While many companies are facing new challenges and increasing volatility, we’ve found that most leaders’ responses and outcomes tend to be unique. While quarantined with COVID-19, Todd Herman, author of The Alter Ego Effect, decided to interview 29 CEOs to hear how they described their circumstances.
Each company was experiencing a downturn. Herman analyzed each CEO’s word choice and language to see how they were reacting, noting the importance of a leader’s pronouncements: “words create reality.” He saw big differences in how executives were wired and reacted to the economic rollercoaster. His findings led him to divide the CEOs into three groups:
Fear-Focused CEOs – emotional, concerned, and overwhelmed. Tended to use negative future pacing words like ‘struggle’, ‘fear’, ‘hard’, or ‘difficult’. Spent the most time watching media or finger pointing rather than what could be done.
Unfocused CEOs – dismissive, uncertain, wait and see. Talked about getting a plan, but tended to use the word ‘plan’ in a negative or needs-based way.
Strategy Focused CEOs – take and use what’s given, focused on growth/opportunity. Positive. Spending time leaning into networks.
The worldwide outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is
showing that crises tend to bring out the worst—and the best—in people.
Amid frenzied panic buying, supply hoarding, and finger-pointing, we’re also seeing individuals and businesses step up to help others. If the cloud hovering over the economic system has a silver lining, it’s that temporary changes to how companies define their mission statement could become permanent. Instead of focusing only on their bottom line, businesses might emerge from the crisis more focused on the greater good. In fact, many companies are already leading the way and providing inspiration during these uncertain times.
Anxiety is in abundance this Friday the 13th. We write from our mostly empty office building where both cautiousness and outright fear from COVID-19 seem to be in full effect.
Stock markets worldwide have become nonstop rollercoasters, now mostly plummeting downhill. Grocery stores are packed as people stock up on supplies. Panic seems to be at the root of many news articles and communications. As an owner, investor, or member of the management team it can be difficult to navigate the chaos to determine what this means for the future of your company and employees.
As owners and leaders it’s our obligation to step up during crisis – to be a light to those around us. This is at the heart of what we do. InterimExecs RED Team – an elite team of executive change agents — often run straight into the fire, doing what is necessary to listen, diagnose, set plans and execute. The successful leader must be the calm in the midst of the storm – a point of stabilization for the team and a trusted partner for those around them. So how should we react to the events around us?
Jen Giacchino was working as a recruiter in tech and every company seemed to be facing the same hurdle: how to hire women and with diversity, build an even stronger team. “Before I was a recruiter I just assumed there was a lot of gender bias in the hiring process, but when I got there I realized that a lot of these companies are desperate to hire women, and I saw that there were not a lot of women in the pipeline to be hired,” Jen says.
After volunteering with an after-school program for girls taking computer science classes, she realized that many of these young girls in seventh and eighth grade had a high aptitude toward learning tech programs but were lacking in confidence. As technology is actively impacting more and more of our daily lives from how we engage with communities and family, to how we perceive ourselves through social media, something had to change.
Jen dove into research and began engaging with the community to see what could be done. She ultimately teamed up with two other women, Dr. Emily Harburg and Anna Bethune, who were both passionate about closing the gender gap and empowering girls in tech. Emily and Anna were also concurrently pursuing PhDs looking at challenges from how to develop a confidence mindset in girls around technology to how best to integrate technology into education systems when kids don’t have prior access.
Our world, our universe is characterized by constant change. Stars are born and die, storms transform the landscape, nations rise and fall, people change over time. In the business world economies grow and collapse, business models evolve, industries transform and even the Top 100 list of leading companies completely changes in a matter of a few years.
But sometimes the speed and scope of change is extremely rapid, its consequences unforeseeable and unpredictable. This makes planning and decision making highly risky because it is so difficult to see what the future holds. “Everybody has a plan,” said championship boxer Mike Tyson, “until they get punched in the face.”
To help explain the often sudden, fluid, rapidly evolving and dynamic forces of change – that “punch in the face” — the U.S. Army War College created the term V.U.C.A. to describe and ultimately deal with highly dynamic, shifting and challenging situations.
“Write down a change you would like to make in an organization that you are currently with…or change in the marketplace. Any kind. It can be a big change, it could be a small change – strategic, tactical, something you want people to start doing, something you want people to stop doing,” says Jeff Leitner as he looks around a room filled with CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, and other C-Suite executives at this year’s InterimExecs’ RED Team meeting. He continues “You’re change is absolutely, almost certainly going to fail. It’s not your fault. It has nothing to do with your particular genius – has nothing to do with your insights. Changes fail. They almost always fail.”
Jeff Leitner knows a thing or two about change and innovation. He spent the last 20 years improving organizations from the US State Department to NASA, Starbucks, Panera, and the Dalai Lama Center for Peace. In a world where innovation and disruption is key, the question is why does change rarely stick in organizations, markets, and society? Jeff has dedicated years to studying why change fails and in his most recent speaking circuit, is sharing what leaders can do to be more effective in leading change initiatives.
It used to be that business was for-profit or non-profit, and never the twain shall meet. Companies were profit-driven or purpose-driven, but not really both. A survey of Fortune 1000 CEOs and C-suite executives found that 51% believe there is an inherent tension or conflict between a company being profit- or purpose-driven. Such thinking is now becoming outmoded and has reached something of a turning point.
This departure from long-held economic thinking could be a revolutionary change for shareholders, however, many investors are coming to see greater employee purpose and personal “why” working to support long-term success for the company, and in an altruistic sense, the world. Corporate America has taken a look around and some conscientious players noticed that resources were being stripped at an unsustainable rate and decided to alter the way they were doing business. Now, it’s commonplace for a company to have a defined corporate social purpose beyond generating a profit.
After spending years or even generations building a successful family business, some of the toughest conversations circle around succession planning. What happens when an owner steps down from the business? Will it be passed down to family members, and is that individual ready to lead? Will it be prepared for sale, and will an owner get the value they want from an exit? What are the benefits of succession planning and are they worthwhile? How do you write a succession plan? The list of questions can make your head spin.
Family-owned businesses in the US generated 64% of the national GDP and created 78% of new jobs in 2018 while employing more than half the country. Family businesses of all sizes are vital to our economy yet in a 2016 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, only 23% of family businesses had a full succession plan in place.
We just experienced possibly the largest wave of CEO departures in recent history. Was it due to falling profits? Poor succession planning? Or is there more drama behind the scenes? Think firings, hurt egos, politics, and personal infighting. Author Isabelle Nüssli uncovers one of the big reasons for turmoil at the top ― the fractious relationships between egos at the executive level, particularly between CEO and chairperson. Hence the brilliant title of her new book, Cockfighting: Solving the Mystery of Unconscious Sabotage at the Top of the Corporate Pyramid.
“When you read the news, usually the reason [given for the CEO leaving] was strategy misalignment or different leadership style or different chemistry, etc. But the story that is not put out to the public is that there was a relational conflict, which apparently is the case most of the time,” says Nüssli.
“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another”, says Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Innovation has been accelerating for the past 300 years, but with today’s pace of technological advances, Schwab says the speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. We are now entering a 4th Industrial Revolution where when compared to previous industrial revolutions, we are evolving at an exponential rate rather than linear rate.
Schwab describes: “The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”