CEO Corner

How One CEO Built Trust and Relationships In A Diverse Business

Chief Executive Magazine -

When I first launched my business about 10 years ago and started working in Mexico, I noticed co-workers and friends greeting each other with a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek. So I started doing that too, as I believed it was the custom, until one day my business partner pulled me aside and said, “Can you stop hugging and kissing the receptionist every time you come into the office? I think it sends the wrong message.”

I didn’t understand the culture well enough to appreciate the nuances and unwritten rules. Yet, as CEO of a fast-growing multi-national company, that’s exactly what I needed to learn—and fast. I not only wanted to stop sending the wrong message, but I wanted to start sending the right messages. I wanted to understand how to tap into the diverse aspects of Latino culture while staying true to the culture of my own country and business. Expanding to other geographies only increases the importance of sending the right messages that support a more open and diverse workforce.

Diversity takes on different meanings and styles with each business. At my own company, diversity means men and women working in an intellectualized environment in three different countries—the U.S., Mexico and Northern Ireland. It also means working with male and female engineers and project managers from places like Cuba, Russia, Ireland and Colombia. I have had to develop the ability to quickly build trust and relationships within cultures that I didn’t yet fully understand.

“As a CEO, it’s important to learn some of the basic phrases in the native languages of your employees—it shows your respect for their culture.”

Every culture has its own set of primary cultural drivers. In the U.S., we tend to be driven by popularity, success and financial reward. Other regions’ drivers can include family pride or community contribution. By learning these drivers and how they impact your relationships, you can build trust authentically within your company. For example, in Northern Ireland and Mexico, I learned that family units stay close together and often meet every week for a meal, and co-workers are occasionally invited to these family functions. While this is not a regular practice in the U.S., I found that joining these family meals was crucial for building trust with my colleagues.

As a CEO, it’s also important to learn some of the basic phrases in the native languages of your employees—it shows your respect for their culture. Each year, I give part of my annual staff speech in Spanish to help bridge the cultural gap.

Yet, making diversity a primary goal is a fool’s errand. The primary goal always needs to be centered on hiring hard-working people who want to do fantastic work. As a company grows, the landscape should become more diverse naturally. Leaders in the organization need to encourage it, speak about it and write about it, and, in the end, the message will be clear. One example of this is at NTTi3, a Silicon Valley-based innovation lab and a leader in diversity. Recently, I asked CEO Nina Simosko about how NTTi3 has cultivated a geographically and generationally diverse team from around the world.

“I’ve looked at diversity first as [being] defined by a diversity of approach and temperament,” Nina said. “And then I look for people who are like me in terms of their commitment and work ethic. Even without race or gender as primary criteria, we still have ended up with a team who reflects the global community we serve.”

Over the years, I’ve learned to talk openly about these awkward aspects of culture and diversity. They need to be addressed head-on to come to a solution. By doing so, you can build trust and bridge large differences that lead to better productivity, higher levels of innovation, and a more enjoyable company culture that represents every culture that makes up your business. As leaders, it’s our job to put these issues on the table and hammer through them with integrity—no matter the cultural divide.

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Which Cities Are On The Inside Track For Amazon’s New HQ2?

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As Amazon decides where it will locate its much-anticipated “HQ2” second headquarters facility, the hundreds of cities that have formally tossed their names in the hat wait to hear whether their communities (and economies) are about to get a big boost—though some front-runners have emerged.

A total of 238 cities and regions across North America formally applied for consideration as HQ2’s home, and Amazon is expected to invest $5 billion in the HQ2 building project, which will create up to 50,000 high-paying jobs. Here’s a look at a few opinions on which cities may have the upper hand in the selection process:

  • The New York Times recently took the liberty of doing the heavy lifting for Amazon, narrowing down the entrants based on criteria such as job growth, labor pool and quality of life. The top four cities it came up with were Portland, Oregon; Boston, Washington, D.C. and Denver, with Denver coming out on top.
  • The Wall Street Journal took Amazon’s criteria, then interviewed site selection experts and people who know Amazon’s thinking on the matter and came up with a shortlist of their own based on the cities’ tech labor force, fiscal health, cost of living and college population, among other variables. The top three cities it came up with for HQ2, in order, were Dallas, Boston and Washington, D.C.
  • A study from Sperling’s BestPlaces combined predictions on where HQ2 would be located from 18 different outside sources, and came up with a ranking of its own based on that data. The top five cities it came up with: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., in that order.
  • CNN Money came up with its own list of potential landing spots for HQ2 (though it didn’t go out on a limb to rank them in order). Its choices were Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Dallas, Austin, Boston, San Jose and Washington, D.C.
  • Moody’s analyzed factors such as business environment, human capital, cost, quality of life and transportation among the competing cities and selected Austin as the top location, followed in order by Atlanta, Philadelphia, Rochester, N.Y. and Pittsburgh.
  • Finally, online bookmaker Paddy Power is taking bets on where Amazon will locate HQ2, with current odds favoring Atlanta (3-1). Austin, Boston and Toronto are all tied for second at 7-1 odds, for those who may be looking to wager on the outcome.

