Category Archives: CEO

The Rise of the CEO

What if your organization’s CEO was the most trusted person among the staff? Among citizens in your community? In the United States or around the globe? If you are the CEO, what if it was you?

There are more than a billion mentions of CEOs on Google. CEOs going to jail. CEOs threatening to “axe” mediocre staff. CEOs who are the best performing executives in the world. CEOs accused of sexual harassment and misogyny. CEOs who are activist leaders. There are debates about the merits of female CEOs in a world overwhelmingly populated by male CEOs. There are stories of high-profile companies with low-profile CEOs. All manner of debate, conversation, and confounding analysis.

None of it explains the recently released 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, which reveals trust has changed profoundly in the past year. People have shifted their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their “employers.” Globally, 75% of people trust “my employer” to do what is right.

• 58% of employees look to their employers to be a trustworthy source of information about contentious societal issues.
• 67% of employees expect employers will join them in taking action on societal issues.
• 71% of employees believe it’s critically important for “my CEO” to respond to challenging times.
• 76% of the general population concur – they say they want CEOs to take the lead on change instead of waiting for government to impose it.

Uncertainty Is The Only Certainty

Stephen Kehoe, chair of the reputation practice at Edelman, points out that “in the face of heightened expectations on CEOs to step into the trust vacuum left by government, pressure is on them to do more – and quickly – to invoke a sense of certainty, reassurance and confidence with employees as well as the general public.”

If, as Kehoe writes, “CEOs must clearly also consider the significantly heightened expectations on them to be advocates for change in a world that is still confused and uncertain,” a critical question remains. How does a CEO lead in a world that is “still confused and uncertain?” As writer Kirsten Ludowig cleverly noted, “For CEOs, uncertainty is the only certainty.”

Michael Ventura’s new book “Applied Empathy, The New Language of Leadership.” explores the significant improvements in customer satisfaction and new business opportunities when companies deploy empathy as part of their overall product and service development cycles. Consumers are increasingly savvy about what makes truly great products and services. Under the right circumstances, when asked to contribute their ideas and opinions, consumers – residential and commercial alike – will happily share their insights.

The momentary discomfort of a cold toilet seat brought about several innovations to warm things up. The push to eliminate the use of toilet paper will drive others. The commercial application of automatic flush toilets, hands-free faucets, towel dispensers, hand dryers, and even those nifty paper dispensers next to the bathroom door, keeping customers from grabbing the door pull bare handed, reflect empathy for the concerns (and fears) shared by travelers, hotel guests, and consumers. While most of us believe our sense of empathy is well-developed, there are always lessons to be learned. The effort by U.S. airlines to shrink the size of the standard airplane bathroom from 48 inches to 24 inches wide may be distancing empathy for and from travelers.

Are Best Performing CEOs Empathetic?

Assuming empathy is a critical component of leadership, so too is performance. In seeking to assess the best performing global CEOs, Harvard Business Review (HBR) examined companies in the S&P Global 1200 Index. The top 100 roster is full of well-known brands from around the globe—Marriott, Salesforce, JPMorgan Chase, Disney, Northrup Grumman, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Microsoft, Accenture, and 92 other firms.

With the rise and potency of populism in the global political environment, business leaders are facing the reality of a range of dynamic business conditions. Whether it is government tariffs, a long-term trade war, or citizen push-back on tax incentives for corporate relocation or growth, CEO’s are finding fresh uncertainty.

The significant amount of push-back aimed at Amazon and its selection of a new HQ in Long Island City, New York further illuminates the point. Amazon was set to receive $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits and an additional $505 million grant assuming the company created 25,000 net new jobs in New York by 2028. The deal broke down over protests by  residents, unions, and political leaders concerned about increased housing costs, congestion, and the scale of the taxpayer funded incentives.

