Becoming an Entrepreneur in Your Own Life

Thu, Feb 23, 2017

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THESIS

Carving out time to invest in yourself, devoting that time to learn and put to practice the wisdom of coaches will improve your life as well as your performance as a leader. It is more than situational problem-solving.

BACKGROUND

The best books on leadership stress that the job of the CEO is self-development as well as development of the organization. And my decades of experience are replete with instances in which CEO client self-development often has an unintended consequence: improving family dynamics.

LEARNING FROM OTHERS

Each year, multiple sources help me develop myself as a coach and I share what I learn with my clients and peers. In a future post, I will relay the most important discoveries from our Vistage worldwide chair conference. Here, I share the thoughts of renowned master coach Tony Smith, speaking to a group of HBS alumni entrepreneurs.

Distinguishing between those who will “eat what has been served,” living in a familiar environment from those who will create their own environment, their own future, here are my notes on the gist of the discussion: (I was surprised how useful his discussion guide was despite its being rudimentary for me and probably for you).

1.    The #1 enemy of creating your own life and your own company is busyness. The urgent displaces the most important.

2.    No future is possible unless and until you imagine it and write it down

It must be clear, written, output of a conscious and unconscious effort and future-focused

3.    Most people live in deploying their knowledge to manage risk; entrepreneurs create something and live at risk; the first live close to the past, the latter live in the future

4.    Any business or job worth doing starts with three forces for engagement: the value to the user/the message, the user profile and the methods of outreach to the user; most highly educated people are not good at the third

5.    What does it take to create your own future?

Time, practice, constructive feedback and commitment to a specific future

6.    Everyone needs a place and time to clear the mind, re-invent and confront demons

7.    There is always constructive tension between reality and a vision; the tension is what creates energy. Most people’s future is missing from their daily thinking.

8.    Networking is crucial to all of the above; and having a personal board of directors. And keeping in touch

9.    To all entrepreneurs: don’t let circumstances call the shots

10. The world belongs to those who follow up (amazing how few do it and do it with intention and regularity)

USEFUL RESOURCES

Vistage: the world’s largest CEO membership organization

http://vistage.com

Tony Smith, coach:

http://vsacoaching.com/about-vsa/our-people/tony-smith/

If you want a few terrific books to read, contact me.

 That’s just my view. What’s yours?

 

 

 

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Managing Partner of Professionals: Unlike Any Other Business Community

Wed, Feb 22, 2017

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BACKGROUND

Henry is the newly elected managing partner of a large professional service firm. Think consulting or law or engineering. As with other such firms, there are challenges in stimulating demand for their firm’s services in an increasingly competitive and price-sensitive marketplace, in attracting “laterals” from other firms and the best new graduates in the field.

Henry campaigned for election on a platform of ideas for meeting the above challenges and of bringing people together across the firm to succeed together. And on a new focus on productivity – such firms have far too many underperformers who drag down the top half in success, compensation and sense of being on a winning team.

LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES

But Henry has found other factors that may be barriers to his successful leadership: he says there is no firm-wide pattern of collaboration between geographic office chiefs and “practice leaders” who are the subject matter experts and leaders of practitioners across the firm’s offices. He further cites a negative culture in one of the biggest geographic offices: back-biting, behind-the-back criticism of one partner by another, fiefdoms within the office of each practice area. A wide disparity in productivity between top performers and the bottom half. And no serious effort to resolve the disparity. While the office is still quite profitable, it has shrunk to half its size as some of the best people have left.

Henry does not have a plan for these newly confirmed challenges. Only an intent to resolve them.

RESOLUTION

Some key questions for Henry:

  • What is the plan and process for his ideas and intent to become action?
  • Are there “influentials” engaged in the effort?
  • Are a few foils (those opposed to the change) participants whose conversion would be a signal to others?
  • Has he brought together partners with different power bases to discuss the “third entity” (what collaboration might look like ad what would be its benefits to the participants if constraints could be overcome?)
  • Are fledgling instances of successful collaboration being celebrated and rewarded?
  • Are there new consequences for instances of undesirable behavior?
  • Will new hires populate some of the positions?
  • Will there be changes in who occupies the leadership positions?

