My father is by all accounts a successful leader. There are 3 “superpowers” that he has that I think have helped him have such a positive effect in each of these environments.
My father has had a long and successful career in business leading to a decade as the Chairman of the Board of Accenture, and then as a board member for several public companies, and now as a leader and advisor for arts, culture and universities.
2 years ago, I shared a list that my father made back in the 1980’s on “Leaders and Non-Leaders” which listed 40 contrasts helped him guide his journey as a business leader.
3 of my Dad’s “Superpowers”
Remember people’s names
Decide fast & Don’t think of it as “your decision”, (this allows flexibility to change without emotion/sunk cost)
Never lose sight of the overall purpose & long term
I was in the medieval town of Pedraza again this week, where I made this video.
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.
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.
Without the people around you taking good decisions, you will always need to step in to stop disaster from happening. In the IESE MBA program we have a course called “Analysis of Business Problems”. We teach a 6 step process for business decision making:
They deserve a promotion because of past efforts? No.
What ideas do you have?
There is one characteristic without which you cannot be called a leader.
Followers? Yes… but what do you need to have as a leader so that others actually follow?
The Fundamental Characteristic of a Leader
You know where you are going.
…and then the power to Communicate
…and then you need to develop the ability to engage with people so that the destination becomes a shared destination.
If you can begin to paint the destination in the minds of others with stories you begin to engage not just their hands, not just their skills, but their whole self in the committed pursuit.
A Shared Vision of a Worthwhile Destination
How do you engage those around you to commit to the journey?
Don’t “motivate” people.
Figure out something that is worth doing. Figure out how it will make your life better, how it will make their lives better and how it will make society better.
Help others understand that being part of it will be better for them and their life.
How do you share this destination with others? How’s this as a script:
Let us move forward: This is a good use of our time…
Here is what is in it for me…
Here is what is in it for you…
Business as an Infinite game
Simon Sinek shares a powerful concept in his book “The Infinite Game”. He has popularised the distinction between Finite games and Infinite games.
Chess is a finite game. Soccer is a finite game. Tennis is a finite game. They each have a set of agreed rules, and a clear victory condition at which time the game ends. The objective in a finite game is to end the game as victor.
Business is not a finite game. Life is not a finite game. Leading human beings is not a finite game.
Success in life is keeping it engaging to play for all those involved (including yourself!).
A game everyone plays voluntarily is more successful than a game where some must be compelled to play.
If you are going to set up an organisation, you can compel people to perform with threats and fear. It is much more effective to engage them to play a game that is meaningful for them, and for you… and for society as a whole.
How to lead the whole Person
Imagine these two requests from a leader:
“Go home and take 4 hours to think about how you will contribute to this organisation over the next year” or
“Go home and take 4 hours to think about your life and formulate a plan for your life with this business being a part of the plan”
Which is the question of the bigger leader?
Jordan Peterson reports a 10% increase in contribution where leaders ask the 2nd question to their teams.
You want yourself and your team to see that working for you serves their higher order purpose.
If not, this is not the job for them. Help them find a place where they can serve their higher purpose.
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?
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:
This summer I played a lot of tennis (for me): I played 5 hours each week.
Initially, I played with my family, but then was encouraged to hire a tennis coach. I haven’t had a tennis lesson since I was a kid. Rackets have evolved in the last 30 years and so have techniques. I booked 10 lessons with the clubhouse. They put me in contact with Victor.
Victor today is in his fifties, but as a younger man at various times he was the #1 Portuguese tennis player.
Victor was the best coach that I have worked with in years.
There are a couple of things that Victor did that made the time we spent together valuable for me – not just for my tennis, but also as a general improvement in my approach to life.
100% Focussed on Tennis
On our third session, I asked Victor about his recent trip up to Lisbon. He said “we are here for tennis, not for conversation. Conversation when we finish.”
I was surprised, but rapidly saw that this was Victors approach. I started to enjoy the freedom to not have to be “friendly” but to focus 100% on tennis. He was focussed for the hour on how to make me a better tennis player, not for friendly chat.
