leadership

The 4 Most Important Leadership Behaviors

When I work with presentation clients, the starting point is to identify what’s the most important thing the audience needs to know to get them to act in the desired manner (e.g., invest in the company pitching the deal). Reading a McKinsey article, Decoding Leadership: What Really Matters, I realized that as a leadership coach, I face the same dilemma when helping executives become more effective leaders:  identify which of the many leadership qualities are most critical.

The researchers, using their own experience and relevant academic literature came up with a comprehensive list of 20 distinct leadership traits. They then surveyed 189 people in 81 diverse organizations around the world, and the grouped the sample by quartiles so they could compare the top and bottom in terms of leadership effectiveness. They discovered that 4 of the behaviors explained 895 of the variance between strong and weak organizations!

The four behaviors are:

  • Solving problems effectively: Key is gathering and analyzing the right data, and then considering the right options that can lead to effective decision-making.
  • Operating with a strong results orientation: Creating a vision is only the start, following through to achieve results with efficiency, productivity, and prioritization of highest-value work is key.
  • Seeking different perspectives: In this VUCA world, leaders need to monitor trends, grasp changes in the environment, encourage employees to contribute meaningful ideas, differentiate important issues from those which aren’t, and give appropriate weight to stakeholder concerns. Success here involves sound analysis and avoidance of biases which often affect decisions. (Vistage CEOs engage in issue-processing sessions each month which reinforce the importance of this approach. It leads to incredible results (see case studies) and model the behavior in their companies.
  • Supporting others: These leaders understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in others, they build trust and inspire colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote efficiency, allay unwarranted fears and prevent energies from producing internal conflicts.

Obviously, different business situations often require different styles of leadership, but knowing which four behaviors provide a solid foundation will help every leader.  What do you think? What’s your experience with these behaviors?  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.

It’s the Fresh Perspective that Often Wins

“What Makes a CEO ‘Exceptional’”, an article published last April in McKinsey Quarterly caught my attention as I constantly want to help the CEOs achieve more. It focuses is on what differentiated the top 5% of CEO performers among a group of 600 CEOs at S&P 500 companies between 2004 and 2014. These leaders had to guide companies through unusual circumstances, including bankruptcy proceedings and returning successful to the public markets.

The study discovered that CEOs hired externally tend to pull more strategic levers than leaders promoted from inside. Within their first years of tenure they are:

  • More likely to conduct a strategic review and initiate a cost-reduction program
  • Less likely to engage in:
    • Organizational redesign
    • Business/product launch
    • Management reshuffle

Why? These leaders may have been hired to bring fresh perspectives about marketing to the customers. They are less sensitive to “sacred cows” and “internal cultural politics”, which may restrict the vision and efforts of leaders promoted from inside. At the same time, they may not want to overload the company with changes, so they focus first on strategic shifts and then use first-hand experience with staff before making structural changes to support them. In contrast, many of the leaders promoted from within the company may have been chosen to do what they did – continue the trajectory of existing strategy and culture. (It would be interesting to see how internally promoted leader who has radically promoted new ideas compare to these other two groups.)

Thus, the issue for the Board of Directors when choosing CEOs and other senior leaders is whether they have a clear understanding of what changes are needed, now. In a VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), with technological, demographic and global power changes that may require new conceptual frameworks (e.g., a “Blue Ocean Shift), it’s the fresh perspective that apparently wins.  Moving around the furniture on the Titanic only makes sense when you understand where you should be headed.

Organizations should hold annual Strategic Leadership Advances (SLAs) to challenge themselves on what’s needed for success in the coming year. (We don’t call them “Management Retreats” because leaders must always move forward.) Using outside facilitators to inspire fresh thinking and observe the current leadership culture makes lots of sense, if you’re seeking an exceptional result!

What are you doing to make sure that your top leaders have the fresh perspective and wind-behind-their sales to support improvements in the coming year?  Share with us!

Four Elements of a Successful Leader Development Program

At the end of last year, I reflected on how to improve the leader development services that I  provide to CEOs through Vistage Worldwide’s multi-service ecosystem (e.g., Peer Advisory Boards and Vistage Inside for executive teams, which provides), a statement in a McKinsey article (“What’s Missing in Leadership Development?” by Feser, Nielsen and Renni); August 2017) caught my attention. “There is overwhelming evidence that the plethora of services, books, articles, seminars, conferences… a global industry estimated to be worth more than $50 Billion – are delivering disappointing results….just 10 percent said their leadership development initiatives have a clear business impact.”

The authors concluded that four sets of intervention appear to matter most:

  • Contextualizing the program based on the organization’s position and strategy
  • Ensuring reach across the organization
  • Designing the program for the transfer of learning
  • Using systems reinforcement to lock in change.

Each year, I review the results of last year’s program with clients as we forge next year’s strategic goals. Are sales and profits increasing – and why or why not? Are human and capital resources being maximized, and if not what’s necessary? How is the market – changes in customers’ needs and competition – impacting on the company? Do we have a clear and executable strategy for the next year, with KPIs measuring the effectiveness of execution? What else needs to change? Are we becoming a Continuous Improvement Learning Organization (CILO)?

Apparently, our leader development programs are working. As a result of regular monthly meetings to review progress, improve through executive coaching, fresh perspectives and adoption of new tools shared by Vistage experts and CEO peers, 24/7 access to a Chair/coach and our focus on becoming a CILO, is enabling our leaders and their organizations to achieve new heights: one member’s company has quadrupled in sales and profits during the five years we’ve been working together.

Whatever leader development system you use, heed the advice of these authors, as we are.

For more information about Vistage’s potential help you and your team have a super year in 2018, feel free to contact me!  Remember, Vistage’s 21,000 leaders are in 20 countries, served by over 600 Chair/facilitators; so I can refer you to another local Chair if you’re not in NYC!

EQ vs Technical Skills: What Really Matters for Career Advancement

Recently, Google decided to data-mine their own employee reviews and promotions to identify what factors got people promoted to leadership roles within the company. While Google has a reputation for hiring and promoting based on technical expertise, the results surprised them.

They determined eight skills that the promoted managers possessed that others did not. Listed in rank order, they are:

  1. Coach your team members well.
  2. Lead your team without micromanaging them.
  3. Take an interest in team members’ success.
  4. Focus on results.
  5. Be a good listener and communicator.
  6. Focus on career development for your employees.
  7. Develop a strategy for your team.
  8. Possess technical skills to advise your team when needed.

Three are skills:  #8 is a technical, #7 is strategic, and #4 is tactical execution.

Five (#1, #2, #3, #5, and #6) are people-management and emotional intelligence (EQ) type skills.

In other words, it seems that Google hires for technical IQ type talent, but promotes for EQ oriented skills.

Experience with the CEOs I work with who have technical staff suggests that this is true for many organizations. To lead a team of engineers, you don’t have to be more brilliant than everyone else. You need enough technical knowledge to hire the right people and to ask the right questions. After that, executive effectiveness depends on listening (skill #5) to your smartest engineers and developing rising stars and helping them manage teams of their own (skills 1, 2, and 3). In other words, you need to be a coaching leader. And it you want to expand and take on more projects, you need to give your rising stars a path to upward mobility – which means training them to also be coaching leaders. The more sub-projects they can manage, the more effective you become in creating a profitable, growing company

It’s one of the reasons our Vistage CEOs this year are focusing on creating performance –driven job descriptions with measurable KPIs, understanding people’s Culture Index scores and learning more about how to measure leadership skills.  What’s your experience with EQ when it comes to career advancement and corporate growth? Share them with us!

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