For more on “third entity,” among the many who claim to have spawned this idea, get to know the very able Abe Wagner, Vistage speaker who led a workshop with my CEO peer advisory board in new York City (not an easy audience):

Abe Wagner Effective Organizations

And visit the mother ship for 21,000 owner/CEO members and Chairs (coaches who lead peer advisory boards in 20 countries around the globe:

http://vistage.com

Stay tuned. Henry is till developing his answers and experimenting with different types of engagement and policy changes.

That’s just my view. What’s yours?

 

 

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CEO Blues: “It’s my fault”

Mon, Feb 20, 2017

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BACKGROUND

The hired gun CEO for a turnaround has found the situation far worse than as presented by the owners: a factory with old gear and too many legacy systems which were kluges, no documentation, a poor work ethic, a climate of fear suppressing transparency, a business model increasingly out of date with growing customers, competition technologically advantaged in the space and more.

ADMITTING MISTAKES IS ONE THING, MARINATING IN SELF-BLAME?

After more than a year of hard work, the CEO (we will call him Sam) feels depressed. There is still a long way to go to stop customer attrition completely, systems are still in transition, there are still too many defects in output, people are working harder but still not sure the company will win the battle in the marketplace, the owners are distressed that earnings are still below both original expectations and an adjusted target. And more.

Sam blames himself. He waited too long to replace a toxic direct report, too long to replace weak managers, trusted a technical person with a project past the time when warning signs of late and problematic completion became evident despite his attempts to avoid disclosure. And Sam feels bad he did not make the call earlier to change the strategy from aspiring to lead with technology to leading with operational excellence and service – the first path being a driver of considerable pain and cost with little chance of success. Sam hates going to work. Interactions with the owners have been difficult – even they are not sure what to do. Sam has moments when he has wondered if it would be better to throw in the towel.

THE WAY FORWARD

Asked what he had accomplished, Sam recited:

  • Reduced the defect rate in the factory
  • More than replaced lost customers with new customers
  • Shifting of the mix of customers to ones who could be better-served
  • Successfully arguing with the owners to shift the strategy to manufacturig excellence and customer service instead of technology
  • Bringing in a team to fix the systems
  • Replacing key leaders in the company
  • Re-chartering the sales force
  • All the while, with considerable earnings notwithstanding below unattainable budgets (the company did not lose money despite the troubles)

All of this while handling significant issues at home.

Is there not a new narrative being created, Sam was asked? Could anyone else in the situation have created this new narrative? Has the old negative narrative been visible to the workforce and to the owners? Is it time to articulate the new narrative and direction every day to everyone? And to “sell” it if need be? What is the job of the CEO anyway? And what will result from success with this narrative: better effort by all? More resources from the owners? It is at least worthy a serious try.

OUTCOMES

It is still early, but Sam has been living in the new narrative for awhile. He has returned to his previously successful energy level, confidence, persistence and ability to mobilize others to get things done.

COACH VIEW

As presented in The Art of Possibility by Zander, “It’s all invented.” Your interpretation of events is what matters and your attitude toward what is possible.

As presented in Mastering Leadership, by Anderson and Adams, the CEO has two jobs from the get-go to the departure: self-development and company development; leading oneself and leading others.

I gave copies of the first book to each member of my Vistage CEO Peer Advisory Board. Vistage is a trove or resources for leaders:

http://vistage.com

Peter Schwartz, a best practices chair at Vistage led an inspiring conference workshop based on the second book. Both arre very good books on leadership perspective well worth the effort of reading.

That’s just my view. What’s yours?

 

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CEO’S RISKY HIRES

Fri, Jan 20, 2017

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BACKGROUND

 Finding the right candidate for the C-suite is a risky business. People who look good on paper and show well can mask factors that ultimately lead to failure. What do the most successful CEOs-as-recruiters do?

KEY FACTORS

Our Vistage CEO Peer Advisory Board in New York City has adopted these approaches, among others:

  • Make sure the job description has the people interactions as well as the technical challenges
  • Direct search professionals to conduct behavioral interviewing
  • Get a pre-employment background check by a top firm
  • Make sure the job description addresses scope differences among C-suite members, e.g., CIO vs. CTO
  • Do not rely on recruiters for reference checks
  • Have final candidates sign an NDA and present their go-forward strategy and plan
  • Have them deliver the plan to the senior management team (if a ceo candidate, present to the board)
  • Don’t miss a social opportunity: dinner(with spouse/partner?) or golf

 ONE FACTOR STANDS OUT: REFERENCE CHECKING

 When references given by the candidate are called, it is hard to penetrate today’s legal guidance to respondents to be very cautious about what they disclose.