As soon as a lesson would finish, he would happily share about his life… but not when we had work to do.
Always Assertive with a Clear Plan
At all times, Victor had a plan for our time together. All lessons started immediately with tough warm up drills. All lessons moved through a sequence of practices that build up to full rallies towards the end of the hour. I could ask questions and ask for specific improvement tips, but Victor remained in control of the sessions at all time.
This is a balance I find difficult as a teacher and as a coach. There is always an element of friendship that emerges between the students and me, and between those that I coach… I sometimes feel it to be rude to not engage in some friendly conversation.
Victor showed me that there is a time for friendly conversation, and there is a time for doing the work.
Mentally and Physically Challenging
Victor ran the sessions as if I was preparing to play at Wimbledon the following week.
I play tennis as a fun social game, but not something that really improves your fitness. Lessons with Victor left me feeling as if I had done a 6 mile run. I finished each session physically exhausted.
Victor never treated me like a 47 year old weekend social player. Initially I felt like telling him that it was too much, that I only wanted to improve the technique on my forehand and backhand… but once I accepted that this was not just technique coaching, but challenging me to be able to play against the toughest players, even when physically exhausted… I started to get into the idea of taking tennis more seriously.
Victor expected me to act at all times like a serious player. If he was ready to hit and I was walking slowly back to the baseline, he would shout “come on, get into position!”
As I got tired and I felt frustrated that my technique was falling apart because of total exhaustion, he was clear that it is vitally important that you continue to play well at the end of games when both players will be tired.
I find this balance between challenge and fun a difficult one. My approach to teaching business leaders has changed dramatically since my first classes in the IESE MBA program back in 2005.
Initially I taught like a kind friend who shared information and jokes with students. After 5 years I had a radical change of approach.
This shift was caused by the bankruptcy of a company that I had founded. As I led the company in the financial collapse of 2008, I just wasn’t emotionally, spiritually or financially prepared for the challenge. I asked myself “How can I have an MBA… and 8 years experience as a management consultant… and yet be totally unprepared to face real difficulty?”
Class should be tough. Training should be harder than real life. If leaders are not facing the hardest challenges in training, then we are not preparing them for life.
How I showed up, how I gathered the tennis balls, how I stood in the ready position were all aspects of my game that Victor challenged me on. Everything mattered. Everything was coached towards the mindset of excellence as a tennis player.
Given the intensity of the sessions, I had more little muscle injuries than I have had in years. Sprinting from side to side and from the baseline to the net put stresses on my knees and legs that I haven’t faced since my days playing squash in my 20s. Even here, Victor was unrelenting. “Sore leg? Can you play? Then let’s play…”
Tennis and Life
What’s true of success in tennis, is also true for life. I found that the 20 hours with Victor not only improved my tennis, but shifted my outlook and approach to life.
Victor was a great coach for me not because he was a great tennis player. He was a great coach because he didn’t coach the 47 year old social player, he coached me as if I was an excellent player. This attitude more than anything shifted my mindset and attitude.
As I return to Barcelona to refocus my energies on our CEO development at Vistage and to my teaching at IESE, I hope to take a bit of Victor into these interactions.
Just listening to Stuart Lancaster deliver a webinar for IIBN. He shared his path to head coach of the England rugby team, the hard blow of falling out of the home rugby world cup, and his current role as part of the leadership of Leinster rugby club.
Create and align people to a cause – you need every member of the team to move beyond their own wants and needs and be a genuine contributor to the team… for this there needs to be a meaningful cause that is bigger than “winning”. Stuart shared how he wrote to the parents of all the england team players and asked them to share what it meant to them to see their son play rugby for england. This helped him show the players how they represented something much bigger than rugby.
Be trustworthy “DWYSYWD” – Do What You Said You Would Do”
Moral courage to do the right thing – especially when it is hard.
Great body language – you are never “off stage”.
Build belief and “make performance meaningful” in yourself and others – it has to be more than “just getting the win” – why will this next win be meaningful?
Loved this from Stuart…
“Always want to Improve”
Extreme competence + extreme open to learn = Be here 😉
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