- Be a continuous learner – what got you into the CRO role won’t keep you there.
- Create a culture of innovation – willingness to try new things without the fear of failure.
- Demonstrate teamwork and camaraderie – people will watch and observe your behavior before they act.
- Focus on the people – this means getting to know your colleagues beyond their quotas.
- Be authentic – this equals consistency and predictability. Wild mood swings are often due to people transitioning from their “real” self to their created façade.
- Be vulnerable – show you’re human, it’s okay.
- Confront reality – denial wrecks your credibility. Quotas are huge, don’t act like they’re no big deal.
- Provide a path to success – it may be a difficult path but a path none the less. Remember, the leader’s job is to provide the vision…the possibilities.
- Be honest – shoot straight, share what you can, not only what you must.
- Always have an active ear – listen…actively. People want to know how much you care before caring about how much you know.
- Never surprise your boss – understand what’s important to the CEO and how/when to best communicate.
- Be deliberate in your actions – an environment of uncertainty is a byproduct of hedging bets. Your team will know if you’re not all in.
- Be kind – nothing in this job should justify taking someone’s dignity.
- Be gracious – say thank you. Give credit and recognize people consistently.
- Look for the good – every day find a good deed, or success from a colleague, and then share it.
- Know your numbers – where are you this month to quota, next month, and quarter standings.
- Know your business – what external factors may arise to get in the way of achieving your goals and those of your colleagues?
- Always be planning – “In preparing for battle I have always found plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Stay fit – CROs tend to be the heartbeat of a company. Work hard to have and maintain a healthy heartbeat.
- Always, always, remember (and thank) those who helped you arrive – family, friends, former bosses, mentors. No one gets to where they’re going totally alone
Today’s life events, and their impacts, are taking up more, and more, mind space of our colleagues – perhaps more so than in the past 20 years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index rose 7.9% from February 2021 through February 2022, with inflation hitting its highest number since 1982. With typical gas prices well over $4.00 a gallon, and in some parts of the country now breaching $6.00 a gallon, people across the board are feeling the stress. Adding onto the financial impacts the average American is experiencing, is the weight of global uncertainty as it relates to the stability of peace.
Workers in every company, in every job, have a lot on their minds. To ignore or dismiss the impact these emotions and experiences are having on your colleagues lives is shortsighted. This is where leadership empathy becomes critical.
Empathy is an often-misunderstood skill. It amazes me how many people still confuse empathy with sympathy. The dictionary defines sympathy as feeling sorry for someone’s loss, trouble, or grief, while empathy is understanding another person’s experiences or emotions.
Empathy allows us to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes in order to connect and understand, with the goal of bridging gaps. This skill requires strong active listening skills, broad perspectives, and structured thinking. Empathy is not about excusing, as much as it is about recognizing circumstance(s). It’s less about lecturing and more about solutioning. True empathy leads to better connections, better relationships, and stronger bonds of trust.
I often think of the famous quote, “people don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.”. The ability to demonstrate empathy, especially during troubling times, is a trust enabler. Of course, that assumes that the empathy being demonstrated is real…genuine.
Empathy allows leaders to engage with their teams to recognize the current external inputs each of us is facing today and how it may be impacting our colleague’s behaviors, outcomes, or productivity. Creating and maintaining a high performing team requires many skills, with empathy being at the top of the list. Recognize the intensity of incoming signals your teammates are absorbing today and look for ways to bridge the gaps. The most important signal you can send to your team is that you too are human.
Our lives are filled with crucible moments. Situations that shape and mold who we become as people, workers, managers, and leaders. These moments, whether we face them in our personal lives, or professional life, shape the core of who we become. They inform, and direct our future beliefs, habits, and behaviors. They can strengthen or weaken, improve, or deteriorate.
Most of these moments are unplanned. They sneak up on us and force our hand. They force us to buckle, retreat, or forge ahead. These moments-in-time, although difficult to persevere, help strengthen our constitution…or weaken us. The choice really is our own. How we react to adversity is in fact a choice. Famous, U.S. Men’s Hockey Coach, Herb Brooks, said, “Great moments are born from great opportunities”. First let me say I have great admiration for Herb Brooks and his legacy. That said, if I may be so bold, I’d make a minor change to his quote and add that great moments are born from either a great opportunity, or adversity. After all, it’s friction that creates the most beautiful, and valuable diamonds in the world. The same can be said about our greatest leaders – past, present, and future. While not always pretty, the world’s great leaders have experienced their share of friction, adversity, and disappointment. From Washington to Reagan, from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs, from Sam Walton to Elon Musk, each of these leaders experienced their share of hardships and challenges…crucible moments that shaped their views, perspectives, ideas, and leadership styles.
