Leadership

Make Better Decisions

The ultimate purpose of making presentations to an audience is to guide their decisions on an issue. Whether the presentation is designed to inform, educate, inspire, motivate or activate the audience, the speaker’s job is to provide the logical and emotional foundation to enable the audience to make the desired decision.

Social scientists have identified countless many variables that affect the degree to which the message communicated will be compelling and persuasive. Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist is a recognized expert in this area (e.g., Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and Pre-Suasion: Channeling Attention for Change). As a social psychologist who created businesses (Brilliant Image and Presentation Excellence) to help over 5000 leaders make more effective presentations), we came up with an easy-to-remember foundational formula to guide our clients: ADAP: Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations.

As a Vistage Chair, Executive Coach, and CEO of Age Brilliantly, my mind has been focused on the other side of the room: how to help people making decisions make the best ones possible. In the former roles, the goal is on leadership and personal decision-making; in the latter, the goal is to map out our and mange one’s life so adults can lead fulfilling lives which may well last till 100+.  For instance, we know that there are many conscious and unconscious variables that affect decision-making such as blind-spots, cognitive dissonance, etc. Even the type of decision matters, as Daniel Kahneman, et al. have shown with System I and System 2 thinking (e.g., Thinking Fast and Slow).

As a result, I reread an excellent book discussing ways in which we can increase the odds of making  better decisions: Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. As I start using more discipline to my own decision-making, and influence the others that I have the privilege of serving, I thought I’d share some key points.

The Heath Brothers identify “four villains of decision making”, discuss the many forms in which they take place and share real world stories so we can identify with the problem and value of a better solution. Here are the solutions to the four challenges:

  • Widen Your Options:  Many times the choices we’re offered are narrow: Should we do X or not? Should we do X or Y? The tyranny of OR is that we’ve eliminated our ability to think through other options that exist – and which may be superior. So when given a narrow option, think AND – what else might be possible. Often there is a third alternative, and often a fourth, fifth, etc.
  • Reality-Test Your Assumptions. Rather than accept the limited facts that you have, be curious and find a way to test or experiment with the assumptions. Years ago, I started supervising students who had little exposure to the real-world of working, and barely knew what their skills, passions and purpose were. The goal is to provide these interns (650+) with the opportunity to explore options and challenge assumptions in the real world.
  • Attain Distance Before Deciding.  Emotions often rule when quick decisions have to be made. High-pressure sales people (sometimes including yourself!) build on the emotions to get a fast decision. The better strategy is to give yourself time; get more input from other people who’ve been in analogous situations and can attest to the impact; distance yourself from the decision, by imaging what your old-wiser self (or other respected person) might tell you to do!
  • Prepare to be Wrong.  We want to be right and we become overconfident quite quickly on how we think the future will play out. Think through what might go wrong before it happens; for instance, a pre-mortem imagines what could go wrong and forces you to play devil’s advocate and uncover contrary facts and opinions that might go wrong. Is there “groupthink pressure taking place? Better to discover problems you’re ignoring before a poor decision takes place.

At this time in all our lives, as we make post-pandemic decisions for ourselves, our loved ones, our companies, our country, etc., think about the decisions you need to make and try to make the best decisions possible.   Then share with us which strategies helped you produce better decisions!

Align Your Executive Team for Peak Performance

One of the most important elements of a successful company is a strong Executive Team.  Whether you’re forging ahead with a new business strategy or considering selling your company, it’s the power of the team to coordinate their efforts to create individual and collective peak performances that really counts. As John Warrillow, author of Built to Sell, and other experts in helping owners develop lucrative business exits note, it’s their ability to carry on the business as well – and often better – without  you that significantly affects the final price.

Especially during times of great change – whether it’s the switch to post-lockdown hybrid workforces, new product lines with new suppliers and distribution channels, or workforce utilization due to automation and AI – it’s important that the Executive Team stays on the same wavelength to collaborate effectively and efficiently, and not end up unaligned and in silos.

It’s for this reason that I stress with the CEOs with whom I work the importance of coaching direct reports and opening stronger lines of communication. Indeed, Marshall Goldsmith, a leading executive coach, recently shared 6 questions that would be appropriate for these coaching sessions. They are:

·   Where are we going?  Are we in sync with the current vision, goals and priorities? Are we aligned?!

·   Where are you going? Is your part really aligned with the company and other divisions?

·   What is going well?

·   What can be improved?

·   How can I help?

After asking these questions, switch the focus with:  “What suggestions do you have for me?” This opens the door to a two way dialogue.

With such coaching, you can identify cracks in the company’s strategy and be able to repair them.

Also be sure that you and your team have full “conversational capacity”. He created a “conversational martial art of business communication” that allows teams to perform well and remain open, balanced, and non-defensive as they tackle their most troublesome issues.  For more information, see Craig Weber’s Conversation Capacity  and https://weberconsultinggroup.net).

