There is nothing as gratifying in my CEO coaching than watching hardworking CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs blossom and develop.
Right now is a time whereat a CEO is exposed to the business friction of the COVID19 saga. In this friction, one finds the revealed strength of CEOs. Frankly, not everyone has it while everyone needs it.
When you see a CEO with whom you have worked blossom and rise to the occasion, it is extraordinarily gratifying and just makes you want to sing Hosanna!
Amongst the characteristics I see with this subset are the following:
1. The CEOs who undergo transformation to a higher level of performance in times of crisis have done the work, day in day out over a protracted period of time. There are no overnight success stories. Sorry.
I have clients with whom I have worked for years. They make a little progress every month. Not Mount Everest strides, nobody does that. But, steady improvements such that when you look back after a year, you might see Mount Everest type development.
I have plenty of clients who call me when their hair is on fire and they need a quick fix. I help them, but it takes longer for me to understand their problem. [All CEO problems fall into the “List of Horribles” so they may think they have a “unique” problem, but they rarely do. It is on the List and I have dealt with it many times over 33 years of CEOing and 8 years of coaching.]
When they get the fix — and sometimes the fix is quite significant and weighty — they are momentarily grateful, but they then disappear. They will call the next time they have a crisis.
I get some psychic benefit from assisting them, but I never see the transformation I allude to above. They don’t really develop.
I take these calls, I help these CEOs, but lately I have started to ask them to find a regular CEO coach.
2. I cannot tell you how often I see hardworking CEOs take progress on one front and begin to apply those principles to another challenge. CEOs who can recognize principles and apply them to another challenge are “learning” CEOs and these are the ones who will become world beaters.
If you can learn to think like a fish, you can master both spin casting in the surf and fly fishing in the Rockies. Different fish, different technique, different gear, different water movement, but still it’s fish.
You understand the principle of the importance of how you present the lure to the fish and how the fish assesses its authenticity. Fish are smart. You are smarter if you allow yourself to be.
3. There is a lot of unnecessary panic out there, so the CEO who can still their heart, ignore all the noise and focus on signal, will win the day.
I had a chat with a CEO and we discussed how his business would be impacted by COVID19. After some hemming and hawing [Can you recognize hemming and hawing?] we finally ended with a strategy of his calling his biggest clients and working from top to bottom and asking them how they intended to react to COVID19.
When this CEO finished, he had an almost perfect understanding of how the company’s cash flow would be impacted by COVID19. He was able to plan with a definitive sense of what his cash flow would be over the next two months. With that knowledge, he was able to right size his own operation.
Accordingly, the panic he initially felt disappeared as he now had transformed the unknown into the known. What was gratifying was he applied a very simple technique he had previously reasoned to when introducing a new bit of SaaS software, a new product, last year.
4. All business is dynamic — wow is that a real thing in the last two months. Nothing is static, except for the principles we employ. One of those principles is that in times of crisis the pendulum always swings too far and in the absence of information people dream up all kinds of crazy escalations that divert from reality.
The wily CEO understands this and communicates to stakeholders demonstrating a steady hand on the tiller, a cautious foot on the accelerator, perhaps a prudent tap on the brake, and a constant repetition of comforting sounds. Staying positive is essential to crisis management. Nobody ever says, “Let’s follow the guy who is out on the ledge and getting ready to jump.”
Nothing is ever as bad as it seems after a good night’s rest or the passage of a week. The future belongs to the calm even when you are in the morgue.
One time in working on continuity with a company of which I was the CEO, I conducted an exercise in which I took the org chart and began to put red X’s across people’s faces. I would then ask, “Can we still operate? If so, what changes do we make?”
This kind of continuity assessment and planning is something I used to routinely do. Hey, every company needs a continuity plan.
One time when I became deathly ill, I had just conducted such an exercise. I went down, the pre-designated person stepped in to replace me, the organization burped once, and continued unabated. I actually felt bad at how little the company missed me.
If you are out there and wondering where you are, go hire a CEO coach. Please God, hire somebody who has actually been a CEO. Don’t hire an accountant, a lawyer, a marketing guru, a venture capitalist. Hire a former CEO who has a few decades of experience.
Sit down with them and lay out where you think the weaknesses in your performance might be. Listen.
Nobody gets better at anything by doing the same thing. You have a bad golf swing and go to the driving range every night for two hours, what happens? You groove a bad swing.
Go to a swing coach, let him assess your swing, follow his advice and what happens? You groove a better swing.
That is how CEO development happens. It is all inside you right now. What you can benefit from is working with someone who knows where it is hidden.
Stay calm on this COVID19 business. Be prepared to rock with the blow. Bob and weave. Stay calm, do not panic. Over communicate both up and down. This too shall pass and the world is going to belong to those who transform in the process.