Spend some time taking inventory of your crucible moments. I was first exposed to the concept of life journey lines when working for Lorrie Norrington who at the time was the EVP with Intuit in the early 2000’s. In fact, Journey Mapping is still very much a part of Intuit’s culture. Looking back, Lorrie is still one of the most influential leaders in my career. She taught me the importance of quantifying my capabilities and having the confidence to embrace them and act. Creating a life journey line is an effective way to identify one’s crucible moments, and more importantly understand how those moments shaped us and the new skills and capabilities we acquired because of those moments. Taking the time to think about these critical moments in life helps to provide clarity on your capabilities. Steve Jobs famously said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backward.” That’s not to say, or suggest, we should live in the past, but rather to understand our ability to endure, preserve, learn, adjust, and succeed.
What are your crucible moments? How did they shape you? What changes did you endure? Positive or negative?
Every person we encounter on a day-to-day basis has gone through, or is currently going through, a crucible moment. Our ability to empathize is critical. How we assess these moments, and learn to adjust and adapt, based on this new knowledge and experience, is what enables our future success…and the success of the teams we lead.
I maintain a rather crazy schedule. For years I logged up to 400,000 miles as I flew across the globe as a management consultant. Today, as Chief Revenue Officer of SAFEbuilt, my business is contained to the United States, yet I find myself equally as busy, logging 150,000 miles a year even during the pandemic, as we provide essential building and professional services to local and state governments. Between meeting clients and prospects, and leading a national team that sells and manages these services across more than 1,200 client communities, life can get a bit hectic.
Leaders must understand their business at a granular level, primarily because it enables them to increase their situational awareness while gaining much-needed empathy to lead a team down smooth or bumpy roads.
To gain this deep understanding, I work to identify the business’ core competencies. Simultaneously, I am conducting a skills inventory of myself, as well as my team. The result of that assessment leads to the development of my strategic imperatives, or focus areas, as well as identifying what or where to outsource to gain speed, efficiencies, and effectiveness. My days at Paychex and Intuit, while nearly 20 years ago, still serve as a gut check when I think about how to best accelerate revenue growth.
Every business outsources some parts, or pieces, of its operation. Whether it’s payroll, office cleaning, accounting, or back-office processing, the concept of outsourcing has been around, well, forever. Highly effective leaders recognize that if they focus on their core competencies, they can accelerate revenue growth faster than if they get bogged down with having to manage all the minute details. Further, once you have an accurate assessment of your skills, and those of your team’s, you’ll be able to more quickly make determinations as to where NOT to spend your time and attention and find an outsourced solution.
The past decade has ushered in the concept of partnership versus outsourcing. It’s no longer in fashion to simply be a vendor of services…an outsourcer. Today, we must all be partners, or at least that’s what all the rage is about. Of course, you get so much more value when working with a partner. Don’t you? Hmmm.
How do you distinguish between a vendor and a partner? How can you tell exactly what you have? Is your office cleaner a partner? How about your accountant? When you have your payroll processed, is the payroll specialist providing partner services? When you buy a new sofa, is that salesperson a partner?
Chances are that many, if not most, of your business dealings are actually nothing more than vendor-based relationships. And guess what? That’s okay. Every function and every vendor doesn’t need partner status. Sometimes a simple transaction is all that’s required for efficiency.
Avoid wasted calories by trying to make more of something than what it is. The key is to know which functions within your business would benefit if you had a real partner working with you.
My measure of a partner goes well beyond the work delivered for the dollars I’ve paid. If I get what I’ve paid for, it’s likely a vendor relationship. If I get more than what I’ve paid for, you just might be teetering on partner status. Further, if the vendor I’ve hired pushes my thinking and helps me to innovate, they achieve the coveted status of partner.
An example of a great partner relationship is with our digital marketing agency – Square2. I began my journey with Square 2 back in 2012 and have worked on and off with them across different companies and industries. The co-founders of Square 2, Mike Lieberman and Eric Keiles, are masters of innovative thinking. Sure, I hired Square 2 to outsource my digital marketing needs, but the value we’ve received from working together goes beyond the increase in MQL activity and SQL conversion.
With my crazy coast-to-coast travel schedule, I was struggling to find the time to add yet another meeting to my calendar for progress updates. Many times just minutes before meetings I end up having to reschedule due to a client or associate need, and here is where the partner status comes in.