Final note: Recently, Vistage introduced a set of new leadership programs for managers that they supervise.  For details on the Executive Leadership Programs, contact me at jerry.cahn@vistage.com)

Become a Transformational Leader

Do you want to be a Transformational Leader?

Recently, Vistage Worldwide featured a story about a CEO with whom I have the pleasure of working.

See Perspectives Magazine, Vistage is launching its own podcast program and asked us to participate. It should be available this month on iTunes. You can hear it here: Transformational Leader Podcast

As you know, leadership is the art of mobilizing a group of people to act toward a common goal. The ultimate standard for leadership, as former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower explained is the art of getting someone to do what you want done because he /she wants to do it.

In today’s fast paced world, most leaders focus on fixing the problems their companies now experience and are likely to confront tomorrow. When the pandemic began, leaders reacted immediately to meet the needs of their companies, employees and customers. As the pandemic winds down and we begin the next phase of forming a “new normal” (which will not be returning to the old one!), leaders are focused on tomorrow.  Similarly, as automation, AI and robotics eliminate or change people’s jobs filled with routinized work, leaders are focused on “upskilling”- helping employees to acquire new skills for a job that they to which they can be transferred. Leaders’ focus on today and tomorrow is the result of the “Tyranny of Now”.

Transformational leaders have a longer-term growth mindset with a wider-angled lens.  They focus on the “Day After Tomorrow”; they adhere to Stephen R .Covey’s second habit: “begin with the end in mind”. They engage with the entire ecosystem – their employees, customers, communities served, etc. and use their wider-angled lens to test alternatives scenarios for what might happen. Only by aligning sets of solutions for the longer-term can they achieve the transformative vision that drives them.

We see this all around us. In the earliest days of mankind, we learned to mobilize people to fetch water and bring it to the site to douse the flames. Transformational leaders took a longer-term, wider-angled, ecosystem approach to save more lives and spare more property through fire prevention codes and use of fire-retardant products.

Think about the “side-effects” of industrial processes that create “pollutants” which are reducing the habitability of our planet for our children and future generations. As Bill Gates recently noted, we’ve focused on address the “low-hanging fruit” solutions, such as recycling, reducing gas consumption with electric vehicles, etc. In his book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, he shares more difficult, long-term approaches that can have greater actual impact.

We see this in the companies led by transformative leaders. Henry Ford believed we could speed up horse-and-buggy-type transportation. Instead of raising faster horses or building faster carriages, he created an assembly line system to manufacture the “horseless carriage”. Then he realized he needed to change its availability to make it a financial success; so he increased the workers’ pay so they could afford to buy cars and serve as “influencers” to popularize the new industry.

The CEO I mentioned at the beginning of this article is Ed Bosco, a Managing Partner of ME-Engineers, who developed a transformative company that, simultaneously, attracts high quality employees to work on long-term projects by clients who have exciting and engineering challenges. Imagine creating habitats not only for people in offices, schools and other buildings, but also iconic facilities, such as large sports stadiums around the world (e.g., major tennis, basketball, soccer facilities); imagine working on the science behind a zoo’s habitat for gorillas and another for butterflies; in addition, he focuses on the environment needed by one of the world’s largest space telescopes that needs to peer into space clearly, 24/7. With his expertise and reputation for being able to handle such “Extreme” projects, it’s not surprising that, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic , he was asked to join a global task force focused on opening up large venues. He knows that with this expertise  he can help people re-open safely their offices, restaurants and other establishments, etc. Moreover, he knows that it would truly engage his staff and excite them to take on other challenging projects, like addressing the impact of climate change.

Key to the success of his business is his understanding of the ecosystem in which he lives. He works with schools and scholarships that advance STEM training for students as early as high school.  By maintaining long-term relationships with them, they become referral sources for future top-notch employee candidates as well as employees.

Unlike other companies that focus on transactions with clients rather than long-term relationships, his employees don’t leave after a few years. They stay to work on the long-term, challenging and exciting projects presented by great clients. Moreover, since the company views itself as a “Continuous Improvement Learning Organization” (CILO) – facilitating the professional growth of employees – they stay to use their new skills and experiences in new and often elevated working positions.  In other words, the company, which uses a Team of Teams organizational structure to foster creativity, agility, and teamwork enables its employees and clients to mutually reinforce long-term, professional growth through long-term relationships taking on more challenging jobs.

In sum, there are many rewards to being a transformative leader and working with them. If you want to become one and/or improve at being one, let me know.  For instance, the transformational leaders with whom I work had the opportunity to learn from two experts at recent CEO Meetings. 

  • One is self-exploratory: “Your Extraordinary Why”. Who we are? What are we passionate about? What is it that we and our companies are uniquely gifted to accomplish?”    
  • The second is: “Action Dialogue: Piercing Conversation”. Since decision effectiveness dependent on information others provide to solve problems, how do we overcome their reluctance to speak candidly and directly about tough issues? The results can be information cover-up, distortion and misinformation. How do we facilitate honest, direct and authentic conversations?

