Category: Leadership

Posted on /by colin/in Article - Vision, Leadership, Purpose, Transformation

Is a CEO’s single most important job to build belief?

By Kim Goodhart

“The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” – Helen Keller

It’s not enough to have a great vision. Great leaders need followers. Without them they are a one-man band and limited in what they can achieve. The skill of a great leader is to unite people behind a vision for the future that they will all work to achieve.

In my series of up-close-and-personal chats with New Zealand’s leading CEOs <watch it here>, CEO of Genesis Energy Marc England makes the point, “You win the hearts and minds by presenting a very clear vision that people can understand.

“They don’t have to always agree, but they have to understand it and then you’ve got to make the argument. I think having a consumer driven vision is a lot easier to motivate people around because it is tangible and everyone is a consumer of our product.”

CEO of Southern Cross Health Society Nick Astwick makes a similar point, “I really believe in purpose and vision, but at the end of the day it’s pointless if I’m the only one who does.

“The power comes from having the people aligned around the right thing but actually even better is that their own personal beliefs are completely aligned around the organisation’s beliefs.

“I think one of the biggest roles we have as leaders is to get people brought into the vision.”

Nick goes on to say that getting people behind a vision isn’t something that happens in a slide presentation, or at an annual conference, or in the spirit of ‘you shalt do this…’

“The skill of a leader is to clearly articulate a future and then it’s also their job to have a thousand conversations with people and make the sense of that clear. There’s no point if it’s just me,” says Marc. “It’s the difference between performing and transforming as a business.”

Talking to these CEOs, the sense is that three things needs to happen:

  1. Understanding – People need to understand the vision;
  2. Direction – People need to know where they are going; and
  3. Opportunity – People need to see the opportunity.

Of Genesis, Marc says, “I think what they’re excited about is seeing a clear destination for Genesis”.

But it’s a two-way street.

As the people within an organisation start to get excited about the vision, they also begin to empower their CEO. The more people that start to put energy into the vision, the more momentum it gains.

“What empowers me and motivates me is when I see employees understanding that end destination,” says Marc, and it is this momentum that drives the change initiatives forward.

Both Marc and Nick accept that there will be people who do not get the vision, or who are not excited by it, and as a result a natural procession of attrition takes place as those people go out and seek opportunities that do align with a future they can envisage.

As the process of unification and alignment behind the vision gathers momentum, the people within an organisation – the ‘followers’ – take the lead. New products are created and new initiatives emerge.

This, I believe, is a tipping point. When everyone believes that the seemingly impossible is now possible, belief becomes reality.

In the words of former American Express CEO James Robinson III, “True leadership must have follower-ship. Management styles can vary, but even an autocrat needs people who believe and simply don’t follow from fear”.

Photo by: Greg Rakozy

Posted on /by colin/in Article - Vision, Leadership, Purpose, Strategy - Vision, Transformation

Is the CEO’s most important job to have a vision?

By Kim Goodhart

“You only get there because you’ve defined your destination… A lot of companies don’t define a very clear destination. If I look at some of the case studies of companies that have failed they’re often enjoying driving the car but they didn’t know where they were going.” – Marc England, CEO Genesis Energy

Leaders need to have a vision, a vision beyond what their people, their customers, their share-holders and perhaps even their board might be able to see. This, is their role – to be able to see a future potential that they have the capability to create because, without it, what else is there to motivate their people?

“Any incoming CEO has got to have a vision,” says Marc in my series of up-close-and-personal-chats with New Zealand’s leading visionary CEOs <watch it here>. “If you don’t have a vision, you’re not going to get there.”

In my opinion, the team’s role is to make the vision a reality, but it is the CEOs job to have the vision.

Marc has a vision for the future. It is: “To change the way that consumers engage with energy”.

Without vision CEO’s, organisations and the people who work in them can do what they’ve always done, but they’re not going anywhere and they will neither succeed, nor survive the changes that are coming.

“There are very few industries now that are not in some form of change mode because the world is moving faster,” says Marc. “If I look at different industries around the world this is the one (energy) that I think is going to change the most.

“All we’ve done for decades is generate electrons, source gas, bill customers and collect their cash and that’s been going on for over one hundred years and no one’s really changed that. So, we’ve got this huge opportunity. Technology is changing that. It’s enabling the change, consumers are demanding more as well.”