After finding a “terrific candidate” CTO, one of our CEOs realized that the given references did not include a prior boss (CEO).

As Professor Furnham indicated at a lunch at Haklyut (see my earlier post: Narcissist Psychopaths and Other CEOs):

  • Someone’s boss knows his value added
  • Peers know someone’s values
  • Subordinates know the person under stress

Therefore, inform the candidate that there will be “non-given reference checks:” people called who are not on the candidate’s list. The respondents may be drawn from the candidate’s resume, LinkedIn and other social media or firms which specialize in human intelligence such as Haklyut.

That’s just my view. What’s yours?

 

 

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Boss Ready: CEO as Trainer

Fri, Jan 13, 2017

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BACKGROUND

A client has evolved in communications over a few years from a fountain of words at each opportunity to “speaking in packets,” then gauging the listeners; evolved from mostly a “do-er” to much more of a leader, heads in with fingers out. In the process, his team has stopped watching which way the wind blows, looking for him to go first with solutions and become more accountable for their own diagnoses and solutions.

That said, two of his direct reports cannot seem to focus on and communicate concisely what the boss needs to hear. So, in a recent coaching session, I asked how the client starts conversations with these people and how the back and forth goes. He described his patient but painful direction from initial details to “neon signs:” big picture, major points of what needs to be done and with or to whom.

A PRACTICAL TACTIC

I suggested an experiment: ask the direct report what the boss needs to know about a particular project and, before the other person can respond, hand them a marker and ask them to step to the whiteboard.

The result should be a quicker focus on what really matters and far fewer words than either oral response or a power-point makes possible. It is not easy to write a paragraph on the whiteboard.

CONFIRMATION (from Brendan Browne, LinkedIn vice president of global talent acquisition)

A few days after the conversation with my client, an article appeared in Business Insider describing how the chief recruiter for LinkedIn uses the same idea to with candidates to explore whatever they are passionate about. The finding is that it tests the quality of thinking about something important to the candidate but also the ability to improvise, think in real time, communicate clearly and concisely, and understand the process central to their passion whether it is learning to cook or making music or being good at a sport.

It is an effective tactic.

And it is worth reading the full notes about “Five Lessons:”

A Practical Tactic

That’s just my view. What’s yours?

 

 

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Key to Leadership Failure

Tue, Dec 6, 2016

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SUMMARY

One person can make a difference in the well-being of a company if they “get it” when others don’t. If you fail to hire such people, if you do not include them in the discussion during a crisis, you are more likely to see a problem worsen or repeat. What makes them different? They are “principles first thinkers.”

BACKGROUND: FIRST PRINCIPLES THINKING

Time and again I have seen clients analyze a situation, take action only to see the problem worsen or repeat. As Prof. Neustadt advised in his book, Thinking in Time, people often ask “what should I do about this?” before they ask “How should I think about this?” and are trapped in wrong assumptions, wrong beliefs and flawed analogies.

Abe Ankumah, CEO of a network software company, interviewed by Adam Bryant for his Corner Office column in the New York Times, said: “I look for “first principles thinkers” when I hire.” And when he assembles a group in his company to solve a problem. What is a “first principles thinker?” Simply:

Someone who pursues the essence of a problem and instead of jumping to solutions examines big picture patterns and root causes of the problem (or opportunity). Then and only the do they jump to solutions.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/02/business/abe-ankumah-of-nyansa-are-you-a-first-principle-thinker.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fcorner-office&action=click&contentCollection=business&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=0

EXTENDING THIS THINKING TO THE HIRING PROCESS

Our last post was about a real life situation which focused on an observation by someone with fresh eyes and principles-first thinking: it is a mistake to view a new hire as added cost if it is really an investment with a return; and vice versa. That is why Google sometimes buys a small company to “acq-hire” talent and may even dissolve the business.

How do you find, attract and retain such people?

