What to Look for When Selecting Leaders

As a result of the work I do with Vistage CEOs and Age Brilliantly, I encounter many people who realize they don’t plan to work for every and need to start planning for their next 7-10,000 days. For many company owners, this starts with doubling-down on having the best possible leaders within the company to take over when the CEO plans to leave. Effective succession increases the value of the company whether employees, outside managers or Private Equity firms are the ultimate buyer.

In “What Sets successful CEOs Apart” (Harvard Business Review, May, 2017) the authors report on a PWC study of the world’s 2500 companies that identified four essential behaviors that helped the CEOs get the top job and thrive in it. From a succession planning standpoint, looking for these behaviors in future successors is key to success, since they are likely predictive of future success.

The four behaviors are:

  • Deciding with Speed and Conviction. High-performing CEOs don’t necessarily make great decisions all the time; they stand out for being decisive. They make decisions earlier, faster, with greater conviction and more consistently – even amid ambiguity. People described as decisive were 12 times more likely to be high-performing CEOs. (Note: Highest IQ is not an attribute! People who relish intellectual complexity struggle to get the “perfect answer: and as a result, they often bottleneck decision-making, which frustrates their teams. 94% of executives who scored low on decisiveness, did so because they decided too little, too late. One one-third of CEOs were fired for making bad decisions; the rest were ousted for making decisions too slowly.) In other words, it’s better to make a well-considered, but wrong decision, which they be changed, than to delay a decision when it’s really needed.
  • Engaging for Impact: One a decision is made, the CEO must be able to get buy-in from other employees on and off their teams, and other stakeholders. As Google and others have found, the key to effectiveness is communication, alignment, collaboration and teamwork .(See prior blog on this topic).
  • Adapting Proactively. In this VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) word, we need to adapt quickly. The most successful CEOs scan future trends on an ongoing basis so they can do so proactively. The study found that CEOs who excel at adapting are 6.7 times more likely to succeed. Further, these CEOs spent significantly more time (50% vs. 30%) thinking about the long-term. They regularly plug into broad information flows; they scan wide networks and diverse sources of data, finding relevance in information that at first glance might seem unrelated to their business. Finally these CEOs had, what Carol Dwieck calls a “growth mindset: they offered matter-of-fact-accounts of where and why they came up with the wrong decisions and gave specific examples of how they would tweak their approach to do better the next time. Non-high-performing CEOs saw setbacks as signs of failure.
  • Delivering Reliably. Executives who scored high on reliability were twice as likely to be picked as CEOs ad 15 times more likely to succeed in it. the study found that 94% of the strong CEO candidates sampled, scored high on consistently following through on their commitments. In other words: making delivery of commitments a habit really matters.

Are you looking for these qualities in your senior executive team? Would they enable you to have a superior team of A+ players? Would you feel comfortable grooming them as a senior management team when you’re ready to leave? If so, that will translate into an easier way to move on – and to get a higher sales multiple for your company!

To Win: Focus on Results, not Activities.

 We have a saying in our office:  “Don’t Confuse Activities with Results”. We find it applies to so many different aspects of our work, because many of us fall back to old habits thinking that larger size papers, more hours put into a project, higher costs for a project, etc.  necessarily make it better.   It doesn’t.

As a teacher, I have countless students who graduate college and start jobs for large consulting firms, investment banks, etc.,, where interns and junior associates are encouraged to work sometimes between 12-18 hours (or even longer), because the “culture” reinforces spending time of the project rather than measuring the quality of workmanship/productivity throughout the process. These young people later confess that they feel they make more mistakes and spend more time trying to check for and correct errors, because they’re sleep-deprived and not able to think things clearly.

Recently, one such person, after several months of “killing himself” and getting little positive feedback voluntarily choose to reduce his workload slightly, in order to focus on quality of results, not just throughput. Within two weeks, he received kudos from team members for offering new perspectives and insights making the work more valuable for the client and team; these results could not have been accomplished under the old regime.

Morten Hansen arrives at the same insight in his new book Great At Work: How Top Performers Do less, work Better and Achieve More. While working at a large consulting firm for several years, he often worked as many as 80-90 hours per week. One day,  he noticed that a colleague’s presentation “contained crisper insight, more compelling ideas” and wondered why. Talent might seem like an answer, but both had similar education and experience and had been selected for skills through the same rigorous screening process. One key difference is that she worked from 8 Am to 6 PM, no nights no weekends.  Was she doing better because she worked less?

This led to lots of research including a five-year survey of 5000 managers and employees in a wide-range of industries. What differentiated highest-rank performers? Top performers mastered selectivity. Whenever they could, they carefully selected which tasks, customers, meetings, ideas to undertake and which not. They applied “intensive, targeted effort on those few priorities in order to excel….Rather than simply pile on more hours, tasks, etc., they cut back.”

The researchers discovered that “just a few key work practices related to such selectivity, accounted for two-thirds of the variation in performance about the subjects. Talent, effort and luck undoubtedly mattered as well, but not nearly as much.”

