Getting to the Heart of What Really Matters to CEOs – Part 2

August 7, 2020

The 5 Most Frustrating Tasks for Leaders

In Part 1, I talked about examining your motivations as a leader so you can become more human for your employees. In Part 2, I’ll walk through what I call the “Frustrating Five,” a concept I’ve modified from The Motive, the newest book by best-selling author Patrick Lencioni. These are five roles or activities that too many CEOs abdicate even though nobody else at the company should do them.

1.     Having uncomfortable conversations

2.     Managing direct reports

3.     Taking responsibility for building a leadership team

4.     Running meetings

5.     Repeating themselves

In my opinion, avoiding those tasks is a recipe for sabotaging your own growth as a leader and that of your people and your business. With this blog post, I want to you to realize just how important they are and how to face them.

1. Having Uncomfortable Conversations

In my experience, reward-centered CEOs don’t like to have really uncomfortable conversations, especially with toxicity in the workplace. Lencioni offers an example conversation he’s had with far too many CEOs:

Lencioni: “What just happened in that meeting with that one employee?”

CEO: “Oh yeah, he’s toxic.”

Lencioni: “How long has he been here?”

CEO: “About five years.

Lencioni: “Why don’t you do something?”

CEO: “Oh, I don’t have the time and energy for that. I’m busy with figuring out our cash reserves.”

Lencioni: “Your cash reserves don’t matter if you’ve got a toxic guy making decisions and mudding up the executive team.”

It’s true! Many leaders, even well-intentioned ones, openly declare that they don’t want to have a difficult conversation with a direct report. This was very true for me in my early days of being a CEO, and I often see it as a coach. It’s more common than most leaders realize.

In a recent blog post, I talked about Jim Collins, facing brutal facts, and The Stockdale Paradox. For Lencioni, “Sometimes the brutal facts of the workplace are: 1) You piss off the people you’re working with, and 2) CEOs don’t speak up in meetings when it happens.”

I get it. I don’t know a single CEO who says: “I love that part of my job when I get to tell someone that they are toxic.” And yet, if the leader of the organization cannot sit down and have the difficult conversation, nobody else in the organization is going to – and no one else should.

2. Managing Direct Reports

While most people assume the management of direct reports happens naturally, Lencioni tells a different story:

“Here’s the thing. By the time many CEOs get into the big chair, they have been managing people quite well for years in their career. They get to the CEO job and they’re like: ‘Listen, I have hired good adults who can do their jobs. I hired them because I can trust them, and I think they know how to do things. I really don’t think these people really need to be managed. I think they can manage themselves and I don’t want to micromanage them. I’ve got my own job to do and if these people can’t manage, I’ve hired the wrong people.’”

The problem with that scenario – while plausible on its face – is that every human being in the world needs management. I had to learn this, too! In my experience as CEO, it took me a while to realize that my top priority should be the wellbeing and success of my people.

A good manager and CEO realizes that the most important thing a leader does is to help people be more effective and to grow and develop. As any good disciple of Jim Collins knows, you must start with the “WHO” by getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. And that means you learn how to be great at your weekly staff meetings and your one-on-ones.

To clarify, I’m not talking about knowing a few tidbits and details about the non-work life of your direct reports in an attempt to appear relatable. I’m talking about how critical it is that you understand the deep nuances of their performance on their job. Such considerations must include (but aren’t limited to) the following:

o   What are they working on?

o   How are they performing?

o   How can you help?

o   What is their relationship with their peers?

o   This is critical for company integration and cohesiveness.

o   Are they paying attention to input from their peers?

o   What are they doing to be proactive to establish the right relationship with their peers?

o   How do they manage and lead their team(s)?

o   Are they setting a clear direction for their team?

o   Are they constantly reinforcing it?

o   Are they guiding/coaching their people?

o   Are they weeding out the bad ones?

o   Are they working hard at hiring?

o   Are they able to get their people to do heroic things?

o   Are they making space for innovation or best practices on their teams?

o   Are they constantly thinking about how to continually get better?

o   Do you measure yourself against the best in the industry/world?

You may not love the tediousness of having to know all of that information about everybody who works for you – especially when it comes to following up with them. But if you aren’t doing it, you can’t expect your people to be successful, and you can blame no one but yourself.

Lencioni says it this way:

“All of us have to ask ourselves: ‘Am I really aware of what’s going on?’ That fear of the word ‘micromanagement’ is something we have to get over. Because if micromanagement means ‘I know what my people are working on, I know what progress they are making, and I am ready to jump in if they need me to give them correction,’ then let’s all be micromanagers. Most companies suffer far more from the abdication of leadership or the under-management of people at senior levels than they do from micromanagement.”

3. Taking Responsibility for Building a Leadership Team

Building a leadership team can be very emotional. It involves behaviors, moods, and different ways of addressing situations. However, there’s nothing soft about it. Leaders build teams at the executive level so the company can get more done, avoid bad decisions, innovate, make more money, serve customers, and accomplish our mission.

Where this falls apart is when a CEO believes that it will all be taken care of by hiring an HR professional, bringing in an outside consultant, or simply planning a really good trip with everybody. But as Lencioni states, “That’s not what we are talking about here.”