ADVANCED RECRUITING

Why do so many hires fail, especially at senior levels? The top reason is not capability. It is fit with the company culture:

  • Moving too slow in a fast culture
  • Playing as a start in a team culture
  • Demanding more responsibilities before earning trust and respect
  • Applying success factors in product sales to a service company

If you view recruiting as a cost, you are probably struggling to find “best athletes” in key positions who stay with the company for years. And you have had new hires fail. Or are about to .If you view recruiting as an investment in the future of the company, you will spend on:

  • The process of engaging the candidates as people
  • Behavioral interviewing: asking questions which reveal ethics, assumptions about successful behaviors
  • Reference checking by your own senior people, not just by search professionals

One CEO client searching for his own replacement (and move to Chairman) did all of the above and more:

  • Had candidates sign a non-disclosure agreement, sent them financials and required them to create and present ad defend their own short (2 or 3 page) bullet point strategic plan
  • Organized dinners with candidate and spouse (in one case, with a board member)
  • Required an essay on the pros and cons of working directly for the founder
  • Asking questions in interviews focused on situations involving moral choices, ethics, beliefs about unwritten rules for success
  • Reference checks done by the most senior company executives, not just the search firm

As a result, they eliminated finalists who might have failed and uncovered a candidate better than the others. Still no guarantee, but a long way toward making a wise choice. This is kindred in spirit to what Disney has done for years in the way of “realistic job previews” for theme park employees.

LESSONS FOR LEADERSHIP

What is more important than getting the right leaders into a company? Those who skimp on recruiting get what they pay for — if they are lucky. The smart leaders view this as an investment.

There is a terrific source of this kind of learning in an internet radio show and website with tools and ideas:

Jim Blasingame’s brain trust radio show

That’s just my view. What’s yours?

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Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious (Mouths of Babes Division)

Sat, Dec 3, 2016

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BACKGROUND

A large non-U.S. investment house has brought to life a new internal entity that deals with higher risk and higher reward than anything the firm has experienced.  Further, it is imagined as an imminent global powerhouse in New York, Europe and Asia.

Questions:

  1. Why might this laudable internal intrapreneurial effort work?
  • Because they have hired new people with great experience, expertise and networks of relationships
  • Because there is a pool of analysts in the system who can be tapped to support those hired in the new entity
  • Because the senior people in the parent have worked hard to win approval of the first deals proposed (precedent-setting)

2. Why might this effort fail?

  • Because the parent views compensation demands by the new people as beyond the pale and politically explosive when known by their traditional investment people
  • Because there is already market-based evidence that top prospects have rejected the most recent compensation offers
  • Because there are few (no people?) people on the decision-making committee with relevant risk/reward experience

BLINDING GLIMPSE OF THE OBVIOUS

It is always a thrill when people in my client organization express an insightful observation concisely. The parent organization hired a relatively junior person for the local analyst pool who has lived all over the world and has experience in the higher risk/higher reward activities.  Consider the brilliance and brevity of his remark:

“An additional employee in the parent is seen as a cost increase to be minimized, an additional employee in the new unit is seen as an investment requiring a return.” The first leads to either underpaid or under-qualified managers. The second allows for “best athlete” or at least “major league player” to be considered.

This bit of concentrated wisdom is so obvious that it was not fully understood by decision-makers.

LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP

When conceiving a departure from the status quo, fresh eyes and people with conceptual and analytical skills can alter the plan from the get-go. Whether they are existing staff, new hires, new senior advisors or consultants, there is a high return on investment for their participation.

For a terrific example of a young start-up CEO in network software, read Adam Bryant’s interview (First Principle Thinker) in the Sunday NY Times (December 4, 2016):

First Principle Thinker (Adam Bryant Corner Office interview)

*                      *                    *               *               *

That’s just my view. What’s yours?

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What Made jack welch JACK WELCH

How Ordinary People Become
Extraordinary Leaders

by Stephen H. Baum (Random House)

Most leaders of American companies started out as ordinary people. What prepared them for the top job?

Countless more ordinary people of equal talent never developed the leadership core required to run the show. Why not?

"Lessons for life about the core leadership traits of character, risk taking decisiveness and the ability to engage and inspire followers."
--Jim Clifton, CEO, The Gallup Organization

Read More >>

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