  2. Strategy: make bold moves early
  3. Resource allocation: stay active, top performers actively & quickly move resources to their strengths

2. Organisational Alignment

Objective: Manage Performance and Health

  1. Talent: match talent to value
  2. Culture: go beyond employee engagement
  3. Organisational design: combine speed with stability

3. Leading the Top Team

Objective: Put dynamics ahead of mechanics

  1. Teamwork: show resolve
  2. Decision making: defend against biases
  3. Management processes: ensure coherence

4. Board Engagement

Objective: Help directors to help the business

  1. Effectiveness: promote a forward looking agenda
  2. Relationships: think beyond the meeting
  3. Capabilities: seek balance and development

5. Being the face of the company

Objective: Center on the long-term “Why?”

  1. Social purpose: look at the big picture
  2. Interactions: prioritize and shape
  3. Moments of Truth: build resilience ahead of a crisis

6. Managing one’s own time and energy

Objective: Do what only you can doceo

  1. Office: manage time and energy
  2. Leadership model: choose authenticity
  3. Perspective: guard against hubris

If you liked this post, you will also like The CEO’s Guide to Boards and The CEO’s 7 Leadership Laws During Times of Uncertainty.

Photo credit: fauxels on Pexels.com, Liza Summer on Pexels.com, SplitShire on Pexels.com

Great Strategy without Great People is nothing

Ideas + Capital + Talent = enduring great business.

Ideas are everywhere, nothing special about an idea.

Capital is plentiful for those who have proven themselves. Today there is so much capital sloshing around looking for moderate returns.

The Scarce Resource…

Talent, true talent… is rare.

Talent isn’t potential. Talent is systematic repeated high performance over years or decades. This is extremely rare.

Potential talent looking for capital will not find it. Capital doesn’t invest in testing talent… capital invests in proven talent.

How do you become “proven talent”?

That is the question.

How to Build an Entrepreneurial Dream Team

As an entrepreneur, a CEO or business leader, one of your most important roles is to build a leadership team. Who do you need in the team for long term success?

Who is on your Leadership Team?

The video below clarifies the 8 profiles that are necessary for a business to start, scale up and become a long term great company. This is a tool I have shared with many Entrepreneurs over the years, and finally I got around to making a YouTube version.

The 8 Roles needed for An Entrepreneurial Dream Team

  • Visionary
  • Mechanic
  • Marketer
  • Networker
  • Manager
  • Banker
  • Investor
  • Baron (Cash Controller)

Further videos and posts on building an effective team

Improving your Strengths or Improving your Weaknesses

You cannot win the marathon by sprinting.

The winner of the 100m in the Olympics might also win the 200m, but will never be competitive in the 10K… or marathon …or rowing, or judo…

Gold medal athletes focus on their strengths and work to amplify their strengths. Usain Bolt doesn’t spend training time trying to improve his long distance capacity. He works on his start, on acceleration, on sprinting and finishing. He works on his strengths.

Recently I’ve felt a lot of pressure to spend time on areas that for me are weaknesses. I am writing this blog post mainly as a reminder to myself to stay strong, and accept these weaknesses. As a leader, I am responsable for making sure there are people and systems around me so that our business doesn’t have weaknesses… but it is not me that should spend time in areas where I am weak.

Dan Sullivan on working on your strengths

If you work throughout your life on improving your weaknesses, what you get are a lot of really strong weaknesses.

Dan Sullivan

In order to do well in school, you need to get good grades in all the subjects. If you are good at sports when you are 12 or 15, you are probably the best at most of the sports you try.

I did well in school. It became painful for me to not get good grades… in any subject… even the ones that I really didn’t care about.

In business (and professional sports), you do well by being really good in one subject. In order to be excellent, you need to deliberately choose to be bad in almost everything else.

I am good at some things, I am not good at lots of things. A lot of the people around me are great at letting me know what I’m not doing so well… I have to stay mindful in order to not get drawn into trying to spend effort improving my weaknesses.

Stephen King says “I was lucky. I was born only good at one thing. Imagine how hard it is for people who are good at 2 things… or what is truly difficult… being good at most things.” (I paraphrase as I can’t currently find the original quote)

Are you working on your strengths?

If you liked this post, you will also like Managing Oneself and Meaningful Contribution.

IESE Instagram Live: How Writing Helps your Career

This is the recording of a session I did yesterday with IESE Business School on the topic of writing as a tool to help your career. In this context, writing is not so much about writing for magazines or in a blog… but writing to set goals, to stay focussed, to identify what is important, to gain clarity, to track progress, to plan…

Do you need Motivation? …or do you need Clarity?