Rather than trying to stick to a traditional meeting cadence for progress updates, Mike Lieberman, taking into consideration his buyer’s needs (mine), suggested that the Square 2 team provide me with progress updates via a short video that I could watch during flights or Uber rides to absorb and contemplate questions or reactions. This slight adjustment in working together has made a big difference, as it has improved my ability to keep informed while being able to make changes or provide input in near-real time.
This is a perfect example of meeting your buyer where and how they want to be met, rather than continuing with a “this is how we do things” approach.
Here’s where the value of a true partnership really begins to accelerate results.
Serving more than 1,200 communities nationwide, with each community having between two and seven personas we interact with on a regular basis, I have adopted and implemented this tactic within my own team. While it certainly isn’t a silver bullet, it does offer clients another avenue for updates. No different than payroll providers offering businesses the ability to phone in, fax in, email, and now launch an app on a smart device to produce payroll, video updates are just another option on the menu to allow clients to choose how they interact with their provider, or better yet, partner.
What’s the last thing you learned from a vendor that went beyond the scope of work you hired them to perform? How often are your vendors collaborating with you to find new or different approaches that help you personally save time, increase your personal efficiency, or resolve a pain point?
Partners go beyond the scope. They focus on the individual they are providing the services to on behalf of the company they are contracted with. Think about that. How concerned is your vendor about your time, your effectiveness, and your ability to improve the running of the business, versus just providing the service they said they would?
Vendors have the ability to improve your business. Great partners don’t just have the ability – they act and add value beyond the four corners of your contract by going deep into your business, making you and your business better.
I recently had dinner with one of my top sales people in San Diego this week and the conversation got around to whether people are born as natural sales people, or leaders.
I’ve never been a believer that people are born into a specific life path. What I believe is that each of us is born with a set of talents, capabilities, and competencies. We are all born with a specific attitude as well. A mindset, a glass half full, versus half empty thinking. A skeptic, an optimist, or pragmatist.
Here’s where the conversation gets fun. Believe it or not there was an interesting life lesson that has stuck with me for years from a rather unexpected movie – RAMBO III. In the movie the character of Colonel Troutman gives a pep talk to John Rambo. He tells the story of a sculpture who finds a perfect stone. He drags it back to his workshop and creates an incredible statue. When his friends compliment him on his creation, he says, he didn’t create anything. The statue was always there…he just chipped away the small pieces.
We are all born with natural talents. Some are blessed with athletic abilities, others with analytical strengths, others with caregiver strengths. The difference between those that achieve their full potential versus those who don’t, is finding a mentor(s) who helps validate and provide direction for your unique set of skills.
What if there was no Earl to Tiger Woods? What if no Joe to Michael Jackson? What if no Kurt to Michael Douglas? There are thousands more of these examples of folks who are not in the limelight but succeeded because they benefited from someone who recognized their talents and provided direction and encouragement. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have had a number of bosses throughout my career who have guided, counseled, and encouraged me to embrace my skills, take chances, and stretch. Without them, I am certain I would not have accomplished what I have thus far. And while I’m now considered “middle age”, my need for their input, guidance, and counsel still remains strong. Being a continuous learner never stops…until the heart does.
So what if you don’t feel like you have a person like this in your life? What do you do to find someone to fill this gap? The answer is easy. Look around. That person is probably closer to you than you think. It could be a spouse, partner, boss, friend, someone at the gym, someone sitting next to you on a plane. In fact, my love for American history was born on a flight I was on in 2004 when I met a gentlemen who asked me what types of books were my favorite to read. Foolishly I said none. He said, how can you spend so much time on a plane and not read. He told me I was missing all kinds of opportunities to expand my thinking. When we landed he gave me a book that became the catalyst for creating my voracious appetite for reading. That book was called His Excellency on George Washington. I can’t count the number of books I’ve given away over the years to people who I just met in similar situations. You never know who, or how you can impact the life of a stranger for the better. It’s incredibly heartwarming and fulfilling.
Life lessons are everywhere. Sometimes you just need to put down your phone, take out your ear buds, and just be…be present. Take an inventory of all the things you’re good at. Jot down what you like to do. Assess the crowd you hang with and identify a few people to approach to help you clear away those stones. Remember, the statue is always there…it’s just how badly you want to chip away at the stones to show your uniqueness and value to the world.
Curiosity is a key competency for those looking to grow and lead. Curiosity about a business, its industry, people, customers, competitors, investors, are all necessary to excel in today’s high speed world of hyper-competition. There are many ways to satisfy your curiosity including doing, reading, researching, and interviewing.
