INTRODUCTION Paris-based Brit
Sweden - English Teacher
France - Accor, DEC, Microsoft
OD, Leadership Development, HR Practices
Succession Planning, Employee Surveys, HiPo Development
Worked in Europe, Asia, North America, Africa
This title of this paper is Tom Peters-esque in it pretentiousness, but his titles
helped him make millions, so here goes.
This presentation is really the essence of my coaching experience and -
unfortunately - more than 25 years of working with managers and execs. The idea
of making a presentation of this topic really came at the beginning of 2006 when I
was missioned by a client to interview 9 country and regional MDs who had been
recognised by their very top management as having not only made the numbers
but also because they had instilled enhanced capability in their organisation.
This organisational capability expressed itself in different ways:
People start working together spontaneously to create new ways to advance
They start doing things without asking for permission;
They identify problems and come up with solutions independently;
The title really begs three questions:
Who are we talking about?
What’s so great about them?
What is they do that makes them different?
WHO ARE THEY? My sample is composed of the following:
Regional Managers – Sales & Marketing, or functional managers in a staff job
Small business owners
Regional presidents & chairpersons
South America, US, Australia, France, Portugal, Switzerland, Far East, UK
Some new to their company, others old-timers, a founder
Some new to their geography, some promoted #2s
LEADERSHIP VS. As you can see, there is quite a variety. However, what all these positions have in
MANAGEMENT common, is that management techniques while critical, will not be enough to win
the day: leadership is required as well.
What is the difference? I recall having a manager who was not a good manager but
someone who was a truly inspirational leader. For example, when I went in for a
1:1 with him, I had a really hard time getting him to address the topics on the
agenda: his management of the 1:1 was hopeless. I actually ended up doing a
written agenda and putting it in front of him at the start of the session - just as you
would do for a meeting of a dozen people.
However, his leadership was great. Provocative and thought-provoking,
challenging, giving new angles, providing vision - this was what made me say to
him one day that I always felt a little bit smarter when I left his office than when I
had walked in. You have probably experienced something similar.
Now let’s look at what makes them great in my book.
WHAT IS SO First and foremost, business results. Leaders who don’t do well business-wise
don’t figure in my hall of fame. That is not to say that leaders who steer companies
GREAT ABOUT through troubled waters don’t make the list: survival in particularly tough
THEM? circumstances is meritorious in my book.
The second criterion is being able to raise the bar to enhance organisational
capability across a number of metrics. Our sample keeps an eye on all the
gauges, not just the financials. It’s almost as it they have an inbuilt Balanced
The third thing is strategic vision. They are strategy-driven. A word on this:
strategy isn’t long-term planning; it’s acting today while thinking about tomorrow.
They are very conscious of what they need to be putting in place today to succeed
They also have one more thing…. More later.
WHAT DO THEY DO So what do they do? Well, here I think you might be a little disappointed.
THAT MAKES THEM They do pretty much the same as any decent manager would do
• Look at a situation
• Decide what needs to be done
• Do it
There are differences however. Let’s take a look at the major ones:
VALUES & PRINCIPLES When they look at a situation, they have a model in mind so they analyse FAST
The fact that they have a model means that they know what to look for. They have
intimate knowledge of the business model and what it takes for the organisation to
implement it effectively.
They have a set of values by which they judge the appropriateness of their team’s
behaviour. They will try to modify and develop behaviours to be in line with what
they believe. They don’t compromise on values.
COURAGE & FOCUS When they decide, their decision leads to undiluted action.
Our sample mentions in detail the personal issues such as dealing with former
peers, managing out people with whom they have worked, etc. The fact is that
great leaders don’t get caught like rabbits in the headlights of an oncoming car.
They face up to the issue and act promptly. It’s interesting to note that when I
asked them what they would do differently next time, many of them said Act faster.
They have great focus. In any situation, there are unpredictable events: our great
leaders didn’t get side-tracked. They can act in ambiguous situations and bet the
farm on the outcome, AND they maintain wide-angle vision to head off potentially
FEEDBACK & METRICS They monitor what they do constantly.
BALANCE LONG & SHORT- They keep the car moving and don’t forget to change the wheels. Our sample was
TERM very aware of the importance of short-term results in reinforcing credibility both
internally and in the market. At the same time, they were unwilling to sacrifice long-
term success for quick hits
DO DEEP ANALYSIS – Our sample had to face a diverse range of circumstances and situations and deal
FAST with them fast. Delay would have meant more pressure on the organisation and
even more critical situations. Below is an inventory of the issues:
Long-term brain drain Fragmented organisation
Risk averse leadership team Activity-based not results-based
Customer pressure Poor results
Business getting worse Management over a geography
instead of being in the same location
Former GM in background
Big personalities to deal with
Organisation in silos
Organisation out of sync
Employee satisfaction poor
No teamwork in leadership team
Dealing with former peers
No presence in government circles
Customer satisfaction low
Relationship management vs.