Many people say they lack motivation, when what they really lack is clarity. They are not de-motivated, they just don’t have any clear sense of where and how to place their energy and their time.

If you don’t have a plan, you can’t procrastinate. If you didn’t have a plan, procrastination is your plan.

If your goals aren’t written down, it is hard to refocus on them when you get distracted.

PS My friend Christophe took this so seriously that he tattooed an intention on his arm. Tattoos are a big step… maybe start with a piece of paper.

More on Writing as a Tool for Clarity

If you liked this, you will also like Free your Mind: Writing a Journal. and Writing to Reflect. Mindful Leadership. or Reflect on the Past, Clarify the Future.

What evidence would change your mind?

I was listening to Shane Parrish interview Adam Grant on his knowledge project podcast last week.

Adam was speaking of the loss of rationality in many public domains. Politics, gender, science, global warming, race relations… are all domains where it has become dangerous to ask questions or engage with open curiosity.

As Adam was speaking about this he gave us a question “what evidence would change your mind?”

If I can’t answer this question, it is possible that I have become too emotionally attached to my position.

I asked myself: what beliefs do I hold to such a degree that no evidence would change my mind?

It is not a bad thing to hold strong beliefs… I believe it it a vital ability to develop faith in the universe. I decided to believe that the universe is a good place. I decided to believe that people are trustworthy. These are decisions of a stance I take towards the world.

The problem comes when I pretend to be rational when my belief really doesn’t come from reason. You could prove to me that people aren’t trustworthy and I still would prefer to act towards the world as if people are trustworthy. I don’t really care about the evidence. As long as I recognize this as a “stance towards the world” rather than an evidence-based rational decision, I will be ok. However if I want to convince others, it’s important to realize on what basis I hold the belief.

Adam Grant on Advice

Adam shared a story of someone asking him for advice… and as soon as Adam started sharing his opinion he realized that the other person didn’t want to hear it. Since those early days of his career, Adam has become much more careful in offering his opinion.

When someone comes to Adam for advice:

First: Ask them for their Pros & Cons? Their Risks & Rewards? Get their perspective on what is important and what challenges they see. Get this first.

Next: Ask “Why did you come see me?”

Did they really come for Validation? Or Approval? Or are they really open to have you test their thinking?

Be careful about offering help when the other is not open to another perspective.

Did you come to visit this blog to challenge your thinking? Or to confirm your existing beliefs? 😉

The 3 Approaches to Work

I recently heard Sadhguru share 3 ways that people approach life and work:

  1. Idiot – these people don’t enjoy what they do each day
  2. Smart – these people have created a life where they do enjoy the activity and the people that they spend time with each day
  3. Genius – these people have learnt to love what they have to do. They know how to connect all important activity to their personal purpose and make it feel meaningful.

A couple of comments on youtube suggested that this was an “arrogant statement” and that not everybody has had access to education and opportunities. I don’t believe any of these 3 approaches are necessarily only accessed through formal education… in fact I see many well educated people from wealthy backgrounds who really struggle to get out of the “idiot” category.

Another comment on youtube suggested that we each operate at these 3 levels in different areas of our lives… it may be that you are a genius in health and exercise, but an idiot when it comes to personal finances… or a genius in your professional career and an idiot as a family member.

The route to genius involves having clarity on your purpose and a set of practices or rituals to connect necessary action to that sense of meaningful purpose.

What do you think? Where do you operate most of the time?

Lessons from Reid Hoffman, EO Conversation on Zoom

Reid Hoffman, founder of Linkedin and first COO of Paypal

I was on a zoom call today with Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn. Here’s my lessons from the call…

How do we learn Entrepreneurship?

The best way of learning entrepreneurship: play boardgames… Settlers of Catan is good – there is trading, there is ambiguity, there are multiple strategies. Chess is good but no ambiguity… we all know all the information all the time. Monopoly is too simple… roll dice, buy everything… not really learning to make strategic decisions. Poker has the aspects of taking decisions under ambiguity that are so important as an entrepreneur.

Sun Tzu on entrepreneurship: no business plan survives contact with the market. Entrepreneur needs a plan, but needs to know what is truly important in order to rapidly and flexibly change the plan based on market response.

Entrepreneur is open minded that if I can’t make it work today, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work… maybe in a year or two things have evolved and you now have an important business.

How do you do so much?

“I choose great CEOs.”

Why can Elon Musk do so much?

Poor competition. Electric cars and Space exploration… very difficult… and there was no serious competition. That allowed Elon to do hard things in parallel.