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How Belfor CEO Sheldon Yellen Is Leading In The Wake Of Disasters

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When Belfor Group scaled operations quickly to clean up flood- and wind-damaged businesses in the Gulf area after Hurricane Katrina in 2006, the black-swan event catapulted the company to unprecedented growth and a much bigger operational footprint in the aftermath.

Good thing: The world’s largest property-restoration company needed to have a vast infrastructure to handle the flock of black swans that landed this fall in the form of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and the catastrophic fires in Napa Valley.

From his headquarters office in Birmingham, Mich., Belfor CEO Sheldon Yellen countenanced the flow of trucks, airplanes, generators, water extractors, bottled water, food – and hundreds of Belfor people – to the disaster sites in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and Napa Valley as nature’s fury unfolded week after week.

The chief of the privately owned, $1.5-billion industry leader, with offices in 34 countries and nearly 8,000 employees, also put his own boots on the ground, regularly helping unload equipment and shovel debris in the middle of the cleanup action.

“I get to be inspirational. I’m on the ground and there with them, but I don’t want to get in their way. I get to see it all develop and to watch this amazing talent do amazing things for people.”

“I’m not sure in any of these situations that I was actually an asset,” Yellen quipped in an interview with Chief Executive. “But I know my effort was there. And in those situations, I get a chance to pat our employees on the back and encourage them and listen to them. And I get a chance to hear about their struggles; some of them have been away from home for months.”

Actually, Yellen counts as one of the company’s biggest successes the fact that he didn’t have to prompt much of the action. Belfor personnel responded organically as they saw the disasters unfold and dealt with the inevitable demand crunch.

“To the outside world, these storms are such a pronounced event, but to us they’re almost matter of fact,” he said. “This is what we do. We were prepared for these storms. It’s been a long time since Katrina – though there was Sandy in 2012, so there have been some warm-ups in between. But we’re prepared for each and every day.”

Belfor managers also were expected to respond relatively autonomously. “I like to lead from behind,” Yellen explained. “I get to be inspirational. I’m on the ground and there with them, but I don’t want to get in their way. I get to see it all develop and to watch this amazing talent do amazing things for people.”

Responding to the monumental damage and havoc caused by natural disasters is much like staging a military campaign, although, as Yellen was quick to note, “it’s not as important.”

In the big picture, Belfor managers at headquarters and local offices must deploy permanent staff and bring in temps to handle as much as 25 percent of their personnel needs as they gear up to help what they call “red alert” commercial clients move past the disasters and get back in business.

And they’ve got the logistics challenges inherent in getting dozens and dozens of pieces of equipment to a scene where chaos reigns during each disaster and for some time afterward.

But it’s in meeting the extraordinary, even singular, needs created by such disasters that Belfor creates the greatest employee satisfaction and sources of company pride.

“We got a call from a hospital that was desperate for medicine, but no one could deliver it to them,” Yellen said. “They wanted us to use our big, high-water-enabled trucks to pick up medicine at a distribution center 200 miles away and bring it back to them. And our people on the ground made the right decision: They sent eight guys in two trucks, and drove through waters three and four feet high to get to the hospital. The hospital administrators were in tears.”

In another incident, Yellen recalled, “One of our employees who came in to help us from another country had a heart attack, so we put him up in a hospital in Houston and called his wife,” Yellen recalled. “We had someone from Belfor by his side 24 hours a day in the hospital, for three weeks, until his wife could get her visa and join him.”

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CEO Mistakes: I Built A Talking Sign That Drove People Nuts

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In the late-1980s, I was a young CEO looking to develop an innovative product that would differentiate us in the market. In the compliance-driven safety and warning signs business, everything pretty much looked the same. So I did a lot of research, conferred with customers, and came up with a killer concept.

The research indicated a major problem with signs. People don’t read them; they walk by them every day and ignore them. How could we make them take notice? The solution, we decided, was a talking sign.