There’s two dimensions to what ‘there’ is, says Marc.

“One is what the consumers are demanding. The other is what we need to do to in order to develop and protect our energy future. Consumers are demanding more digitisation, more digital interactions; they want to tap things on their phone as opposed to receive a paper bill… but then there’s a bunch of needs that I think consumers don’t yet know they need, and I have a lot of people saying if customers don’t want it, why would you do it?

“It’s amazing how, if you put something in front of a consumer and test it, they suddenly realise it’s something better than they thought.”

Marc isn’t just looking at what his customers are asking for, he is looking ahead into a future that the rest of us cannot yet see and asking what do my customers and people want, and need, in the future and why? What does the planet need? It’s not just about a customer experience, it’s about the whole future of energy.

“If we can’t engage consumers in energy, and all they want it to do is turn their lights on and pay their bill then I think there are some longer-term risks for our industry as other brands and industries start to percolate into our space and they are very good at engaging consumers,” says Marc. “The desire to be with Genesis is an important thing we are trying to create here.”

In the Stephen King novella, The Langoliers, people and objects stuck in yesterday get consumed by strange creatures called The Langoliers – creatures that feed on time that has passed. Ten aircraft passengers, who find themselves stuck in ‘yesterday’, have to escape into the future to survive. But they need a pilot to take them there.

It’s a nice metaphor, don’t you think?

Posted on /by colin/in Article - Vision, Leadership, Strategy - Vision, Transformation

Win or learn – do all great leaders reframe their fear?

By Kim Goodhart

When Elon Musk sold PayPal to eBay, he could have taken his co-founders cut – PayPal sold for $1.5 billion – and retired a billionaire. Instead, he took a huge risk and invested the money in founding private space exploration company, SpaceX, of all things, and Tesla (all electric vehicles). Both ventures nearly bankrupted him – from billionaire to pauper – but in the end he won out. Both companies now carry significant value and Musk’s fame is assured.

It can manifest as a cold sweat, weakness in the legs and nausea; or ‘just’ a grim feeling in the pit of your stomach. Your response may be to freeze, to run or to fight, and it takes some serious cognitive muscle to override any of those neurobiological impulses.

In a business scenario, fear or risks may result in uncertainty, paralysis in decision making, anxiety – any number of physiological responses that make it hard to flex that cognitive muscle because our decision making becomes impaired.

In my up-close-and-personal chat with Marc England, CEO Genesis Energy <watch it here> he says, “I think that (fear) holds a lot of people back. There is a fear that if you get something wrong there might be a consequence.

“I have a reasonably high personal appetite for personal risk. I’ve never worried in my career about losing my job, I’ve never made a decision to be conservative in case I got it wrong,” says Marc.

What Marc is doing is reframing his fear.

“People’s safety, and harm to people, is not a good failure so you cannot take those risks. But putting a new product into market… if it fails, has limited consequences other than personal reputation,” says Marc.

Where one person may see a huge threat in launching a product that may fail, Marc see it as ‘only’ his reputation that would be damaged, which to him – in perspective – is nothing too serious.

Like Marc, great leaders learn to put context to the risks around them. They overcome the fears that hold others back by putting them into perspective.

“I think sometimes people can misinterpret what a good risk or a bad risk, a good failure or a bad failure might be, and can then be risk adverse in what actually isn’t the end of the world if it doesn’t work perfectly.”

Reframing and putting things in perspective is an important distinction that great leaders share, because it allows them to move more freely. Where fear may hold one person back from doing something new (or potentially risky), great leaders can reframe the situation and move forwards – taking them to new heights of success.

As CEO of Southern Cross Health Society Nick Astwick says in an earlier interview, “I learned not to associate myself too closely with my successes and failures”.

The world is changing. And it will be those who can manage their fear, who take smart risks, that will be best suited to lead us into the future.

As Nick Astwick says, “There’s a lot of risks and threats in that, but there is also a lot of opportunity”.

Leaders who reframe the risks and threats in the world in order to be able to see the opportunities in front of them have the power to create real change that will benefit all those around them.

Photo by: Jeremy Bishop