I was recently out in California having a conversation with one of my clients, the COO of a Fortune 500 firm that has engaged me to coach several of his senior leaders. Currently I am working with a handful of divisional CEOs, each running a 200 – 600 million dollar enterprise. During our talk the COO said something that really struck home for me and gave me a super idea of what he wanted me to do for him. “John, these are absolutely fantastic guys, but they can be tough to manage… please help make them easier to manage.”
Wow, that is a perfect statement because it gets right to the heart of why I am typically called into coach someone. The executives I coach are bright, talented, bold, creative, entrepreneurial, and driven… all truly valuable traits. But taken to the extreme, these same traits can make these sorts of folks very hard to manage and direct. What’s more, if they cannot learn how to control their behavior and fit in more comfortably in a senior role, the very things that made them successful up to this point in their career can actually lead to their demise.
Here is the kind of things I have heard numerous leaders tell their key managers:
- Know and run your business incredibly well. Make your numbers and keep your customers happy. If you cannot successfully run the business you are in charge of, in the end, nothing else matters. So priority number one is always: run a smooth, flawless operation that has a solid strategy and strongly contributes to the corporation.
- No surprises. I expect you to handle most of your business issues on your own, but if you do have a big problem let me know about it right away. I cannot help you if I do not know what is going on and trying to hide bad news from me will only hurt all of us much worse in the end. So I need courageous communication and 100% honesty, I have to be able to trust completely that you are telling me everything that is important – the good and the bad.
- Be able to take and give frank feedback. Yes we are friends and I respect you a great deal, but this is business. If I have to give you some uncomfortable feedback or make a hard decision that negatively impacts your business, do not take it personally, simply understand that it is what is best for the entire company and work hard to deal with it effectively. Conversely, I also need to know if you feel I am making a mistake or have overlooked something. You need to be able to deliver tough news to me without fear of retribution. It is a two-way street on this one.
- Surround yourself with the best people you can possibly find. Not only is this a solid strategy for business success, but it is also critical to business survival. If you are the smartest person in your division and the one that “has to do it or it won’t get done right” you are putting all of us in a very dangerous position. You need a deep bench of extremely talented people to help you succeed and ensure a smooth succession should it be necessary for someone else to step into your role. Always having to be the “Hero” is not a good tactic and will eventually lead to burn-out, stress, and failure.
- High IQ is not enough, you need a high EQ as well. Once you build a team of superstars, you have to be absolutely superb at motivating and supporting them. Leadership through intimidation, bullying, threats, and pressure will not succeed in the long run. Yes, you might be able to make your numbers and grind out profit for a while, but in time you will lose the support and trust of your employees. It is clear, people never give their best when they feel like they are getting beaten up. The leader’s job is to build a world-class team and then coach, direct and motive them to deliver world-class performance.
- Be able to make tough decisions in a timely manner. As your business grows so will the size of the decisions you need to make. Get a good team behind you that will be brutally honest with you, ask for lots of help, then make the best decision you can with the information at hand. Do not slow down the process – fast, flat and flexible is the goal.
- Think and act strategically. Firefighting problems, even if you are great at it, is not the way to run a business. Put out the fires and keep them out so you have the time to think long-term. You need to have a good handle on where you and your business should be in three-to-five years, not simply struggling to try to make a budget this quarter.
I am sure I have missed a few, this is just the things I have been hearing repeatedly from the top executives I work for. I welcome your input and ideas.
Hope this helped — John