We ran it by our customers for their feedback. They agreed it was a super-cool idea. So we developed a prototype and took it out in the field. When someone was proximate to the sign, it communicated the message written on it. The feedback was positive, but customers wanted scientific data to be sure the product succeeded.

“Here’s where we failed. Nobody wanted a sign that talked to them, day in and day out.”

We recruited a professor of behavioral sciences from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to study the sign in the lab. We provided three signs: Caution! Wear Safety Glasses! and Wear Gloves Before Transferring Chemicals! More than one hundred students participated. The first experiment involved a basic sign without sound. Students were measured to determine if they heeded the sign’s warning. The second experiment involved a group of students who were measured to determine if they heeded the sign with sound. The results were what we’d expected. Only one-quarter of students with the regular sign did what the sign warned, whereas all of the students responded to the sign with sound. So we took it to market.

Here’s where we failed. Nobody wanted a sign that talked to them, day in and day out. Every day the same people encountered the talking sign and eventually they just stopped listening. We’d invested a lot of time, capital and enthusiasm and we did everything right—market research and scientific tests. Where we went wrong was not considering common sense and others’ use of talking warning systems that also flopped. Chrysler, for instance, had a talking voice instead of a chiming bell telling people to put their seatbelts on. People hated having someone tell them what to do.

But here’s the great thing. Even though it failed, the sign differentiated us as an innovator. The word of mouth was incredible. To this day people still remember that damn talking sign; it left an indelible impression. The product failed, but the strategic objective succeeded.

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P&G CEO David Taylor’s Next Steps After Peltz’s Proxy Recount Win

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Trian Fund Management CEO Nelson Peltz.

Proctor & Gamble CEO David Taylor and Trian Fund Management CEO Nelson Peltz are going to have to find ways to work together, with a recount of proxy votes cast last month showing that Peltz has won a seat on the company’s board of directors by very slim margin.

For Taylor, who took over as CEO in 2015, the first few meetings with Peltz and the board will be extremely important as all parties begin work on mapping out the next steps for the company. With shareholders electing him to the board, however narrowly, Peltz’s voice will have to be considered moving forward, and that could be a tough pill to swallow for a CEO who has publicly called Peltz’s proposals “very dangerous.”

“From [Taylor’s] perspective, it is ‘How can we best function in a constructive way so as not to magnify the problems, but rather correct the problems?’” TK Kerstetter, CEO of Board Resources LLC, and editor at large for Chief Executive’s sister publication Corporate Board Member told Chief Executive. “There’s no question that there’s a lot of ego in this—there may even be ego on some of the other directors’ parts. But all shareholders want that to be put aside at this point, because the task at hand now, which both sides wholeheartedly agree, is that there needs to be change.”

“The best thing now is to try and take the battle out of the news and start to get down to very logical discussions.” – TK Kerstetter

The critical first step for Peltz will be getting the high-profile proxy battle story out of the headlines and finding some common ground between himself, board members and Taylor.

“Nelson’s job at this point is to go in, try and have other directors understand what’s trying to be accomplished and hope that both sides’ egos can be put aside for the benefit of P&G’s shareholders,” Kerstetter says.

It would be beneficial for both Peltz and the board to allow the dust to settle, make their peace and then get to work on improving the company.

“There’s obviously an awkward period of time as you get through your first couple of board meetings, and there will be meetings with [P&G CEO] David Taylor and Nelson Peltz and Trian,” Kerstetter says. “Nelson doesn’t want to see things get too disruptive, he’d like to make sure that they both agree that change is needed. The best thing now is to try and take the battle out of the news and start to get down to very logical discussions.”

The disruption caused by the situation isn’t necessarily permanent, however, and looking back to the proxy battle between Peltz and Heinz in 2006 that gave Peltz a seat on that company’s board, could actually yield positive results for all involved.

“The directors on [the Heinz] board, over time, felt that Nelson Peltz was a very contributive director,” Kerstetter says. “In fact, [Former Heinz CEO Bill] Johnson, who ended up losing to Peltz in that battle, ended up on Trian’s advisory board.”

While the possibility exists that the rest of the P&G board decides to dig in and make things very difficult for Peltz, a move in that direction likely wouldn’t serve the company’s shareholders best.

“Trian is trying to bring their knowledge of improving companies into other organizations because, frankly, they have very large positions,” Kerstetter says. “Typically, anybody that’s a shareholder of these companies is not disappointed to see Trian in, because they are always pushing for positive change.”