Vistage AWorldwide, serves 23,000 CEOs in the US and 20 countries. If you want to learn about a local Board, email me (jerry.cahn@vistage.com) and I’ll make an introduction!

Tips to Better Coach Your Executives

As companies grow, it becomes increasingly important for CEOs and other executives to improve their coaching skills so they can help direct reports take on more responsibilities and be successful. The need is even more important now that staff are distributed rather than working in a central office; micro-management as a back-up isn’t as easy.  Going forward, workers need to self-manage and be accountable to themselves and team members.

As a vistage Chair, I have the privilege of working with 800 other chair-facilitators-coaches who constantly seek to improve our own skills at helping the CEOs with whom we work, but also share insights. Recently, it published an article, 9 Powerful Questions Coaches Ask CEOs, in which other chairs highlighted ideas which leaders at all levels can use to assist their direct reports. 

I thought I’d share a few of them to stimulate your thinking. You can substitute the word department or division for company, since it applies.

  • Are you running your company or leading it?  Too many leaders spend more time than they should being “hands-on” with activities and tactical, rather than taking the time to be strategic and focus on making sure everyone is asking the big strategic, cultural and leadership questions. Leaders should allocate 20% of their time to being strategic. (That’s one of the hidden benefits of Vistage – it sets aside 7% of a leader’s time to focus on strategic growth issues.)
  • Are you more of a fire-fighter or a fire-preventer? We all want to feel successful – but are we doing the things that add the most value? At our initial coaching session, one CEO admitted that he spent 50% of his time firefighting – and recognized the need to change how he and his team operate. 
  • Are meetings focused on the problems needing to be solved or the value of different solutions? At our Board meetings, we use Issue processing to enable members to resolve their biggest challenge by getting fresh perspectives and accountability. The format serves as a model they can use in their companies as well: each member is expected to identify the issues around the problems and then propose the alternative solutions under consideration. 
  • What habits do you have which hold you back from being the kind of leader you want to be?  We’re often focused on (new) things we want to do, without understanding that the best way to get rid of a bad habit is to substitute a good one for it. Similarly, you manage your time better when you recognize that, to have 4 extra hours a week to work on a project, you have to give away 4 hours of activities.

What questions help you coach your team more effectively? Share them with us.  If you feel that Vistage might be a tool to help you be a more strategic leader, feel free to contact me to discuss experiencing it! (Jerry.cahn@vistage.com)

Are You Also Selling the Invisible?

As entrepreneurs and business leaders, we focus on building the best possible set of features into our products and services and then marketing them.  Yet, there is another and sometimes better way: selling the invisible – features and processes that are not obvious in product design.  

Recently, a client asked why our ADAP Formula (Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations) was so successful. I explained that by looking for visible and invisible factors affecting audience decision-making, we could appeal to whatever we thought was strongest. For instance, when a company selling women’s dressy-dresses tried to think through how to sell itself into a new Private Equity firm, we explained that the prior failure was due to an invisible factor: the buyer’s team consisted only of men. They thought about tuxedos, which can be worn several times; yet women need a fresh dress for every special event.  By re-focusing their attention before even starting the presentation, we had their attention that this was a much larger opportunity than they thought. It worked.

Remember the old advertisement for Dunkin Donuts?  “It’s 4 AM and time to make the donuts”. It focused on an invisible feature – dedication to FRESHNESS.  Note, it didn’t focus on the observable size, flavors, tastes, etc.   When Krispy Kreme was launched, they similarly focused on an invisible feature: the smell of freshness: they piped out of the kitchen into the street the smell of making fresh donuts. It became a craze and helped give them competition directly with Dunkin Donuts.

One of our Vistage members just competed against a bigger company on providing a service. A small part of it required installation of a unit. Using the same kind of “Prefab-design and preparation” that leading home builders now use to save on site-labor-costs, he submitted a bid which included installation in a fraction of the time of the competitor – saving time and money for the client.

As the member and I discuss growth, I realized that his invisible "competitive advantage" in logistics and distribution would make his service capability much more attractive. Indeed, his service which helps companies reduce energy costs on a sustainable basis through monitoring, also allowed companies to control airflow in buildings (which reduces Covid exposure) – which appeals to a much larger audience. 

Think about “invisible" practices you use in your business that can get the attention of prospects and customers. It can be a real true “Competitive Advantage”.

Years ago, I read Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith and incorporated it into my former company, Brilliant Image, a 24/7 presentation service bureau, where most customers could not tolerate late delivery. Since then, I refer to this concept in my marketing courses. While teaching in China the last time, another professor saw me re-reading it and tipped me off to the Youtube video by his wife:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=4HdA924aqbM&ab_channel=ChristineClifford.  

Enjoy!

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