Three things a CEO need to consider for early integration and longer term success

A CEO’s integration in a new role is a crucial challenge, a key pre-requisite for longer-term success. Way too many CEOs have failed, with other CEOs succeeding only with far greater effort than they would have needed.

Most companies have huge room for improvement, in supporting the process and creating the conditions for a fertile integration. Yet, rather than focusing on what companies can do, I want to focus, briefly, on a few key things a CEO in a new role could do in order to maximise chances for a successful integration as well as increased personal fulfilment and satisfaction (most likely, also that of their shareholders over time).

Possibly even before accepting a new role, in any case very early on after accepting, a new CEO will want to do the following:

  • Identify key relevant stakeholders: so many times would CEOs succeed if they managed to identify key stakeholders in their new role. We need and want to map all relevant influencers that impact on the CEO’s chances for success significantly. Normally, this will range between ten and twenty people. Examples would include the Chair, most if not all board members, a few senior executives as well as some external constituents such as key shareholders. The CEO will need to map them carefully, in order to focus their efforts effectively and efficiently;
  • Connect with them, listen to their spoken and unspoken messages and prioritise them: connecting with relevant stakeholders helps the new CEO identify all key challenges of the new role. Listening to their spoken and unspoken messages will require shifting the focus from the usual, overwhelming attention to short-term, “harder” results to the longer-term, softer interpersonal skills, a crucial component of leadership. In addition, connecting wisely requires us to be able to listen to our counterpart, leaving proper room for them to express their needs and feeling. I have separately written about my view that our ability to listen can be practised and trained but it requires time, effort and willingness. Not least, we are exposed to the risk of making significant mistakes. If CEOs manage to listen carefully to key stakeholders, they will also lay the foundation for successful and rewarding mentoring, for peer & board support, as well as for effective networking & introductions of relevant people. Building a fruitful relationship with relevant stakeholders will be the crucial gate towards a successful integration;
  • Define their own success, agree on a roadmap involving them as necessary and follow up: the final, easier element, once the above steps are well under way will be for the CEO to build a fuller, more effective “definition of success” which will include how the CEO sees own success over time, also on the basis of how stakeholders have interacted with them. That definition of success will be the result of such questions as: “In order for you to consider me successful in 12 months, what would you like to happen?”. Once this is clearly stated and in place, the CEO will need to seek for regular feedback from the very same stakeholders overtime, minimising the risk of negative surprises happening.

By connecting with key stakeholders and receiving feedback early on, the new CEO is fully prepared to align to an effective definition of success and start shaping the company’s dynamics successfully.

We will easily find out that for a CEO to build their own success over time the key is effective use of interpersonal skills, as well as cultivating and building fruitful relationships with a combination of leveraging on existing trust, the ability to listen to others, and finally, but most importantly, the ability of listening to ourselves and to whom makes us happy.

 

Tommaso Arenare

Three things to look for in a successful Non Executive Director

All of us working for a better corporate governance have often been asked such questions as these:

How can we tell who is right for which board?

What are the key competencies that make a newly appointed Non Executive Director succeed?

Of the many talented people we can come across, who will make exceptional Non Executive Directors?

In most cases, the answers will depend on a number of circumstances in the kingdom of Obliquity and Black Swans, i.e. totally unpredictable events. Yet, identifying a candidate for a board search and assessing them against a specific situation can make the likelihood of success significantly higher.

What are the three things we look for in a Non Executive Director candidate?

With the risk of over-simplifying it, I would like to elaborate a bit on the following:

  1. Credibility: no candidate can have positive impact on a Board unless they rapidly build credibility with all relevant stakeholders. Credibility is built through a combination of the candidate’s collaboration and influencing skills, on the one hand, with their “harder”, non-people-related competencies, such as their technical background, their ability to contribute additional market knowledge to the Board and to the strategic orientation of the board itself on the other. Even if a candidate has already exceptional reputation to bring to that Board, they will need to build credibility with all relevant stakeholders, starting with fellow board members. to appreciate and combine the knowledge and experience of individuals with different backgrounds and viewpoints.
  2. Listening & trust building skills: this is an additional and crucial component of a candidate’s ability to succeed on a Board. Listening means, amongst other traits, the ability to suspend one’s agenda and judgement, making room for other people’s thoughts. In the life of a Board, listening means being able to remain silent for long, in order to gather sufficient elements for making up one’s own opinion. Also, listening means being capable of asking proper, effective, most of the time open-ended questions, both during the Board sessions and, even more importantly, between them. Listening implies the ability to wait and select proper timing to act, avoiding the risk of early reactions which may jeopardise long-time effectiveness.
  3. Independence & Integrity: once credibility has been built, through a process which can last from a few seconds in the initial meeting to a longer period of several Board sessions, the Board member will need to be able to use their judgement and speak up, possibly standing against the Board’s prevailing opinion in an effective manner. This is what we call integrity and independence. Being independent requires the ability to influence the Board’s decision making process both ethically and effectively. It requires, amongst other things, the ability to establish effective communication channels with fellow board members and, most importantly, with the Board’s Chairperson.

Credibility, listening & trust-building, independence & integrity are three of many aspects we see when we meet exceptional Non Executive Board Members. They may not be sufficient, yet they represent a strong signal of an emotional intelligent person, most likely to succeed even in a very demanding Board.

For a different look at leadership

What competencies make up leadership? How much of leadership is technical as opposed to social or interpersonal?

Competencies are behaviours: for professionals, executives, consultants, leaders, all competencies can be grouped into two sets:

  • non-people-related (or “hard”)  competencies include such behaviours as orientation to results (how determined we are towards achieving our goals), but also all sorts of technical skills required for our job, plus a number of additional competencies such as market knowledge and even strategic orientation.
  • soft competencies, instead, have to do with relating to other people, either to collaborate with colleagues or to influence them (what we call collaboration & influencing) or to lead a team (team leadership), or to change the way a group of people works (change leadership).

In the early stages of someone’s professional development, people-related skills appear relatively less developed, hence we tend to assess and select people on the basis of  hard competencies.  The early stages of one’s professional life are full of episodes where we realise that orientation to results and determination, or technical skills, were the basis of our progress.

After a certain point in life, though, those skills start to decline in absolute terms. At the same time, “social”, interpersonal skills, by then, take off. For best-in-class talent, they continue to grow over time. From that point onwards, growth in soft skills more than offsets the decline in hard skills

The sum of hard and soft competencies can then be measured, over the course of one’s life. The profile of this sum is a very interesting element to consider.

Effective leaders evidence, over time, a profile in line with the example in the following chart:

.

Over time, then, the “sum” of hard and soft skills is a proxy for leadership, as well as for one’s satisfaction. Both grow, from a certain point in time on, if we are able to more than compensate a decline in hard skills.

In other words, all of our incremental satisfaction, from a certain point on, depends entirely on our ability to grow interpersonally.

It’s people, again.

Tommaso Arenare

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