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CEOs Plan For Increase In Capex As Talks Of Tax Cuts And “Clean State” Repatriation Intensify

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Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (2nd R) (R-UT) and ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (2nd L) (D-OR) listen to testimony during a markup by the committee of the Republican tax reform proposal. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A survey conducted by Chief Executive during the first week of November shows America’s CEOs aren’t fully convinced the proposed GOP plan for the repatriation of foreign profits will succeed in its stated goal to help stimulate the U.S. economy—ranking that likelihood at 6.71 out of 10.

CEOs within the financial services sector were the most optimistic, with 56% trusting there is a high likelihood (8 to 10 out of 10) that a clean state repatriation bill would indeed stimulate U.S. economy. When asked how they believe companies in their sector would use those funds, capital expenditures (44%) and acquisitions (39%) topped the list.

On average, more than half of CEOs (56%), irrespective of sectors, agree that the bulk of the country’s repatriated profits would most likely be allocated toward capex, followed by debt buyback (43%), acquisitions (39%) and human capital/job creation (36%).

An increase in wages appears unlikely to be on their radar (10%), but neither is executive compensation (12%), according to the survey. In fact, the sector that reported the highest chance of increasing wages is financial services, with 17% of their CEOs foreseeing using their repatriated monies to that effect.

When analyzed by company size, in terms of annual revenues, capital expenditures continue to make the list of the most probable investments, except for small companies, which say their priorities would be aimed toward creating jobs and upgrading their technology.

What to do with repatriated funds may, however, not be on CEOs’ list of priorities yet, as our survey showed a lack of confidence in Congress’s ability to make due on their pledge to overhaul the tax code. When asked to rate the likelihood of a corporate tax cut to materialize, the response verged on cautionary optimism at 6.7 out of 10.

CEOs of financial services companies were once again the most optimistic of the group, with a 7.56 average and nearly half (45%) of them believing a cut is very likely to occur. On the opposite side, wholesale/distribution CEOs were the least confident, with more than a third of respondents from this industry feeling a cut is unlikely.

On a size basis, large middle-market companies led the pack, with a 7.09 rating, while small companies trailed with 6.02.

About the survey
The survey was conducted as part of Chief Executive’s November CEO Confidence Index, America’s largest monthly survey of chief executives. The findings were based on a total of 199 responses.

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What to Expect From The Cloud Phenomenon in 2018

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Being able to rapidly see the success that cloud computing has on one’s business is partly responsible for the paradigm shift taking place today. A Forbes survey reported that 74% of tech CFOs said cloud computing would have the most pronounced impact on their businesses in 2017.

Since 2009, cloud computing has grown 4.5 times faster than IT itself. And that rate is only accelerating. The same study shows that by 2020, the growth will be up to 6 times as fast as IT. In 2017 alone, the demand for cloud computing is growing to $246.8 billion from $209.2 billion, an increase of 18%. In the same calendar year, the demand for Software as a Service (SaaS) is shown to be on the rise by 20% to $46.3 billion. Even more impressive is the projected growth that shows that by 2020, 60%-70% of all software, services and technology spending will be cloud-based.

How companies are benefiting
It’s obvious that companies large and small are rapidly jumping on board the Cloud Computing Express, but why is the rush so frantic and absolute? Quite simply because cloud computing is doing the things that make chief financial officers (CFOs) salivate when it comes to expenses versus revenue.

In a recent issue of Supply Chain Digest, polled executives said the best things about the cloud were:

Faster deployments. Getting things through the pipeline quickly means lower labor costs, greater efficiency, and perhaps most importantly, greater customer satisfaction.

Faster time to value. Time to value (TtV) refers to the period of time between the request for a business goal and the delivery of that goal.

Ease of upgrade. Perhaps the biggest selling point of the cloud is the idea that when it’s time to upgrade software, there’s no need to suspend operations or spend exorbitant amounts of money on new software licenses. Everything is routed through the cloud.

Total cost of ownership. This is congruent with ease of upgrade in how much specific components of your business practice have added costs over time. For instance, a computer software program you bought in 2010 has upgraded five times since and you’ve had to buy 10 additional licenses for it as your business has grown. Those costs are minimized or non-existent in the cloud computing environment.

Any one of those four characteristics would be enough to send CFOs and CTOs flocking to a technology. Capture all four positives in one fell swoop? They call that an industry disruptor. And it’s not just the visionary view of cloud computing that has executives so excited. Supply Chain Digest also revealed that of supply chain users currently operating in the cloud, 93.5% gave a rating of “Satisfied” or better.

“Find a cloud-based technology that enables faster deployments, faster time to value, ease of upgrade and lower total cost of ownership and you’ve got a disruptor.”

