Category Archives: Leadership

How Do You Have a Fierce Conversation? Six Factors

Situation: A valuable tool for CEOs is Susan Scott’s book Fierce Conversations. This includes challenging conversations with staff. Scott characterizes Fierce Conversations as being robust, intense, strong, powerful and passionate. These are the traits that a leader must bring to challenging conversations instead of avoiding them. How do you have a fierce conversation?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The first step is to master the courage to interrogate reality. This means confronting the difference between “ground truth” or reality and official truth or what we or others wish to believe. There is often a difference between the truth that we want others to see and reality. Jim Collins calls this confronting the brutal facts of our situation without losing faith in our ability to deal with it.
  • Be here, prepared to be nowhere else. The conversation must be your only point of focus when you are having it. Choose a location where you won’t be interrupted or distracted. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by texts, phone calls or anything else.
  • Tackle your toughest challenge today – you gain little by putting it off for another day. Prioritize your challenges, and tackle the most difficult ones first. Handling these will make the most difference.
  • Obey your instincts – but remember that instincts are subjective and must be verified through reality checks. Trust your gut, but verify it objectively with evidence.
  • Take responsibility for your emotional wake – what he or she will remember after the conversation. Keep the focus on factors that the other party can control, and offer to assist. But be sensitive to how you deliver the message and how the other party responds. Don’t leave more of a mess than you had before the conversation.
  • Harness the power of silence – silence slows a conversation and increases your chances of making it meaningful.

How Do You Join a Not-for-Profit Board? Seven Thoughts

Situation: A CEO wants to build network of highly placed contacts. One method that she is considering is joining a not-for-profit Board. What are good organizations? Is it reasonable to expect a quid pro quo? How do you join a not-for-profit Board?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Do your homework. Find out what the most influential Boards are in your community. For example, the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce is very active and includes in its membership many very well connected people.
  • Influential groups and boards will vary by community. In Silicon Valley, the Silicon Valley Association of Start-up Entrepreneurs (SVASE) is a good organization to consider. This and other Angel groups know small companies that need help. Others include the Sand Hill Angels and the Asian-American Multi-Technology Association. In other communities Chambers of Commerce or similar organizations are the movers and shakers.
  • Don’t count out Rotary, Lions, and similar organizations. All these organizations are struggling to recruit new members and some have movers and shakers.
  • Rather than thinking about the meetings, volunteer to join a committee. For example, volunteer to join the Finance Committee. Once the members get to know you, you may be invited to join the Board.
  • Raise money for an organization, this will bring invitations to join the Boards of other organizations.
  • Follow your passions in selecting an organization, you will be more enthusiastic.
  • It is reasonable to expect a quid pro quo? Yes, if you make a significant contribution and demonstrate your competence.

How Do You Work with a Resistant Employee? Five Points

Situation: A CEO feels overworked, fatigued and ready to retire! The core problem is a long-term employee who is constantly resisting the CEO’s the company’s strategic direction. How can the CEO alleviate this situation? How do you work with a resistant employee?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If this individual is valuable, try to work with him first.
    • Can you give him a different focus – another role within the company for which his talents are suited and where he will make a significant contribution?
    • For a change like this to be effective it must be offered and accepted with the condition that this becomes his focus and not your strategic leadership of the company.
  • How is it best to have this conversation?
    • First, clearly state the direction of the company.
    • Then ask a question: What do you want to be doing for the next 5 years?
    • You may be surprised by the response to the question. It may lead you to a win-win solution; or it may become clear that this individual needs to be doing something else.
  • Conduct the discussion in two stages – but without a lot of time between these two discussions.
    • “You are valuable but things have to change. I prefer that you remain as part of the team, but on the strategic front you have a choice – are you on board or not?”
    • If after consideration the answer is that he is not on-board then you must let him go.
  • Don’t blindside this person. Think of a Resurrection versus a Come to Jesus Meeting.
  • If it turns out that you must get rid of this person you will wonder: why you didn’t do this 6 months ago.

