2017 will go down as one of the most disruptive years in recent history. Few will forget the populist and divisive political earthquakes in the United States, Great Britain, Europe or the Middle East anytime soon. Many around the world were impacted by “500 year” storms and floods and wildfires. And while the global economy continued improving, the pressure for corporations to innovate or disappear accelerated tremendously.

We discovered an eerie parallel while hiking in Patagonia this year. While Torres del Paine in Chile is one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited,

Los Cuernos, Torres del Paine, Chile - photo by G Burns

it is also one of the most changeable weather locations as well. If the weather is good, you can hike incredible 250 foot tall glacier peaks one day,

Perito Moreno Glacier South Face Trekking, Argentina, photo by G Burns

or get literally blown off a mountain the next. While we were there, we experienced near Category 1 Hurricane winds (119 kph or 74 mph) that came out of nowhere more than once. We were trying to visit the Salto Grande Falls when we saw this sign just as the winds blew so hard that we had to sit down until they passed:

Salto Grande Falls, Chile - photo by G Burns

“Precaucion Zona de Fuertes Vientos” (Caution - Strong Winds Zone) had its metal edges bent and concrete blocks literally pulled out of the ground. It seemed like the perfect sign of the times for 2017.


Many of the industries we worked with this year are undergoing their own “Zona de Fuertes Vientos” historical transformations:

1. Automakers are a great example of the type of monumental change that is impacting many industries. It’s imperative that these companies move at light speed to evolve and get out in front of the biggest changes in their world in 100 years (i.e., mobility, innovative software development, new distribution models, self-driving and electric cars, etc.) PWC 2017 Automotive trends

2. In US Retail, twenty one of the largest companies have announced closing stores in 2017. As of October, they had announced the shuttering of 6700 stores. Three hundred retailers filed for bankruptcy last year. Money - 2017 just set the all-time record for store closings. The disruption by Amazon and an ever growing array of internet competitors continues to take its toll. For 2018, another 3600 stores are predicted to close as well.

3. In the Wealth Management industry, a diverse array of threats offer opportunities or bankruptcy challenges for those who cannot transform for the future. Everything from Robo Advisors to generational shifts of wealth from baby boomers to their descendants are changing the nature of client /advisor relationships and expectations. Deloitte - 10 Disruptive trends in Wealth Management

In each of these disrupted industries, I was fortunate to help coach many top of the house executives from all over the world:

- A US Restaurant CEO doubling locations in partnership with a private equity firm

- Three top merchants in one of the most famous Retailers in the world

- Eight senior execs (from the US, Canada, Spain, Germany, and France) from a global 100 Auto company in Asia (including two presidents and two global Chiefs)

- Four division and functional heads of a top ten Wealth Management company

Torres del Paine, Chile - photo by G Burns


Working with a total of four presidents, a CEO and the preparation of the next CEO for these companies yielded some interesting new insights to think about for 2018:

1. Burnout at the “Top of the House” seems to be getting worse.

One CHRO in a very results driven company told me the stress and pressure on the most senior execs was the worst he’d ever seen. What we observed is that many of the best CEO’s and their teams are facing a double whammy - challenges in driving their businesses forward and suffering tremendous collateral damage to their own health, family and significant personal relationships.

To help them build more sustainable performance, we have been partnering with a top tier strategic advisory consulting company that is offering a truly unique, individualized and life changing program to help them reengineer their lives to perform at an even higher level at work and at home.

As part of this, we have been helping senior clients focus on their life purpose to build plans that are changing their perspectives and lives. It starts with some great questions such as “If everything in life goes perfectly, what are you going to be doing in 10 years?” and “What is the positive impact on others you would like to have? e.g., On Family? Work? Friends? The World? (Bill George’s “True North”). We then build a customized commitment plan that targets the most important goals and follow up in a relentlessly supportive and results driven manner.

2. CEO’s and senior leaders are not spending enough time focusing on the future.

What amount of time are you spending on the long term? There was an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review this year HBR - What Sets Successful CEO's Apart .

An extensive study revealed 4 behaviors that characterized high performing CEO’s. One of the behaviors was “Adapting Proactively”.

As the authors stated, “Most CEOs know they have to divide their attention among short, medium, and long-term perspectives, but the adaptable CEOs spent significantly more of their time—as much as 50%—thinking about the long term. Other executives, by contrast, devoted an average of 30% of their time to long-term thinking. We believe a long-term focus helps because it makes CEOs more likely to pick up on early signals. Highly adaptable CEOs regularly plug into broad information flows: They scan wide networks and diverse sources of data, finding relevance in information that may at first seem unrelated to their businesses. As a result, they sense change earlier and make strategic moves to take advantage of it.”

Given that so many industries are experiencing once in a generation challenges with new competitors, global scope, speed and complexity, it’s remarkable how many C suite leaders aren’t thinking enough about what’s ahead. After discussing upcoming strategies, one of the questions I like to ask at the conclusion is, “That sounds great. Now what threats to your business AREN’T you thinking about for next year? And WHY aren’t you thinking about those?”

3. In the most senior roles, you need to be significantly more self-aware of everything you say and do, because everyone is watching you.

This was also highlighted in the HBR article: “When interacting with stakeholders, CEOs . . . are acutely aware of how their moods and body language can affect the impact of their communications . . . new CEOs are often surprised by the unintended damage that can be caused by a stray word or gesture. ‘Every comment and facial expression you make will be read and magnified 10 times by the organization. If you grimace during someone’s presentation because of your bad back, the person making the presentation thinks they’ve been fired.’ ”

Why does leadership self-awareness matter so much? According to Dan Goleman in “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence”,

  1. A leader’s style accounts for 50-70% of the team climate.
  2. Climate drives 30% of business results due to that leader.
  3. For those leaders high in self-awareness, followers rated the climate positive 92% of the time.
  4. For those leaders low in self-awareness, followers rated the climate positive just 22% of the time.

One of the biggest opportunities I see in working with senior leader styles is helping them to be aware of how they are running meetings. If you want to set the tone for empowerment and innovation, you need to model your ability to listen as well. One of the best coaching tips I ever got was from one of the Columbia Coaching Program’s master coaches, David Matthew Prior. In helping me to listen more effectively as a new coach, he suggested remembering the acronym WAIT - “Why Am I Talking?” in my practice.

I have used that technique with many leaders who tend to be more directive and loquacious. After a month or two of tracking how many times they didn’t speak up needlessly in meetings, they discover a great truth – they begin to listen at a very different level. When they do that, they also get higher quality debates, deeper insights, more team empowerment, better decisions and a more positive climate.

One senior Digital leader came up with a spin-off of the acronym WAIT– he said that the new level of listening and in the moment presence had made him even more self-aware. He suggested it could also stand for “What Am I Thinking?” This enabled him to observe himself in action more effectively — a first step in changing behavior and improving performance.

As one of the most successful “Fuertes Vientos” navigators said:

Torres del Paine, Chile - photo by G Burns

For a confidential discussion about your transformation needs, please contact us at the address below or click the Contact Us button below.

G Burns & Associates | 40 Ingram Street | Forest Hills, NY 11375

Tags: Leadership, C Suite Coaching, Burnout

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