Accuracy & Precision
Leadership team needing renewal
FACT: BUSINESS IS A The business is quoted only once or twice. It’s so obvious that they don’t even
GIVEN mention it most of the time. What they focus on is the underlying system which will
enable them to get results.
VALUES & PRINCIPLES So they have a model and that means they can evaluate situations quickly. But
what about values and principles? The ones that came up again and again were:
“The organisation comes first.” In our entire sample, these words came up time
and time again. However, this tenet was used to justify any and every action:
rather, it was the basis for their strategic thinking. Partners, customers and
employees were all clearly positioned in relation to this basic fact
You need to keep things simple & manageable. For example, one GM said that
he had too many direct reports with the result that meetings were
unmanageable. He split them into two groups:
• A Governance Team to look after customer, community and
organisational & HR issues;
• A Business Leadership Team to drive sales and profitability.
You can’t do everything yourself. People have to work together so leaders in
our sample created workshops where people could express & develop ideas to
be implemented (LGIs – large group interventions: see Notes section) – often
with great success.
They hard-wire the values. Here are some examples:
• To underline the importance of people management, strong ratings at
performance review time were virtually unattainable for people who
were not managing well even if they achieved their business results.
• Put in a position whose sole purpose was to ensure that different
groups function will work together to add punch and drive to initiatives.
This is the big difference between lip service and really believing something is
COURAGE & FOCUS Our leaders showed both resilience and perseverance. Despite continually
UNDILUTED ACTION monitoring progress and being willing to make adjustments to strategies, they were
uncompromising in driving their strategies through to conclusion, however difficult
they were. Here are some of the tough issues they had to deal with:
Dealing with people issues: friends, former peers, great people who don’t fit
Making bets on inexperienced people with potential
Thinking about the future
Carry through what they plan
Going head-to-head with top management
Take the hit on cost-of-sales if work-life balance is wrong or salaries skewed
Subordinate the notion of self
SUBORDINATING SELF Our leaders did not take over from their people by becoming for example some
AKA NO BIG EGOS sort of über-salesperson, Zorro riding in at the last minute to save the day and
close the deal. Rather, they empowered and coached their people to get their
Just do it is a phrase that was often used in our interviews. This meant that to
get things done, our leaders would:
• Define the boundaries
• Give authority and accountability
• Stay present to support execution as required.
Keeping things crisp and simple gave drive and enthusiasm to their people.
Big Table & LGIs. They resisted the temptation to do top-down strategy- and
direction-setting. They created spaces for people to work together and
connect, and set up processes to capture and exploit the output of meetings.
• Mesão is Portuguese for big table. At a mid-year business review, a
leadership team had to travel to corporate headquarters for a business
review. They found themselves in a big room for with a large table to
prepare and finalise their presentations. The GM noticed that the level
of interaction and collaboration rose significantly in this environment.
When the team got back to their subsidiary, he set up Friday afternoon
mesão: the group would come together in a very informal environment
to work individually or in groups but especially to be available to others
Redefining market share. How exciting is it to grow 1.8% per year? One of our
leaders redefined market share à la Jack Welch to identify growth areas.
Instead of looking at the market in the traditional way, he told his team to look
at their market to identify high growth areas. Without neglecting the regular
revenue stream, the team set about aggressively developing these areas and
was able to register double-digit growth in these areas.
Getting the most out of people. The question one leader asked was not “How
hard are you working?” but “Do you think you can contribute more?” This has
the effect of harnessing the creative energy of people to work out how they can
increase their contribution – not their workload.
THE One leader defined the essentials of the toolkit as follows:
FUNDAMENTALS A good 3-year plan
Individual and team goals which are inextricably connected to that plan
Values essential to the plan that are tracked in the performance review
CHARACTERISTICS They can do the business stuff blindfolded
• They do it faster
• They gain credibility
Their strategy is what guides them
The Long Term & the Short Term
• This point is characterised by a complete review of the hiring process
in a company in Switzerland. This was done not just because they
weren’t getting the right people for now but because they reckoned
they needed more than double the hi-pos they currently had.
It is interesting that they also had a measurement for how many people they
contributed to company-wide hi-po programmes
They made work meaningful by incorporating other parameters to the business
• Society & the community
• Reconciling profit & the common good
• Common purpose - what do we want to be remembered for?
They stay connected. Here’s how one GM spends more than 35% of his time
on people issues:
• Breakfast with employees
• Group meetings
• Leadership team meetings
• All-hands meetings
• Meeting every new hire in their first 3 months
He says people don’t tell you things when you’re a GM, so it’s up to you to stay
They learn. Here are some of the learnings and paradoxes they quoted in the
• Values are not important - they're critical
• Move fast & Over-communicate
• Protect new hires
• Manage the ecosystem - customers and partners
• You don’t have to do everything yourself - Hands-off generates energy
• The best-laid plans come apart but there’s no substitute for method
• Leadership ≠ Management
• Not action- but strategy-driven
• Being #1 means that people don’t tell you things
Stay tightly connected to front-line employees
• Being #2 is no preparation for being #1