Written by Ken Pasternak
Ken Pasternak is a Best-Selling Author, Consultant, and Speaker making great strides in performance and leadership. He has focused on building high-performance organizations through visionary leadership, team effectiveness, establishing a winning culture and improving cross-cultural understanding. He is the co-author of ‘Performance at the Limit, Business Lessons from Formula 1 Racing’ (3rd edition 2016 and translated into Japanese, Turkish and Mandarin Chinese), ‘Managing Your Strengths’ (2002 also available in Portuguese) and ‘Exploding Turkeys and Spare Trousers, Adventures in Global Business’ (2021).
We have each experienced the pandemic in our own way, both the negative and positive aspects of working from home along with isolation from workmates and in-person contact with clients.
During this time, I had time to reflect on my business experiences around the world. This led to a series of social media posts relating stories from my travels and what I learned that may also be helpful for others. My Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches colleagues generously added their thoughts to each post and encouraged me to collect my tales into a book. “Exploding Turkeys and Spare Trousers, Adventures in Global Business” was born and published last July.
In the process of writing, it became clear to me that leaders and coaches working to assist leaders during these uncertain and challenging times, need to focus on three key capabilities to deliver consistent results: 1) being an effective Communicator, 2) creating and maintaining a collaborative Culture, and 3) visibly role-modeling the Character that sets an example for how they want others to behave.
Here are my thoughts about each.
- Effective COMMUNICATION is Vital
During a recent virtual speaking engagement, I was asked what the most crucial skill any leader must have. I thought this was not a fair question, given the complex task involved in leadership, especially in the difficult environment we have experienced these past years. I offered an answer that included several capabilities including authenticity, empathy, and vision.
I was pressed further to name just one however, and rather than dodge the answer I offered that to succeed a leader must be an outstanding communicator. Great vision, poorly communicated to stakeholders, will not get results. A well-conceived competitive strategy without employees understanding the company’s purpose and their role in meeting the mission, will not get their buy-in and enthusiasm.
Communication is about reaching out to people in a way they can unambiguously understand your message, relate to it, and act to achieve common goals. Communication, in the words of Sir Peter Ustinov, writer and filmmaker, “is the art of being understood.”
To deliver on vision, mission, and values – great leaders build relationships inside (up, down, and across) and outside an organization where everyone understands and buys-in to the business’s purpose. High performance becomes a team effort.
And effective teamwork is about open and honest communication. In the best case there is a meeting of minds and utilization of diverse skills and backgrounds to achieve common goals.
While transforming from a group of individuals into a team, interestingly, it is impossible not to communicate. Everything we do, and sometimes things we do not do, conveys a message. People are not mind readers so our words, nonverbal signals and especially, our actions are how we create the bonds for effective working relationships.
But it is not just about speaking. Leaders need to listen actively.
A key to this constructive flow of information is listening. Bernard Baruch, one of 20th century America’s richest and most powerful statesmen said, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”
- A Collaborative Corporate CULTURE is crucial
Digital transformation, agile mindsets, and responses to Covid 19 have made the need for adaptability and change of paramount importance. Much is written about creating the organizational culture that can survive during difficult times and strive after.
Change is a constant imperative in any dynamic organization. The environment in which a business executes its strategy is never static. Forces that impact the market arise from the economic situation, new regulation, technology change, political developments, and of course the market itself. If a business does not continual change and adapt, it is doomed to fall behind the competition.
The pandemic has dealt a serious blow to many businesses. The culture a company has nurtured to weather this storm and then grow from it will determine its future, more than any strategic plan or budgeting exercise. We have all heard Peter Drucker’s “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
In the 1990’s Lou Gerstner turned around a giant corporate ship that was faltering. His takeaway from the experience, “The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything.”
This was true in the past, true today, and will be true in future.
- CHARACTER: Your Credibility and Integrity are non-negotiable
My very first day as a trainee corporate banker many years ago, a senior officer gave me this advice, “No matter what you do, always be professional.” I had no idea what that meant. My long business career has been a process of determining my own sense of what it means to be a ‘professional.’ Here is what I think.
Every day you are filling a reservoir of CREDIBILITY that derives from your choices, decisions, and most significantly, your actions. Your credibility as seen by others – are you reliable, dependable, authentic, etc. – is built on your INTEGRITY, which in turn is determined by adherence to your own personal values and beliefs.
One sees all too often in life and in the media that if you do something considered terribly inappropriate or even make a misguided comment, your hard-built credibility can be destroyed in a moment. Every interaction with bosses, peers, employees, clients, and suppliers feeds the depth and breadth of that CREDIBILITY reservoir. And one’s behaviors reflect your INTEGRITY.
I have been fortunate to work with Formula 1 teams that epitomize what it takes to work in a highly competitive, fast-moving industry that demands high performance. F1 teams have many stakeholders, are incredibly detail oriented, and their time frames and sometimes decision-making are counted in milliseconds. So, I offer this quote from Toto Wolff, Team Principal of the remarkably successful Mercedes Formula 1 team to achieve your objectives, “There’s just no millimeter of margin for a lack of integrity.”
The title of this piece is “Four C’s for Great Leadership” and you will have noticed that I have only address three thus far. You may be able guess my suggestion for the fourth.
- COACHING: Working with someone who can help you become an even better version of yourself
Anyone who must deliver results at a consistently high level – be they an executive, athlete, actor, etc. has never improved their performance without the help of an advisor, mentor, or coach.
Executive coaching has come a long way from the days when it appeared that someone getting coached needed remedial help. Today, coaching provides the vital support to leaders they cannot get from individuals within their organization. It may be changing or improving a behavior, or providing an independent, objective sounding board so the leader can bounce off thoughts and ideas without repercussions.
Coaching is a mainstream approach that helps good leaders become great leaders.