My Top 10 Tactical Leadership Changes in 2020
As I write this post, I have just completed the second day of our quarterly Strategy Team offsite here at Building Champions. We sat outside and distanced in my backyard. Day one was focused on our year-to-date performance and the lessons learned so far in this crazy year. Day two was focused on our assumptions for 2021, and we aligned around our major targets and strategic bets. As we reflected on where we are today, six months into this pandemic reality, the words “change and changed” were constantly repeated.
I have spent a great deal of time this year in Zoom meetings and coaching sessions with leaders in diverse industries and locations far beyond our domestic borders. All share how the pace and speed of change this year has been unlike anything experienced before and that is regardless of the leader’s organization having faced significant headwinds or tailwinds in this year of crisis.
As the CEO of Building Champions, Inc., an Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Company, I am keenly aware of the many changes I have made over the previous months to be best positioned to lead our team through this chapter.
The purpose of this post is to share my top 10 tactical changes with the hope that there might be something of value here for you.
- My Three-Point Mandate. As I flew home from Germany this March just a few hours after our President announced our borders would be closing, I came up with a decision-making framework for our team. I called it our three-point mandate: 1) Protect our team, 2) Preserve the business, and 3) Wow our clients. I knew we were heading into a time of chaos and would need to bring our best thinking to whatever came our way. “Protect the team” meant to ensure all teammates were safe from a health standpoint and that they could win in their roles while earning a paycheck. “Preserve the business” meant to make sure we had the cash needed should we encounter a real drop in revenue. We looked at every lever we could pull without hurting our suppliers or partners. And finally, we needed to “Wow our clients” with how we adjusted to serve them as they faced their own challenges. Our first two points were defense and our third was offense. This galvanized us to make a series of fast decisions with confidence and courage.
- Limit the Crap. I have always had pretty good boundaries when it comes to taking in the news or spending time on social media. In times of crisis, our human systems go into survival mode. Our limbic systems respond in ways that serve us well when encountering a challenge that lasts for moments. But we are in real trouble when these systems that control which parts of our brains engage are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol for days, weeks and now months without ceasing. I knew I needed to be even more militant with the input I allowed. My good friend Dr. Henry Cloud says we need to look at situations and put them into one of three buckets: what we can control, what we can influence, and what we cannot control. In these times of crisis, I allow no more than 30 minutes of media per day into my brain, and it can’t happen until I have fed my mind, body, and soul with good food – which takes about 60 to 90 minutes at the start of my day. We unpack that in our Morning Routine Guide.
- Weekly to Daily Meetings. Our leadership team meets every Monday. When the stay-at-home orders were given, my team and I decided to increase the frequency to daily. I needed to see what they were seeing and hear what they were hearing – every day. Changes were taking place almost hourly and there was so much uncertainty, risk, and fear. We knew we would need to make big decisions fast if we were going to protect the team, preserve the business, and wow our clients. We needed to be one healthy, trusting, and aligned team. As the months passed and we found our footing, we reduced our rhythm to two meetings a week.
- Even More Trust. A team’s trust and competence levels get magnified in a crisis. I knew my team was solid and that we would need to be more united now than ever before. As the CEO, it was critical to understand what the team was seeing, believing, thinking, and needing. I needed to be curious and empathetic. I can honestly say we had virtually no team drama or wasted energy. We were able to preserve our energy by not in-fighting or protecting, but instead, quickly engaging in conversations that were focused on our mission and on our three-point mandate. My job as the CEO was to set new targets, define the new short-term win, and trust the team to get after the work. I am pleased to say we are way ahead of our targets and are experiencing real momentum as we head into the final quarter of the year.
- Close the Office Door. The lease to our larger corporate office ended in late February and we were still in negotiations when Covid-19 hit. So, we kept our smaller office for webinars and client meetings. I have not flown for business in six months and have only been in our office three times. I am leading our company now from my home office, as are many of you. My home office is the room between our kitchen and bedroom. I have clients spread throughout the U.S. and overseas who are working at just about all times in my 24-hour day. From March until June, I found myself not turning my computer off for days at a time and keeping my office light on until I went to bed. You may recall I am the guy who shared life planning with many of you clients or readers of Living Forward – I drifted! So, in June, I began shutting down and closing the office door before dinner by 5:30 pm or 6:00 pm and not opening it again until I had completed my morning routine. Only then do I open my office door – with my bare feet, board shorts and nice dress shirt. I must admit, I am becoming fond of this attire.
- Take a Break. I know I am not alone on this one. Many of us have really suffered from the back-to-back Zoom meeting schedule. This is not how most of us used to work and it must not become our new norm. It is exhausting and leaves us with little or no time to reflect, think, or prepare. My Chief of Staff, Lynne Brown, and I are now blocking three times during the day for me to not be in meetings.
- Walk the Floor. For many years now, the second appointment on my calendar each week has been at 8:00 am titled “Morning Greetings”. This was a time for me to walk the floor and connect with different members of the team. I would also reach out to coaches who work remotely. Well, when we all moved to home offices, I had to adjust. I now do my “Morning Greetings” or “Walking the Floor” using Teams video conferencing. I love picking one or two teammates every week to check-in on them and see how they are doing. It’s not the same, but it is better than not doing it.
- Pause, Pursue, and Pivot. In the weeks ahead, my next book The 7 Perspectives of Effective Leaders will be released. In it, I explain how a leader’s effectiveness is determined by just two things: the decisions they make and the influence they have. I then unpack each of the 7 critical perspectives leaders must see. The first perspective is Current Reality, the second is Vision and the third is Strategic Bets. I say that our Strategic Bets must be grounded in Current Reality and anchored in Vision. Well in 2020, all of our Current Reality shifted in huge ways! And, our Strategic Bets needed to be reevaluated. We needed to make sure our bets still made sense and that, if executed, would move our organization towards our vision. So, we looked at ours to evaluate which bets to pause because they no longer made sense and which bets to pursue and possibly even double-down on. And, where we needed to pivot and place new bets to capture the new opportunities that this current reality has surfaced. Again, my book The 7 Perspectives of Effective Leaders will be released next month and you can order it here.
- Taking Ground. Years ago, I created a model called Taking Ground. I have used this with leaders to help them see and then evaluate the strength of their organization’s eight most critical functions. In 2018, one of our bets was to reorganize our company so we could better serve our clients and operate more efficiently. When the pandemic hit, we were not even a full year into the new structure. The early signs were that it was paying-off and we were experiencing momentum. But I believed the Covid-19 climate had so radically impacted how we were operating that we needed to look at our structure again. I led our leadership team through the Taking Ground exercise to make sure we were all in roles where we could make the maximum contribution to the business. This took less than a month, and I now believe we are much better positioned to lead well in the year and a half ahead.
- Harder Times Ahead. When the pandemic hit, I relaunched the Building Champions CEO Roundtable. It has been virtual and very well attended. Frank Blake, former CEO of Home Depot and current Non-Executive Chairman of Delta Airlines participates, and during last month’s meeting, he encouraged the group to plan for an even more difficult time ahead. He shared that we would be wise to plan for our businesses to be smaller in 2021. I am an optimist and always plan for growth in the year ahead. But my track record over the past 25 years would show that I have not always been right. So, as we begin our 2021 planning conversations, we are following Frank’s advice.
When I was asked to write about some of the changes I have made in my leadership this year, I thought I might be able to come up with a handful – but as I dove into this post, my list has grown to more than my top 10. But the request was for a blog post, not a book. I hope that you find at least one idea or tactic to help you lead well as we head into a season where courageous, clear, caring, and confident leadership will be more needed than ever before.