Unfortunately for many, reading takes the very last seat in the back, with the most common excuse I hear for not reading – “who has the time?” To which my response is, “Apparently only the highest of high performers.” What exactly are you willing to invest in improving yourself and your skills? How much time? How much money? How much of your freedom? Why freedom? Because, when others are using their freedom to golf, ski, hit the bar, head to the gym, or sleep on that cross-country flight, you’re using your freedom to expand your knowledge base and perspective.
Whether you’ve been a leader for a year, or twenty, we all experience ups, downs, wins, losses, triumphs, and failures. One thing I’d say is that your top reads will almost always be driven by your immediate, or anticipated circumstances. My suggestion is to have a stable of those books identified and ready to go. In addition, practicing the habit of self-reflection will also super-charge your results when combined with building your arsenal of perspectives through reading.
If you’re wondering how much to read, I simply say, get started. Everyone’s pace is different. Some like turning pages, others like reading on a tablet, and still others prefer listening via audiobooks. No matter your preference, just start. Set a goal. Pick a book and set a goal to complete it within 2 weeks. Two weeks is a good timeframe to get through a book that’s between 250 – 300 pages once placed into your routine. Make no mistake, a routine it must be.
A few thoughts before revealing the list of critical reads for all leaders…first, all leaders need financial acumen. However, most of us, unless you were classically trained, have learned while doing. This doesn’t make for a very strong financial foundation. Public companies view the world quite differently from privately held companies, or even more specifically those owned by private equity.
Second, to be a great leader you must learn and understand what it means to follow. This means that all great leaders take the time to learn as much as they can. If you don’t have a very healthy dose of curiosity, then find one quickly. Your leadership life span will be limited by the depth of knowledge you acquire and accumulate as it relates to your business and the industry.
Lastly, conduct regular assessments on your personal performance. Find a number of folks who will be brutally honest with you about your style, your results, your core competencies. Play to your strengths and stop dwelling on your weaknesses.
Here is a list of the top reads for all leaders:
- Financial Intelligence and Valuation are two of the best books written to help leaders understand what’s important to your investors, lenders, and Board. Situational awareness is critical, so get to know and understand your business’s key financial metrics. What are they? What drives them? How do they behave over time, or under certain conditions?
- Failing Forward is one of the best “get your head straight” books I’ve read. Written more than a decade ago, the teachings of this book still apply and help to keep things in perspective. Other strong additions include: Unfu*k Yourself, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k, The No Asshole Rule, and On Speaking Well.
- To build your problem solving skills be sure to read Power Questions, The McKinsey Engagement, The McKinsey Mind, The Ultimate Consultant, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, Judgement, The Customer Mindset, and Transparency are all solid books to help you inform your thinking through a combination of asking better questions, quickly assessing different situations.
- Establishing your leadership style happens over time, as well as through the circumstances in which you experience. Some of the greatest insights have come from coaches, world leaders, and history in general. Check out the following books that all have strong leadership lessons: Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, John Adams, Wooden on Leadership, The House of Dimon, The Last Man Standing, 1776, Solider: The Life of Colin Powell, His Excellency, Forged in Crisis, Quiet Strength, On the Brink, and Team of Rivals.
- Finally, all great leaders are curious about other success stories. What made one company great, while another failed? Understanding the concept of best practices, or at least those practices that helped enable success within a specific corporate culture, are a strong part of a leader’s development. Consider the following books: The Nordstrom Way, Hershey, Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS, Inside Steve’s Brain, Disney U, and Built Not Born.
Positive growth can happen even under the toughest of conditions. Perseverance, determination, and the ability to adapt are what’s needed to push through the challenges and capture the growth that’s yours. New skills, new perspectives, new ideas.
As I walked around our property today I saw this beautiful petunia growing in-between some pavers. Oddly this is not a flower we have planted anywhere on our property, yet here it is. With temperatures in the high 90’s this past week, and no rain or water, seeing this thing of beauty grow in the most difficult conditions made me realize how possible growth is in any environment.
It reminds me of the line in Jurassic Park – “Life will find a way.” You really can do anything you set your mind to.
In today’s rapidly advancing digital age, information has never been easier to access. We shop for clothes, cars, computers, and countless other consumables and services through the internet. We research our customers, competitors, future employers and employees, and bosses. We share our experiences and opinions about banks, hairdressers, mechanics, and restaurants on sites like Yelp, Facebook and Google. In fact, by the time you finish reading this blog, more than 1 million posts will have been made on Facebook (assuming you can finish this in 2 minutes or less).