How Do You Evaluate Business Opportunities? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company is planning for growth and is considering several business opportunities. None are fully baked, but broadly speaking the CEO is interested in a list of pros and cons that will help her team to evaluate the opportunities before them. What questions should the management team be asking? How do you evaluate business opportunities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Which of the opportunities do you find exciting? Which opportunities ignite your passion? Which opportunities would be exciting to pursue on a daily basis? Use this to create your first cut.
    • When you meet with your team, prompt discussion by asking: why do you come to work each day? What drives you now?
    • Now look at each of the opportunities that you are considering. Which opportunities best reflect your answers?
  • Rank the opportunities in terms of probability of success. For each, do a SWOT analysis – how does each address your current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? How could each make the company stronger or address potential threats that you foresee?
  • Which opportunity provides the best segue to your long-term strategic opportunities over the next 2-3 or 3-5 years?
  • On a personal basis, how important is power and authority to you? What about the personal and work time that is available to you? What is your role, as CEO, in each opportunity? For each opportunity, does this role reflect your personal priorities? Finally, what is your ideal opportunity, in personal terms?
  • Once you have evaluated all of your opportunities – including your personal ideal opportunity – perform a weighted scoring of the opportunities to test your assumptions. Among the opportunities available, which is closest in score to your ideal opportunity?

How Do You Recruit an Outside Director? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company’s current directors are all insiders. The CEO wants to bring in an outside director for greater perspective, someone who can help the company grow to the next level. What should they look for?  How do you recruit an outside director?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look for an individual at a company in a similar market segment that is the revenue size that you want to be and which is selling to the same customers that you do. You want their sales process to be similar in type and complexity of sale but non-competitive with your company.
    • This can be an inactive founder or past employee who has been in GM role with P&L responsibility.
  • Write a list of the needs that you want this person to fulfill. Use this to evaluate prospective candidates.
  • Is it OK to hire a stranger?
    • Before you speak with a candidate, research their background and reputation.
    • You want someone who can provide information and a perspective that you don’t have now. During the selection process you will get to know the person.
  • Consider a high level individual from a company that has been a top customer. This individual can help you understand how you are viewed in the market, and how you can enhance your positioning and competitiveness.
  • Have lunch with a local recruiter who regularly recruits directors for companies. Get their perspective on how to select an outside director and what to look for in a candidate.

How Do You Manage Multiple Priorities? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company has developed a number of initiatives and priorities which are important to the success of the company. All of the initiatives are daunting.  What do they need to do to get all of these accomplished? How do you manage multiple priorities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start with corporate level objectives and set these independently from your initiatives. Pick your top corporate goals and objectives – financial, performance, and so on. Once this is in place, rate your initiatives in terms of how they help to meet your company objectives.
  • Create an initiative list. Measure the upside and risk for each initiative. Based on the results of your analysis classify each initiative: critical, important, or nice to have. This, plus alignment between initiatives your corporate objectives will indicate which initiatives are most critical to company success.
  • Every company needs long and short term goals. Use these to align and prioritize initiatives. Only and your team you can tell what is important and importance is a matter of your strategic focus and objectives.
  • They key to accomplishing multiple objectives is focus. Focus on your top 2-3 initiatives first – if you can reasonably handle this many. Once these are accomplished, focus on the next 2-3, and so forth.
  • Look at your competitors – where are the opportunities in the marketplace. How will your initiatives make you more competitive?
  • What does your leadership development plan look like? If you plan to add new leadership, include in your thinking a transition plan to new leadership, taking into account your multi-year timeline.

How Do You Balance Multiple Businesses? Eight Thoughts

Situation: A company has had one primary focus for the last few years. They are now developing another capability which takes significant attention from the CEO. How do you balance multiple foci, while maintaining a balance with family life? How do you balance multiple businesses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Find people you trust and delegate – ask them for help. Give them lots of leeway – just ask for updates.
  • Prioritize your weeks – big boulders and small rocks – decide weekly how you will focus. A week is a good planning time frame.
  • Identify and come to grips with your situation – the brutal facts – this will help you to prioritize.
  • Set boundaries based on time, relationships, priority – have realistic expectations of what you can accomplish. Set others’ expectations on when you will respond to their calls, emails, etc.
  • Compartmentalize your time for full concentration and focus. Focus on one thing at a time instead of multi-tasking.
  • Eliminate non-value added “stuff.”
  • Avoid letting others impose their schedules onto yours.
  • Use exercise time to refresh your endorphins, clear your head and give you time to reflect on priorities.

