Courageous Leaders in Action

As I look back on 2013, we feel very fortunate to have worked with over 50 incredible clients across the globe. We worked with an amazing variety of top and up and coming companies who are truly dedicated to investing in the growth of their individuals, teams and organizations.

When I took this photo of some Masai villagers near Amboseli in Kenya, I look at the smiling woman on the end of the line who reminds me of a John Quincy Adams quote,

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

While our mission is to help others to perform at their “BEST – Become Exceptional Starting Today”, we found that we also learned some great lessons from others who were truly inspirational, transformative leaders:

1. Women Rule – I was fortunate that the majority of clients I coached this year were an incredible cast of powerful, diverse, senior executive women.

  • Perhaps the BEST coaching example was a young, high potential, first time GM of a global consumer products company, who faced the type of transformation challenge which few execs can overcome. She had to turn a hostile, failing, acquired company’s culture and balance sheet around in a hurry. She showed relentless determination, resilience, a sense of humor about herself and did a very impressive job listening to feedback and rapidly adapting her leadership style for an incredible turnaround.
  • The BEST culture transformation we saw was led by the Chief Accounting Officer of a Fortune 125 global insurance company. She was tasked with the challenge of transforming the culture of the Finance team to operate as strong, client focused, strategic business partners. We worked with her and company leaders to identify the areas for improvement, conducted a talent game plan based on that assessment, facilitated feedback sessions and coached her team. She made tough, but fair calls on her team’s talent potential, relentlessly sought feedback from her peers and was inspirational in leading her group through the challenges.

Within a year, her team went from some of the lowest internal satisfaction scores to #2 in the entire organization. Not surprisingly, she also won an award as one of the top CAO’s in the US.

In terms of coachability, this year I learned that in a world of constant challenge, change and ambiguity, my female clients all had a few things in common which make you wonder why a glass ceiling still exists in so many companies. Their willingness to tuck their egos away, ask for help, adapt quickly, collaborate, have enough resilience to gracefully weather the storm and get the job done was remarkable.

2. Hire a Vet if you want the job done well - I was fortunate enough to coach two execs from the same global consumer products company who were both veterans. Although their personalities were totally opposite, they both were able to take a hard look at what they needed to improve. What distinguished them was their willingness and speed to act on feedback, even when they might have been a bit skeptical or unsure about some of it. Both made significant progress in a very short period of time. With the number of talented veterans returning home from around the globe, they are worth investing in for the future growth of your company.

3. What We Can All Learn From Founder CEO’s – They started the company. They invested their own capital. They took all the risks. They have become the top experts in their field. They are used to doing things their way. They built businesses which are growing like wildfire.

And then they got private equity partners and hired senior staff to help them scale. And it’s a very tough transition. Building infrastructure, sustainable processes, lots of new people and culture issues and constantly firefighting, as new and often unforeseen challenges appear. Hockey stick growth targets are tougher, now that you can no longer muscle your way to achieve results.

And the biggest challenge for Founder CEO’s (and lots of research to back it up)? They won’t change what’s made them successful until they fail.

But I worked with two CEO’s this year who could teach all of us who lead (or have led) large organizations a couple of vital lessons:

  • Their passion for the business is unmatched. I remember a TV commercial from decades ago that suggested that when you make something - to make it so well, that you would be willing to sign it yourself. These two gentlemen live and breathe their businesses and their enthusiasm is infectious to the folks around them. (No need for employee engagement surveys!)
  • The devil is in the details. I toured a store the other day with one of the CEO’s. In 30 minutes, I got a tremendous lesson in how his vision was executed in real estate, brand, customers, merchandising and service. (Do all of your employees understand how all the parts work together to delight your customers and drive growth?)
  • They live for innovation and change. They are thinking up the next wave of ideas morning, noon and night. (They don’t need consultants to come in and tell them what to do. They were also skeptical of me coming in to help them accelerate their senior team and their own development, but were pleased with the results.)

With 6 out of 10 employees in the US afraid of losing their jobs, fear and constant change can paralyze lesser executives.

What do all of the most exceptional leaders have in common who we worked with in 2013? In order to perform at their BEST, they were courageous (or with some expert help can get that way!)

As Nelson Mandela said,

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. The brave man (or woman) is not s/he who does not feel afraid, but s/he who conquers that fear.”

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

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