The results make two points: (1) individually, we can change our work habits to perform at a higher level and (2) the organizationally, we should change our cultures to not focus/reward those who engage the most hours in the most activities, but enable those who, within accepted standards of performance, produce the most excellence results.

What’s your experience in this area?  Have you ever tried to change such a culture? What tips do you recommend companies adopt to cha shift cultures focused on maximizing people’s activity time to ones  focused on excellence in results.

Another Stereotype Hits the Dust

Working with Age Brilliantly and teaching the Psychology of Aging, I have the opportunity almost weekly to see current data destroy a stereotype. This week, I read one that affects the workplace – an increasingly important part of this industry  — as people plan to keep working in current jobs or new (full-time, part-time or volunteer) ones into their 70s+.

Harvard Business Review (February20, 2018) reported on a study conducted by Adam Grant and members of the Facebook to discover basic motivators for people at work. Focusing on three big “buckets”: career, community and cause, they found that Millennials, GenXers and Baby Bookers had the same core-values – and in the same order.  In other words, Millennials “want essentially the same things as the rest of us.”

What surprised the authors was that “contrary to the belief Millennials are more concerned with meaning and purpose”, there were virtually no differences among age groups. They actually found tiny differences: Millennials cared slightly less about cause, and slightly more about career than “older” people. In fact, adults 55 and over were the only group at Facebook who cared significantly more about cause than career and community.

For those of us focused on how our sense of purpose and passion changes as we age, all of this makes sense. Most prior studies reporting contrary data on Millennials, did so years ago, when they were in their late teens and early twenties. At that time, they were in school, lived in parents’ basements, and  had fewer obligations making it easier to focus on the bigger social issue. Today, they enter their thirties, more often buying apartments and houses, and getting married. Not unexpectedly with greater financial and social responsibilities, comes a shift in motivators.   Similarly, as older adults start shedding some of their responsibilities (e.g., kids through college, mortgages paid down further, sometimes completely, they can focus on the bigger picture.

So the stereotype of generational differences needs to be dropped; the more accurate approach is to understand the life-stages of people and their priorities. As the authors conclude (and we concur), when it comes to an ideal job, most of us are looking for a career, in which we’re hoping to find our what, who, and why.

What are your thoughts? Share them!

Presenting Personalized Purpose Increases Success

As Simon Sinek tells us, to motivate people you need to go beyond telling them WHAT they should do to giving them a WHY. And the WHY needs to be more than logical facts; it needs to have an emotional content for the audience.

Adam Grant, a Wharton professor, demonstrated this fact in a controlled study involving fundraisers. All of the university fundraiser were given call lists and were armed with reasons that people should donate: they’re raising funds for scholarships to help students who need them.  Some callers were able to share with the recipients a five minute story by a scholarship beneficiary. These recipients spent more than double the amount of time on the phone – but generated triple the donations as compared to the recipients who had no contact with the beneficiary’s story.

In other words, these callers had a double-emotional tool to help them with the calls: the callers were charged as they “felt” why their jobs existed and the recipients could identify with the beneficiary. In all probability, the success is synergistic 1+1=3, because they caller feels more involved in delivering the story.

This double-impact phenomenon is key to the success of many presenters. When a presenter designs a presentation to include personalized appeal – stories, graphic images, pictures and videos – two things happen: the audience connects better with the content and the presenter becomes feels more engaged with it as well. Again, a 1+1=3 synergy takes place because by taking the time to find just the right content to connect with the audience, the presenter’s authentic passion is heightened.

So don’t cut corners when delivering messages. As we discuss in our training/coaching programs, take the time to find compelling stories, pictures and quotes; your involvement in finding the right material increases your energy and power when presenting, and produces more winning results! What’s your experience in personalizing a presentation to make it more powerful?  Share with us.

Leadership Speed – Where Do Your Executives Stand?

In today’s fast-paced VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world) making correct decisions relatively quickly is important. It’s important for all members of the executive team, especially those who might advance to top positions in the company.

Zenger and Folkman address the issue “leadership speed” in Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution They created a “speed index” which focuses on the leader’s ability to:

  • Spot problems or tends early
  • Quickly respond to problems
  • Quickly make needed changes

They found that leaders in the top quartile of the index were rated substantially higher in their overall leadership skills – rated at the 83rd percentile on effectiveness; those in the bottom were rated at the 18% percentile. (You can assess yourself at Zengerfolkman.com/speed).

Most important, these leaders displayed eight sets of behaviors which accelerate pace. They are:

  • Innovating – a willingness to change; refusing to settle for good enough
  • Exhibiting strategic perspective – keeping the focus on high-priority goals and objectives
  • Displaying courage – standing up for needed
  • Setting stretch goals – focus on ultimate goals and inspire others to try to achieve them
  • Communicating powerfully – sharing ideas, encouraging engagement and listening carefully
  • Bringing external focus – participate in your and adjacent industries, expose yourself to new ideas
  • Taking initiative – with rock-solid integrity and high standards, focus on delivering results
  • Possessing knowledge and expertise – constantly be learning for continuous improvement

Are you looking for these behaviors when hiring key executives? Are you seeing superior performance by those who engage in these behaviors?  Share your experiences.

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