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.
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.
Leadership was a prominent topic at InterimExecs’ latest Rapid Executive Deployment (RED) Roundtable event in Chicago. Panel experts discussed leadership early and often as they reflected on change initiatives, the impact of automation on executives and workforces, and the values that make great executive leaders.
A recurring theme that cut across speakers and topics was the importance of having the right team in place, starting at the top. Executives set the tone for the entire company. Their values trickle down and play an outsized role in the organization’s success or failure.
“The message from our perspective is that if we have the right team and the right value set, I think any company can find a position and outmaneuver the competition,” said Greg Jones, Managing Partner at the Edgewater Fund, who spoke on day two of the Roundtable with Brian Boorstein of Granite Creek Capital Partners. “I’m looking for someone who puts the organization and the values of the business ahead of their own,” added Greg. “If you don’t have that, it’s a disaster in any scenario.”
Brian also singled out selfishness as one of the least desirable executive traits. “The worst people are those that are really only concerned with themselves,” he said. “If we don’t have the right management team to start, we’re in trouble. We generally go to InterimExecs to find people to help us out.”
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.
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.
The UK — and everyone else – are anxiously awaiting March 29 when Article 50 will either be extended or revoked. If neither occurs, the UK must leave, deal or no deal. Only a few weeks away, one thing is certain. Everything will change. Brexit could turn UK trade on its head.
Brexit is forcing organizations to cope with immense uncertainty. How does a business strategically plan with an unknown number of unknowns? The anxiety of Brexit has halted UK companies’ transformative efforts in their tracks. Many experts are hypothesizing just what consequences will result, from ports unable to process inbound or outbound shipments, to decreased operational inefficiencies, to economic stagnation.
“Scenario planning in today’s 24-hour information culture and the dynamic global nature of business means that CEOs are being pressured by investors, the business media as well as the increasingly influential special public bodies, to explain their strategic direction and the benefits this will bring to customers as well as shareholders. This was challenging before Brexit but is now more so and a lot of CEOs are struggling with this,” explains Gaby Weidlich, a UK-based interim CEO.
RED Team Member, Michelle Barnes, was recently appointed by Colorado Governor, Jared Polis, to lead the Colorado Department of Human Services as Executive Director. With an annual budget of over $2 billion, the state department oversees programs ranging from the state’s child welfare division to youth corrections and mental hospitals.
A four year government appointment, the assignment has many parallels to Michelle’s work as an interim executive, where she parachuted into many challenging situations. As a expert Interim CEO, Michelle has led many non-profit and mission based organizations going through change, transition and transformation across a variety of industries from environmental, to outdoor industry, health and medical, youth leadership, entertainment, affordable senior housing, and human service.
“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.”
No organization is immune to challenges, not if it has any ambition. But how do we as owners and leaders put our strategy hat on to see down the road, or attempt to see, to predict where markets will go, how customers will act and react? To play the great game of chess in the real world – which is strategy.
Sometimes that is easier said than done. The eloquent Mike Tyson put it so well when he said, “everybody has a plan until I punch them in the mouth.” We would do well to remember how limited our brilliant strategies in fact are, how fragile in the face of ambiguity, uncertainty and future black swan events.
Just look to history to see how companies have been blindsided with the punch they never saw coming. Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975, but put launch on hold in fear of cannibalizing their film business. We all know the story from there….Kodak who? Or take Blockbuster – which failed to pivot when Netflix showed up. And then Borders and Barnes & Noble, crushed under the Amazon onslaught. And the examples of business strategy gone wrong go on…