“What I am talking about is the CEO has to be completely invested and the chief sponsor and driver of making sure that the men and women on their team are working well together. That they trust each other. That they have good conflict. That they commit to decisions. That they hold each other accountable and are all focused on the collective results of the team. No one can do that but the CEO. You can bring in a person from the outside to help, but if you delegate or abdicate that, it is not going to stick.”

We both believe that one of any worthwhile CEO’s primary responsibilities is to make sure you have a cohesive, functional team around you. But it can’t happen if you don’t take personal ownership of that process.

The place I like to start with my clients is reading and implementing Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player. The book focuses on helping each person involved become the best team member possible. But before I begin working with a team, I ensure that the CEO is fully bought into and invested in the success of the project. Without it, we’re all wasting time, energy, and resources.

4. Running Meetings

In my experience as a CEO and coach of CEOs, too many leaders say, “Running meetings is really not my thing. I really don’t like meetings.” However, I believe that watching someone run one of their team meetings is an essential way to evaluate whether that person is a good CEO.

Meetings should be where you talk about real issues. If your meetings are bad, then you are wasting talk time and face time. You have to be engaged with one another.

I also believe that to do the right things for your business, sometimes it’s necessary for meetings to be a little intense and a bit anxious. Too often, we make our meetings predictable and boring. That’s fine if everything is perfect, but we also know perfection does not exist. And yet, we still flee the mere hint of conflict, even though working through a problem can deliver the clarity your team needs to focus on really important matters.

Lencioni thinks of it this way:

“If CEOs and leaders really understand the importance of meetings and adjust the way they have them, they will say meetings went from their least favorite thing to their most favorite. You should want to love the days you have meetings. Why? They should be the opportunity to challenge each other and get more done so you can save yourselves from doing dumb things that don’t matter and stay focused on what really matters. So, if you’re the kind of CEO who says: ‘I really hate meetings,’ it’s time to make them great, and nobody can do that but the CEO.”

Speaking from my experience, just as a metronome sets the tempo in a great piano or musical performance, so do a small set of consistently executed meeting rhythms. Properly executed in sequence, you and your team will make better and faster decisions:

·       Daily (tactics)

·       Weekly (priorities)

·       Monthly (big issues)

·       Quarterly (reflection, planning, and strategy)

Top everything off with an annual meeting where you review your goals from the prior year and confirm the goals for the upcoming year.

5. Repeating Themselves

I understand that people don’t like to constantly remind their peers, direct reports, and other team members. However, I’ve found that it’s more important than people realize. Lencioni addresses the topic in this manner:

“I like to say that the CEO is actually the CRO: the ‘Chief Reminding Officer.’ As much as anything else, a CEO’s job is to constantly go around and remind people of what’s most important. I’ve learned this from some of the best CEOs, especially Gary Kelly at Southwest Airlines. I have seen him at employee meetings, staff meeting, and all kinds of situations over the past 15 years. He consistently reiterates the most important things that make Southwest Airlines great. He does it in creative ways, but he never apologizes for the fact that he’s going to tell it to you again and again, ‘This is what makes us who we are.’”

In an earlier blog post this year, I introduced the “Jimmy Treybig Challenge:”

Share your vision with your employees to the point that they can give your speech for you.

Lencioni and Jimmy Treybig have both taught me the importance of repeating myself as a CEO and leader. Until leaders have said something to every employee seven times, until people have heard it again and again – reiterated here and there and again and again and in different ways – they really don’t believe it is true.

If you’re a great CEO, your people should be able to do a good impression of you when you’re not around. They might know what you are probably going to say, and they might get tired of it on occasion, but subconsciously, they think “I’m glad he keeps saying it, because it’s true.”

If anything, it’s almost like what Jim Collins calls your “cultural flywheel.” Get that thing going, and then pretty soon, your job is to make sure everybody else is on it as well. That’s what it means to be a Chief Reminding Officer.

In other words, the key purpose of being a leader is to make sure the people we’re leading are focused on what matters. Or as Stephen Covey put it in famous aphorism, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Human Leadership Makes a Difference

Many leaders will say: “I think I’m beyond those things.” But the truth of the matter is active and involved leaders should never be too big or important for those tasks. Because if you don’t do them, nobody will – at least not to the level that truly matters.

In December 2019, I discussed Everyone Matters by Bob Chapman. He wrote about how truly human leadership can have a positive drastic change in people’s lives at work and at home. Specifically, when you renew your commitment to personal relationship, leadership, management, and company culture, it leads to greater loyalty and a greater sense that people are going to be better. They’ll be better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, friends, and neighbors. Why? Because they feel like the people that they work for know them and care about them as a human being.

Lencioni concluded the talk I heard by stating,

“All of this coming together to serve everyone and take care of customers is beautiful, but it begins and ends with a CEO stepping into the right motivation. If they can step up and re-enlist in their job knowing that it will actually get harder and more important, ultimately, at the end of their careers, they will find it was more gratifying than anything else.”

Do you want to become more focused on responsibility than rewards as a CEO? Do you want to become more human-centered in how you lead your people and run your company? Contact Burst Consulting today to schedule your free consultation.