With so much information, so quickly accessible, why do businesses still operate in silos? Why do management teams, and executives, feel compelled to withhold information from their teams? Are there still people that believe in Jack Nicholson’s position in A Few Good Men? Perhaps some might not be able to handle the truth but most are far more capable than you may think. In fact, if you consider real-life General Stanley McChrystal, in his book Team of Teams, he talks about transforming the U.S. Military from a command-and-control operation to a “shared consciousness” where there is an organization-wide “understanding of the whole.”
So why do executives hold back? Why do they covet information at all? The answer is FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Fear of embarrassment, uncertainty of reaction, doubt in the character and tenacity of the people on their teams. Harold MacMillian said, “A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.” This couldn’t be more true.
Sharing for the sake of sharing is a waste of time and effort, however, sharing for the sake of establishing trust is an accelerator of positive results. How do can you tell if sharing is real? If the information the leader is sharing is sensitive, in that it makes him vulnerable, he’s sharing. If the information is sensitive, in that it may make the company vulnerable, she’s sharing. If there is any level of personal, professional, or company risk, this qualifies for real sharing. When real sharing is being demonstrated, a culture of trust can begin to develop and teams begin to form. A leader who shares real stuff is confident, comfortable being vulnerable, and willing (and interested) in learning. Those are the leaders people seek to follow.
Still think sharing is a crock? If you need further evidence that sharing can accelerate growth, look no further than Berkshire Hathaway which currently holds the title as the highest priced stock on the NYSE at more than $320,000 for a BRK-A share as of this blog post. If you, like me, believe that sharing is a critical ingredient to building trust, consider the words of Berkshire’s Charlie Munger, “By the standards of the rest of the world, we over trust. So far it has worked very well for us.” It certainly has.
How much courage do you have to start sharing?
“He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader” ~ Aristotle.
Great leaders possess empathy and emotional intelligence. Caring enough to ask, and then listening, is the beginning for all great leaders. Charting a course that depends upon the contributions of others requires courage, fortitude and judgement. Leaders understand they are nothing without followers. Great leaders know that their success depends on the relationships they have with those followers. Trust, respect, and caring are ingredients that strengthen the bond between a leader and his, or her followers.
People want to know how much you care before caring about how much you know. Asking versus telling, guiding versus directing, teaching versus demanding, coaching versus demeaning…these are just some ways to demonstrate great leadership.
Leading others requires the leader to be vulnerable. It requires experience and judgement. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. There’s no shortcutting experience. You make the best decisions you can given the information at hand. Hindsight will always be 20/20, but we must live in the present which means the possibility of making a bad decision exists for each of us every day.
Embrace the learning. Be curious. Engage others and listen…truly listen. Open your mind to new perspectives. Create a list of leaders you admire and the attributes they possess that you strive to emulate. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is the path to growth. Try many things. Fail fast. Don’t worry about being wrong. Nothing of greatness has ever been created on the first attempt. Diamonds take billions of years to create. The first mobile phone was a brick. The first car came in only black and had no windshield wipers. Progress takes time. The key is to keep moving, observing, doing, learning, adjusting. Trying to live life without failure is a wasted life. Life without failure is a blank canvas.
“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” ~ C. S. Lewis
What makes a friend, a friend? What makes a candidate worthy of extending an offer of employment? What makes a great boss? What makes a life-long partnership work – personally or professionally?
In pondering these questions they have led me to other questions such as who do I like spending my time with? If I was stranded on a desert island for a month, who would I want to be with? What type of person? Who do I turn to when I’m happiest? And who do I turn to when I need help?
There are many ingredients that go into making a great employee, boss, spouse, and friend. Yet when all those ingredients are boiled down, there is one that rises to the top…kindness.
Intellect without kindness is arrogance. Discipline without kindness is abrupt. Motivation without kindness is dominating. Persistence without kindness is simply annoying. Determination without kindness is Machiavellian.
Sure, we all need a level of intellect, discipline, motivation, persistence and determination to succeed. And yes, there are many who succeed with these attributes in the absence of being kind. Why is that? Kindness costs nothing. You don’t have to take a graduate course to learn kindness. Maybe that’s the problem? Have we lost the ability to see the simplicity of success when kindness is added as the final ingredient?
Kindness doesn’t mean losing. Being kind doesn’t mean taking the back seat. Kindness does not operate from a position of weakness, but rather a position of strength. Being kind is a conscious choice. Your buyers feel it, your employees feel it, your spouse feels it, and yes, strangers feel it. That random act of kindness from someone you don’t even know that puts a smile on your face and warms the heart. We can all learn from kindness, and kindness is ours free to give. It’s your choice.