How Do You Make The Best Use of Your Board? Eight Thoughts

Situation: A private company has a Board of Directors that functions more as an Advisory Board than a traditional Board. For example, they do not have the power to fire or replace the CEO. The CEO wants feedback on how to interact with the Board, and how to work with them between meetings. How do you make the best use of your Board?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Decide what you want from the Board, and clearly communicate this to the Members.
  • Treat the Board as a single entity – not as individuals. Avoid politicking individual members between meetings. Use the Board to drive decisions.
  • At your next Board meeting have a discussion with the Board:
    • Let the members know that you are concerned about whether you are using them effectively as a resource.
    • Lay out strategic elements to be dealt with over next period, and ask for their advice.
    • For example, if you are moving into a new market you need advice on how to succeed. Are they the right group to provide this advice? If not, what other expertise should be added to the Board?
    • Consider having this conversation in a special session of the Board.
  • Bring in expertise – if your industry has shifted, adjust the make-up of the Board to reflect the new realities. If you need to raise capital, look for expertise in this area.
  • Eliminate less productive members from the Board.
  • If you are looking at a new market, build an Advisory Board that is knowledgeable about this space, but who are not necessarily customers. Consider retired executives from companies in this market.
  • Additional needs that you might want to address either through your Board or an Advisory Board:
    • Financial expertise in new markets.
    • Where should you partner to make a complete offering or to supplement your offering?
  • Another CEO has a similar Board situation. In this case, the CEO makes it clear that Board members are expected to:
    • Make connections.
    • Assist in bringing in business.
    • Members are expected either to produce or they are off the Board.
    • Meetings are driven to a specific agenda with expectations of deliverables.

How Do You Recognize Employee Performance? Four Points

Situation: A company instituted employee awards two years ago. These include an annual President’s Award, at choice of the President, and a Peer Award which is awarded monthly by peers for outstanding achievement.  Recently, management recognized a team within the company with an award for a significant team contribution – a company-paid trip to Las Vegas. This caused resentment among some of the other employees.  How do you recognize employee performance?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are two benefits to employee awards – the award itself, and, more significantly, the employee being recognized among his or her peers. Transparency within any award system is important.
  • There does not appear to be anything wrong with the award to the team. However, it is important to communicate to the company that awards are proportional to the benefit that the employee or team has created for the company.
  • Since there has been a mixed response, a message to the company is appropriate. The best way to do this is a brief company meeting, with telephone access to those who are remote. Here are some key points to cover:
    • Make the theme of the meeting employee awards.
    • Recognize the team that received the Las Vegas award and use the meeting to update the company on your rewards policy. Detail the policy, how awards are recognized, and that rewards are commensurate with the level of benefit gained for the company.
    • Deliver the full message in a positive tone.
    • Schedule 1-on-1 telephone conferences with individual remote employees who are not able to participate in the meeting.
    • Optional – follow-up with an email detailing the awards policy.
  • The complaints that you heard meant that the company did the right thing. A little jealousy isn’t bad if it shows that the company will reward hard, productive work.

How Do You Counteract the Dog Days of August? Three Ideas

Situation: A CEO knows that his employees have been working hard and have been productive all year. Now that we’re coming to the end of the summer, he’s concerned that in the past he has seen an energy drop every August. What can be done to increase the voltage? How do you counteract the Dog Days of August?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Anoint a “Champion of Fun.”
    • The Champion of Fun should be an employee – not management.
    • This may be a team of two people who focus on different things – one for small, day to day activities, and one for big events, like a Habitat for Humanity day.
    • Provide a budget for the Champion. Allow discretion to create excitement around the office or workplace. This includes posters announcing events and other ways to make the most out of each event or activity planned.
    • If out of office activities are anticipated, encourage employees to involve family members if they wish. Maybe a picnic and softball game at a local park, or an early evening of go-kart racing.
  • Create a sense that your employees have some control over their environment. This adds energy.
    • Circulate an Office Depot catalogue and give each employee a budget that they can spend to dress up their space.
    • It’s amazing how much a small investment like this can rejuvenate people and the overall atmosphere.
  • Bring in lunch as a surprise a couple of times during the month. Take some extra time and let people enjoy each other’s company. This is for deepening personal connections, not for lunchtime business discussions.