I thought this was interesting: according this McKinsey analysis, 89% of leadership effectiveness rests ultimately on four kinds of behaviour:
1) Effective problem solving.
This is about decision making – but about being able to effectively gather, analyze and consider information before making that decision. According to the study authors, “This is deceptively difficult to get right, yet it is a key input into decision making for major issues (such as M&A) as well as daily ones (such as how to handle a team dispute).”
2) Operating with a strong results orientation.
Execution is as important as strategy! As the study authors say, “Leadership is about not only developing and communicating a vision and setting objectives but also following through to achieve results. Leaders with a strong results orientation tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritize the highest-value work.”
3) Seeking different perspectives.
I like how the Netflix culture memo spells this out as “farming for dissent.” According to McKinsey, “This trait is conspicuous in managers who monitor trends affecting organizations, grasp changes in the environment, encourage employees to contribute ideas that could improve performance, accurately differentiate between important and unimportant issues, and give the appropriate weight to stakeholder concerns. Leaders who do well on this dimension typically base their decisions on sound analysis and avoid the many biases to which decisions are prone.”
4) Supporting others.
This is something I truly feel strongly about and feel blessed to have had great leaders who supported me. I find this especially necessary in creating what Simon Sinek calls “the circle of safety.” As the McKinsey study shows: “Leaders who are supportive understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire and help colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote organizational efficiency, allaying unwarranted fears about external threats and preventing the energy of employees from dissipating into internal conflict.”
This was the advice given by the legendary Jack Welch to 4,300 aspiring startup founders and CEO’s last week at TiECON, the largest entrepreneurship conference in Silicon Valley. Welch was speaking with his co-author and wife, Suzy Welch, to promote their new book, “The Real Life MBA,” the proceeds of which will go towards inner city scholarships.
While Welch is best known as former CEO of General Electric GE -0.99%, one of the largest and most innovative companies in the world, his advice about leadership resonated with the startup crowd. Welch himself never went down the startup path, but he was a great intrapreneur, having built GE’s Plastics and Chemical Divisions into $1 billion units. He is a cultivator of talent like no other in American history. According to Vivek Paul, a former CEO of Wipro and protégé of Welch, there are 50 CEO’s of large American companies who worked directly for Jack Welch at some point.
Chief Meaning Officer – “To let everyone in the place know: where you are going, why you are going there, and – most importantly – what’s in it for them to get there with you?”
Chief Declutterer – Get rid of the hurdles or bottlenecks so that your people can act and get what needs to be done, done.
Chief Celebrator Of Others – “You’ve got to have a generosity gene. It’s got to be in your body… You’ve got to enjoy people’s success. You got to love people’s success. You’ve got to get in their skin and really be excited as hell for them! You’ve got a love to give raises, you’ve got to be turned on giving bonuses… it’s got to make you feel great!”
Chief Fun Officer – “Find all kinds of ways to win. There are small victories all the time and celebrate every one of them… find a way to make little victories big
victories. And if you get a lot of little victories, you’ll get a big victory when you add them all together. But think of the job that way: work is fun, and your job is to make it fun, if you’re a leader. Don’t be some grinding horse’s ass!”
I especially like what he said at the end of the video – which, to me, sums up the privilege, honour and responsibility of what it means to be a leader:
So, in my view you’ve got a huge responsibility. Most of you – God gave you a job where you are responsible for people’s lives. It’s a big deal! You got families you’re responsible for. Make it a big success for them! You’ve got one of the luxuries of life: to impact people’s lives. Grab it, squeeze it, and take advantage of it.
Global oil prices were in free-fall: on my first day of work, I learned that the price of oil had tumbled by 50% – from US$110 per barrel to about US$55 per barrel. Today, as I write this, it is hovering at about $30 per barrel – a dip of over 70%.
Imagine having your bank account shrink by more than two-thirds, without having any ability to mitigate or effect change. And now, “the experts” are talking about prices remaining “lower for longer”, with this potentially being the new normal. For the industry, this has been a seismic shift.
And yet, there has been no better time to be in the industry. Amidst every crisis, there’s an opportunity.
When I was in banking and finance – I led branding and communications amidst one of the longest-drawn, contentious mergers in corporate Malaysia’s history. When I was at Microsoft, the company was going through a transformation from its previous business model of selling enterprise licenses to selling devices and cloud services. Now at Shell, here I am again, finding a way forward to thrive amidst disruption yet again.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1) Be agile
This means being able to learn quickly, pivot strategically, and execute effectively amidst a constantly changing environment. It means being able to quickly identify and understand the industry, the forces of change, what’s happening, what makes your business viable, and more. Then taking all of that, to formulate a strategy that may involve dramatically and creatively pivoting from familiar terrain into a completely new scenario that becomes “the new normal”. Finally, mustering forward by executing against your strategy effectively (execution is everything, IMHO).
When things are being disrupted, you often don’t have the luxury of time or options – massive change is happening to you, whether you like it or not. Consequently, you need to prioritize ruthlessly – figure out what’s really important to propel things forward. This may mean taking a sober look and making hard choices regarding your budget, people, and even strategic priorities. It might even mean sacrificing your sacred cows.
At the same time, prioritizing ruthlessly means not getting distracted by the noise of everything that is happening. Think about it this way: during an earthquake, even if your valuables or sentimental possessions are crashing down around you, your priority is to ensure you and your loved ones remain safe.
For Shell, this has meant revisiting initial investment opportunities and even enacting divestments. I’ve even been challenged to consider, “What if we did nothing?” – which, admittedly, is an intriguing challenge for someone whose job function requires him to be proactive in “doing something”. And yet, that is the hallmark of prioritising ruthlessly: being laser-focused on what must be done and foregoing anything else that could distract and detract you from your objectives.
3) Stay Positive
When the world as you know it is tumbling down all around you, it can be difficult to remain positive. I hesitate to refer to pop psychology tropes, but I really do think that “tough times never last, but tough people do.” Having a positive outlook – call it hope or even being “cautiously optimistic” (as is the corporate-speak) – is strategically essential for survival.
Having a positive attitude can be underrated or overlooked, amidst all the other more business-like strategies. However, your “invisible” internal resources (whether it’s your own energy and state of mind or whether it’s the company’s morale) is often what fuels your “visible” external achievements.
If you’re going to navigate your way (your business, your organisation, your team, etc.) through disruptive times, you need to see be able to see the world that exists once you’ve been through the disruption and emerged successful at the other end of this journey. In doing so, you keep up the morale and energy to execute effectively.
This was where I was truly grateful for the leaders at Shell. Folks like my immediate supervisor, the Country Chairman, as well as other leaders throughout the organisation (locally, regionally and even globally) were great examples of how to remain positive during tough times. For some of them, they were the final decision maker when it came to making tough calls for the business – which included impacting thousands of jobs. It was tough and sobering, and I was humbled to see that they were indeed affected by the choices they had to make. Even so, they could still see the end-game and kept us all inspired for a world when all of this had passed and we emerged as a stronger organisation that was fit for the future.