If there is strong competition… you’ll need to focus.

The Role of Entrepreneurship

Society needs entrepreneurship – creative ideas getting tested, and what works growing. If nothing new can start, society is stagnant. Ask for permission in Europe vs Ask for forgiveness in US and China. Experimenting on the edges of banking is illegal in EU, but allowed Paypal to begin in US.

What was Hard in starting LinkedIn?

On founding Linkedin – “professional” social networking was resisted strongly at the beginning. Initial tagline: “We are friendster, but for business”. Journalists “oh yeah, you are the job seeking application.” It was a real struggle and lots of people thought I was mad.

As a CEO in an early stage company, you are focussed on building the product, extending the product.

As a CEO in a late stage company, your entire focus is on scaling up the business. What will accelerate our growth?

Why has half of the NASDAQ come out of Silicon Valley?

Region of 3 million people… why so much impact?

“There is a learning network. There is an intense local learning of how to build these tech business and scale them up. “

Today Silicon Valley, there is so much money going into the area that so many ideas can be tried and tested… and the entrepreneurs share their experiences. It is like a “Cambian explosion” of tech business.

Reid wrote Blitzscaling to share the best ideas from Silicon Valley out with the rest of the entrepreneurial world. These are the techniques by which the technology companies of the future are being built.

Early Investor in Facebook and AirBnB. Lessons?

Being contrarian and right is a wonderful place to be as an investor and as an entrepreneur.

Facebook – “its for college kids with too much time on their hands…” well, I think there is something important here. Contrarian… and right.

Yahoo offers $1B… should we sell? what is upside, what is the downside? we didn’t have a business at the time… but I believed there was something big and we would be able to find a business. Contrarian… and right.

AirBnB – we are the market for space. Liked the founders. First meeting: lets get down. to business… I know I am going to make an offer to invest, lets work together on the big questions. Contrarian… and right.

Big thing at AirBnB – taking control of the full experience… not just the web design. Dirty windows = bad. Clean windows made such a positive impact on airbnb rental locations. The founders really worked on designing the whole experience.

“Every challenge is a design challenge” AirBnB

The future of work?

“Crisis always begets opportunity.”

Phone calls will become video calls

Remote is a real option. Some companies have gone completely virtual and will never go back.

Co-working will be important.

Travel… for 1 meeting? we can zoom.

Investing Guidance

Look at Entrepreneur, Market, Product

The most important: look at the entrepreneur. A good entrepreneur will find a market and will find a product. A great market and a great product… but doubts about the entrepreneur… we won’t invest.

Stand in the Traffic

The title of this blog comes from a session in a course that Professor Paris de l’Etraz teaches about Life. I met Paris at a dinner in Madrid 4 years ago hosted by another inspiring teacher.

Stand in the Traffic: I love the simplicity of this life strategy.

Whatever you want in life, there are places where opportunities are flowing… and there are places where opportunities are not flowing. Abundant places… and stagnant places.

Stagnant: There are very few opportunities passing the person sitting on their sofa watching Netflix.

Abundant: There are many more opportunities passing the person out there in the world engaged in conversation… on a university campus, in industry conferences, in associations, online via youtube and blogs and writing articles.

If you have any idea what you are looking for…

If you have any idea about the types of things that you want to come into your life, the next step is to ask yourself “Where is the traffic?” Where are relevant people, resources, ideas, activity flowing?

Go stand there.

Put yourself where opportunity will pass you by.

If you are at an industry event and it is coffee break time, where do you stand?

If you stand by the wall with your mobile phone in front of you… you are not “in the traffic”.

If you stand by the coffee machines or the food service area, all the traffic will pass by you.

If you know how to smile and ask a few questions “hey, how are you doing? what brings you here? what has impressed you so far?”… now you can engage with the traffic.

Where should you be putting yourself more often?

PS the traffic is not just a physical location… my blog, my linkedin newsletter and my youtube channel are all ways of “standing in the traffic”

More Lessons from Paris about Life

Check out Paris’ TEDx talk on how Uncertainty affects the Professional Mind.

5 Ways Successful People Increase their Impact

How do those who are successful go on and make a truly lasting impact?

  1. Focus (no athlete wins 100m and marathon)
  2. Time horizon (Jeff bezos handstand)
  3. Habits (little habits every day > big decisions once a decade)
  4. Love the Process/Plateau (bamboo – it doesn’t always look like progress)
  5. Connected Relationships (communications, trust)

Check out the longer discussion of these 5 elements in the video below…

If you liked this post, you will also like Success Lessons from Kung Fu Panda and The Simplest Definition of Success.