May was conference month for me, and I had the pleasure of attending two: the 15th Annual VACEOs Retreat (May 1-3) in Williamsburg, Virginia with my roundtable group, and the ATD 2019 International Conference and Exposition (May 19-22) in Washington, D.C. with Emily Schindler. I really like attending conferences, as they give me a chance to get “out of the weeds” and think about “big picture” items affecting our business. However, instead of thinking of new business ideas, these conferences made me take an introspective look at myself as the leader of GAAP Dynamics. Would I like what I see?
Here are the top 5 leadership lessons I took away from the conferences:
It All Starts with a Vision
According to Cameron Herold, founder of the COO Alliance and best-selling author, it all starts with what he describes as a Vivid Vision, sharing your excitement for the future of your company in a clear, compelling, and powerful way. CEOs need to articulate their vision to people who can make it happen.
"If employees can see what we can see, then they can do what needs to be done."
Luckily, we have a vision, which is part of the DNA that makes GAAP Dynamics unique. It’s called the Revolution, our online learning platform, and every one at the company is on board. But there are a million and one things to do to make our vision a reality, and this is where the rubber hits the road. As Cameron Herold put it, vision without execution is hallucination!
I have a million ideas, all good ones I might add, to make our vision a reality. And I do communicate them to my people. The problem is that I communicate them as soon as they come to my mind and then they are gone. Ari Meisel, founder of Less Doing, asked “Do your people think the last thing you told them is the most important?”
Probably. Which is why one of the biggest takeaways for me, and one mentioned by several speakers, is that I need a system to get all of my ideas out of my brain and onto a list.
From there, I can prioritize, communicate, and delegate to the people on the team who can implement it. Finally, I need to institute a process of check-in to ensure the tasks are completed.
Don’t Like Your Culture? It’s Your Fault!
Alignment around the vision is where culture starts. As Tracy Hutton, VP of Coaching for The Marcus Buckingham Company, put it:
"You need a team to change the world.”
And it’s been proven that a team functions better if the right culture is in place.
Tracy Hutton set out eight levers of high-performing teams, which she believes are the driving force of successful companies with a highly engaged workforce:
- I am really enthusiastic about the mission/purpose of my company.
- At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.
- In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.
- I have a chance to use my strengths every day at work.
- My teammates have my back.
- I know I will be recognized for excellent work.
- I have great confidence in my company’s future.
- In my work, I am always challenged to grow.
I have decided that I am going to institute these questions as part of a periodic employee survey that I will use to monitor and constantly improve our culture.
Defining the Role of a CEO
In addition to clearly articulating the company’s vision, the job of the CEO is getting the right people in the right seat on the bus. This requires leadership and Randy Conley, VP of Client Services and Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies, believes that:
"Great leadership begins with trust."
He believes trust is based on perceptions which are formed by behaviors and outlined the four elements of high-trust relationships (ABCDs):
- Being able
- Being believable
- Being connected
- Being dependable
I believe this means that I (and everyone at GAAP Dynamics) have to live out our core values:
- We always do what is right
- We put passion into everything we do
- We are accountable to our clients and each other
- We embrace work-life balance
- We win and lose as a team
Cameron Herold spent some time talking about the role of the “Number 2” and the relationship between the CEO and the COO. He said the job of the COO is to make the CEO iconic. This might mean the COO needs to make tough, unpopular decisions. The job of the CEO is to support the COO, so the employees still like them later.
I am lucky to have a great COO, Chris Brundrett, and one of my biggest takeaways is that I need to work on building a better relationship with him outside of work. He needs to be the “Yang” to my “Yin,” or as Forrest Gump said, Chris and I need to “be like peas and carrots.”
Stop Chasing Squirrels
I am constantly chasing squirrels which takes my eye “off the prize” of what really needs to be done. Worse, it tends to take away my people’s time, which means I may be keeping them from the work-life balance that they are trying so hard to maintain. It also means that I tend to multi-task, which is not a skill, but rather the epitome of inefficiency.
Therefore, it was with great pleasure that I took a concurrent session at ATD titled Reduce Stress, Increase Productivity, Avoid Task Saturation! Time Management Tips for Professionals led by Rob Shallenberger, CEO at Becoming Your Best Global Leadership.
Rob’s company runs leadership programs that set out 12 principles of highly successful leaders. However, in this shortened class, he likened the following three principles to core instruments in an airplane’s cockpit:
- Lead with a vision – Write down a vision for each of your roles (e.g. person, father, husband, employee, etc.) that give you direction and is meaningful. This should be done once.
- Manage with a plan –Devise goals that are specific and measurable for each of your roles. Don’t focus on too many things, just the things that matter. This should be done annually.
- Prioritize your time – Plan out your week before it starts (e.g. on Sunday) focusing your time for each of your roles on what matters most. This should be done weekly.
According to Rob Shallenberger:
"A transformational leader makes time."
He believes true success is “achieving balance in all areas of your life.” I love the idea of pre-week planning. I’m going to start doing it and then, if it works, require it of my team. Hopefully, that will provide me focus to get more done during the week and succeed in all my roles!
My New Mantra
Probably the single most impactful quote of both conferences was attributed to Seth Godin, entrepreneur and bestselling author:
"Do work that matters for people who care."
Per Cameron Herold, a CEO must work hard to get rid of the wrong people and the wrong type of customers. Early on, I believed there were no “wrong” customer. All I cared about was that they paid their invoices on time! I think I even told my people that I would clean the trash cans of our main contact of a large client if they paid us enough.
I was a fool! Doing the “wrong” things for the “wrong” customer is demotivating, a drain on resources, and kills the culture that you have tried so hard to build up. No longer. We are going to be selective in choosing our clients and the engagements we accept. If it doesn’t align with our vision and our culture, we will politely decline the engagement.
We think of ourselves as a DIFFERENT type of accounting training firm. We don’t think of training as a “tick the box” exercise, but rather an opportunity to empower your people to help them make the right decisions at the right time. We passionately create high-quality training that people would want to take. This means it is accurate, relevant, engaging, visually appealing, and fun. That’s our brand promise. And if you value high quality accounting training, we’re here to help!
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