Asking HBR’s high performing CEOs for their take on how best to manage this and other uncertainty was instructive. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon pointed out that, “If you want the right public policy, you have to be an advocate…you can’t be parochial. You can’t talk only about that one little regulation that’s going to help your company. You need to talk about tax policy, trade, immigration, technology.” In other words, you need to build trust and that’s how you earn a place on the barometer.


If Innovation Stops Will You Be Out of Business?

Innovation Wired 4 Leadership

Does innovation really matter for organizations? Is the pursuit of newer, faster, better, disruptive, radical innovation a meaningful goal for leading our organizations? How real is FOBO?

“Your company is out of business. You just don’t know it yet.”

If there’s one thing that should keep you and every other leader up at night,  FOBO is at the top of the list. That’s right–the Fear Of Becoming Obsolete. If that’s you, a recent GE study will give you some important insights about the state of innovation. The impact of innovation on both business and society is extraordinary. The ways you can leverage it to your benefit are even more so. Based on a survey of 2,748 business executives and 1,346 informed citizens the survey explores perceptions and ideas about the 4th Industrial Revolution.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

The good news is that executives share a strong sense of curiosity and optimism about the future of the 4th Industrial Revolution. What exactly is the 4th Industrial Revolution? According to the World Economic Forum, 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. The fourth is building on the third, the digital revolution that has occurred since the middle of the last century. Characterized by a fusion of technologies it is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. Optimism about the digital revolution extends to leaders in more than 20 countries especially those in emerging economies who are feeling considerably more empowered than those in developed markets.

“Which leaves one to ponder the obvious question. Does having a clear innovation strategy matter?”

86% of executives surveyed believe advanced manufacturing  will radically transform the industrial sector. A majority of both executives and citizens believe these transformations will create a positive impact on employment. Interestingly every market shows a distinctive preference for incremental innovation, improving existing products and solutions versus breakthrough innovation (i.e.; launching products that are completely new and have the ability to disrupt their market.)

While 68% of executives report having a clear innovation strategy, 62% of them struggle to come up with radical and disruptive ideas. Oddly, those without a clear innovation strategy (32%) also struggle to come up with radical and disruptive ideas. Which leaves one to ponder the obvious question. Does having a clear innovation strategy matter?

Proctor & Gamble CEO David Taylor speaking at Chief Executive Magazine’s Talent Summit noted that “there are processes that a company gets enamored with.” Most all of us have had the experience of following a process that no longer delivers the results essential to customer needs and satisfaction. If you have processes that encumber people for an extended period they have a proclivity to take regardless of their efficacy.

“Only 24% of executives feel their company is performing very well at quickly adapting and implementing emerging technologies.”

There is general agreement (90%), among executives and citizens alike, that the most innovative companies not only launch new products and services but also create a new market that didn’t previously exist. Yet, there is a real risk of innovation being hampered as technology evolves faster than businesses can adapt. Bringing radical and disruptive ideas to life in 2015 turns out to be a  challenge among 76% of U.S. executives surveyed. That’s a 32% jump from in 2014.

Adding to this challenge only 24% of executives feel their company is performing very well at quickly adapting and implementing emerging technologies. Executives (61%) are learning the value of big data and beginning to understand that integrating analytics delivers better results and outcomes for their businesses.

“76% of executives believe talent acquisition remains the first innovation success factor. HR talent acquisition systems that are “turning off” applicants are creating a significant problem.”

Is the work and the worker of the future really changing? There is a growing notion among employers that the digital transformation is giving rise to the “nomad employee” — people that do not necessarily seek full-time employment, but favor freelancing or contracting modes. Jacob Morgan, a Forbes Magazine contributor writes about the seven principles of the future employee, noting they will have new requirements:

  1. Demand for a flexible work environment
  2. The ability to customize work
  3. Share information freely
  4. Use new ways to communicate and collaborate
  5. Options to be leader or follower as needed
  6. Free to  shift from knowledge worker to learning worker
  7. Learns and teaches at will

No matter whether it’s a nomad on a “gig” or a full-time employee, just less than half of employers and citizens believe the current education system is adapted to fulfill the private sector’s demand for new talent and skills. Given that 76% of executives believe talent acquisition remains the first innovation success factor, the disconnect between available talent and talent with the right education and skills remain significant problems. It’s difficult to grow a leadership commitment and conducive culture for innovation success when finding the “right” talent grows increasingly more difficult. Many question how much HR talent acquisition systems are “turning off” applicants and actually complicating and not easing identifying qualified talent thus fueling shortages.

