Another year in the books (or the cloud, or wherever we store history these days). In 2019, we worked with executives in healthcare, technology, contact centers, financial services, higher education and more, and we’ve helped them become better leaders who developed more leaders. Along the way, we had the privilege to help their organizations grow, transform and improve, and in doing so, we saw some noteworthy trends we thought we’d share with you. If any of these sound familiar, learn vicariously from the collective and use this as a catalyst for improvement.
We’re all people first. Relationships before processes. Relationships instead of processes. It’s intuitive that employees do better when change is their idea; we’ve learned that the same thing holds true for the consultant-client relationship. More shut-up, more listen.
Leadership is a contact sport. We’re all busy with a host of really important organizational and administrative tasks, but if you’re in a leadership position, leading is your primary job and not an additional duty. It’s not that idiotic term “soft-skill” if it’s the one you need to do your basic job. You can keep busy staying in your office, but you can’t develop authentic, trusting relationships with those you lead from there. Don’t let busyness become an excuse for half-hearted leadership.
Even the best need help. Michael Jordan had a coach. Tiger Woods had a coach (back when he was good; now… who knows? ???? ). Tom Brady and LeBron James have coaches. Sheryl Sandberg, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai have coaches — even Oprah Winfrey has one. 40% of Fortune 500 CEOs fail within 18 months; 82% of them because of relationships. This isn’t a push for our executive coaching services; it’s a reminder (from our clients) that even those we consider superstars “need someone.” They need help to grow, develop, and continue their superstar status. Leading at the top is hard stuff, and having someone to advise and counsel — and just listen sometimes — is crucial.
Leadership development isn’t an event; it’s a process. If your leadership development program is solely an HR-led, one-and-done training seminar, you’re doing it wrong. It’s just not effective. Top leadership support for development is essential, and only individuals at the highest organizational levels can create a climate that encourages a continuous learning environment.
Often, you have to choose sides. Leadership—and consulting—has risks. In this profession, too many try to be all things to all people, tripping over non-committal PC verbiage. We must stop. Sometimes we have to tell the CEO that the SVP of Operations has the better plan to consider. It’s what’s best for the client that must always drive our actions, advice and counsel.
We can do two things at once. No, no one is advocating individual multi-tasking, but organizational multi-tasking is a must. We simply cannot focus on just one strategy, direction or objective. We must have the leadership bandwidth to move multiple objectives forward while still dealing with the occasional organizational fire.
Process cannot overcome culture. There is no single 12-page Guide to Leadership; if there were, I’d have written it, become a kazillionaire with my own island and you wouldn’t be invited. If an outfit’s culture is not conducive to, say, empowered decision-making, then for Pete’s sake don’t allow some outside consultant to teach or coach on empowerment or high-level delegation. Work on the culture first, then use leadership “pull” instead of consultant “push” to marshal through necessary objectives and behavior changes.
Talk’s cheap; meaningful conversations are priceless. Most senior leadership teams declare themselves to be great communicators… and they’re usually not. Not with each other or their employees. Think about the conversations you have around the conference room table. Are they about hard things, or are they guarded to ensure everyone “gets along?” Trust is never built hiding behind the thin veneer of playing nice; it requires authentic and meaningful conversations. Collaboration and deference look a lot alike. They aren’t.
Don’t stop doing what works. We saw this so many times in 2019 that we felt compelled to remind you. If you’ve changed a process (or put a new one into place) to correct a problem, don’t quit following it when the problem goes away. That’s like stopping your blood pressure medicine because your blood pressure isn’t high anymore. It’s hard enough to implement a new process and get it to stick; having to do it twice is self-induced suffering.
Check your ego at the door. When leaders let their ego influence decisions, they become deaf to the messages their behavior conveys, and blind to how others perceive those messages. Ego is the major culprit behind leaders who won’t admit they might have been wrong or refuse to show vulnerability. When the little green monster keeps us from making good objective decisions, we lose trust not only from those affected but also from those who watched – and don’t even think no one was watching.
I can only imagine what I’ll learn from my clients in 2020.