“This is how work will get done over the next few years and it has already started in many organizations around the world.”

According to executives surveyed the six main attributes they are seeking in candidates include:

  • Problem solving abilities (56%)
  • Creativity (54%)
  • Analytical skills (44%)
  • Interpersonal skills (43%)
  • Long-term commitment (41%)
  • The ability to suggest improvements to the existing ways of working (40%).

Interestingly, only 27% of executives believe the candidate’s ability to navigate uncertainty with ease is a significant attribute. Ease or not, navigating uncertainty will surely be a part of everyone’s toolkit for years to come.

Does measuring outcomes instead of innovation make more sense? What are the greatest measurements of impact and success?

Boards, Baggage, and Leading in Adversity

Boards_Baggage_Adversity It was a difficult—some might say ugly—Board of Director’s meeting.  With the association “bleeding red ink” and its reserves almost depleted, the Board desperately wanted to hear a plan, any plan, for saving their organization.  The new, first-time CEO was fighting fires on every front—marginal cash-flow, overpriced office space, overworked staff, too many expensive outsourced services, and stagnating revenues.  In a borrowed meeting room, facing an anxious Board, the CEO’s turnaround plan was laid-out in excruciating detail.  Pro-forma financial and cash flow statements, clear, vivid graphs, detailed severance agreements, outlines for early termination of leases, cost cutting steps, and finally the potential sources of revenues including increases for dues, rising education program fees, and two new services with near certain potential to generate much-needed extra cash flow and revenue.  The case for cost reductions and revenue growth sufficient to save the Association from extinction were clearly presented.  The tension in the room was palpable and the debate about the much-needed change went on at considerable length.

It didn’t take long to realize that as good as the plans were, it would be the proposed dismissal of long-time staff that would ultimately derail the conversation.  Several influential, and out-spoken Board members were unwilling to allow termination of specific senior staff leaders.  By insisting these favored staffers be retained, they were severely hobbling any chance of financial recovery.  Surprisingly, the rest of the Board had no stomach for pushing back against their out-spoken brethren.  The vote in support of the turnaround plan went down to defeat.  With no clear alternative at the hand, various Board members engaged in an acrimonious debate– blaming each other broadly for the failures, ridiculing current and former staff–and in short order adjourned the meeting.

Frustrated, demoralized and without a clue as what to do next the new CEO left the Board meeting.  As she drove away, she noticed a member of the Board stopped along the roadway changing a flat tire.  She instinctively stopped to offer her help.  The two of them struggled with the task of changing the deflated tire. As they worked side-by-side, the new CEO shared her feelings about the Board meeting, the lengthy preparation, detailed presentations, challenging debates, and the exhausting, hard work of it all.  At a lull in the conversation the Board member glanced up and in almost a whisper quietly said, “You know, sometimes even your best just isn’t good enough.”

In that moment an important leadership lesson came to light.  You can do your best.  You can be all you can be.  Sometimes though, you still need to demand better of yourself and others.  And that’s what leadership is all about—being better, striving to overcome adversity, and pushing harder for extraordinary outcomes.  Leadership is about changing, adapting, being resilient, sharpening your skills, and working to be better, stronger, and smarter every day.  Make this your leadership mantra in 2016 — Change. Adapt. Overcome. Be Better. Be Stronger. Be Smarter.  Your followers are counting on it.