Big growth, big worries
No matter how successful a new technology is, there will be massive growing pains involved. Demand outpaces supply, leading to cheaper market players who will compromise quality for more customers at a lower overhead. That can be a scary proposition considering the nature of the industry. Not surprisingly, the top challenges for companies seeking to enter the cloud computing market are expertise, security and cost.

Expertise is the silent killer of the three, because it is the most difficult to address. The biggest problem is that there is not a lot of uniformity among cloud vendors, so being well-versed in one doesn’t mean an employee can make heads or tails of another. This can be a stumbling block in getting started and then again when you wish to move from one provider to the next.

However, security is the most publicly known worry about the cloud. Every time a data breach occurs, the reputation of cloud computing takes a hit, regardless of whether or not the server hacked was in the cloud, without even mentioning all the incidences where a user error exposes a system weakness that leads to hackers finding a way into a database.

Cost can be a burden, particularly if you don’t have expertise as part of your standing knowledge base. CFOs relate those guilty moments when they check the dashboard of their cloud computing service and realize they’re being charged per minute or per hour for data they haven’t used in weeks. Using a service with a dedicated dashboard and committing a role in your company specifically to ensure that what you are spending is in line with what was budgeted would help streamline costs and keep them within budget.

Cloud computing has become a tidal wave flooding the business world with the promise of a faster, more secure and smarter tomorrow. Due diligence will be your best resource in finding out when and where to enter the market and how to optimize cloud computing for your company’s success.

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The Global Economy Is Better Than Expected, Says Conference Board

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The global economy this year has grown better than expected – and that momentum will continue to generate a 3 percent growth rate through 2018, The Conference Board’s economists said at a media briefing Monday.

The economic research group also gave their take on a variety of scenarios that could impact the economy, including possible shocks that could cause a recession, the prospects for U.S. tax reform, and how artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will likely impact the economies across the globe.

“[Worldwide] growth has finally left the starting gate since the global economic and financial crisis,” said Bart van Ark, The Conference Board’s chief economist. “GDP growth, which we predicted to grow at 2.8 percent a year ago, is likely to end at about 3 percent for 2017, and through 2018.”

While the growth path of mature markets will remain solid in the short-term, potential for much faster growth is limited, and a growth slowdown is likely to set in later in the decade, van Ark says.

“The good news is that a larger role for qualitative growth factors may help sustain growth and provide better conditions for businesses to thrive over the next decade.”

“As some major emerging markets are maturing themselves, especially China, they are unlikely to return to growth trends of the past,” he said. “The good news is that a larger role for qualitative growth factors – an improvement in labor force skills, digitization and especially stronger productivity growth – may help sustain growth and provide better conditions for businesses to thrive over the next decade.”

The research group also speculated on future events, actions and trends that could impact the world’s economies.

Ataman Ozyildirim, an economist and director of business cycles and growth research, said the risks that would cause the global economy to dip into a recession could come from many shocks, including energy markets, or some geopolitical conflict that would create a contagion in the financial markets globally and then create a crisis in confidence.

“There also could be significant mistakes regarding monetary policy,” Ozyildirim said. “If the Fed were to tighten too fast or approve too large of interest rate hikes, it could create enough of a rise in business costs, as well as create a crisis in confidence, causing people to pull back on their spending and investments.”

Regarding any Congressional action on taxes, there’s going to be an increasing emphasis on individual tax cuts and individual “loopholes,” such as the mortgage interest deduction, with perhaps less of an emphasis on corporate tax cuts, said Brian Schaitkin, senior economist in U.S., economic outlook and labor markets.

“As a result, I would expect more of an impact on shorter-term consumption rather than impacts on investments” by businesses, Schaitkin said.

There is a chance that federal tax legislation might not pass – though “this is proving to be not quite as unpopular as the healthcare bill,” said economist Ken Goldstein, who’s in charge of forecasting near-term economic development.

As for how artificial intelligence, machine learning and emerging technologies such as self-driving cars will impact the U.S. economy, Ozyildirim said that digital transformation is playing “a big role in the long-term strategic growth trajectory,” but in the short-term, the impact on the economy is modest, at best.

“Presently, there is a lot of technical difficulty in translating these technologies into commercial success, as it’s still in the experimental phase,” he said. “Until they are widely used, I don’t see that growth trajectory picking up appreciably.”

However, in Europe, emerging technologies have now gone past the experimentation phase and are now entering “the deployment phase,” said Ilaria Maselli, a senior economist for Europe.

“The prospects for growth in productivity is substantial, so I think we’re on the more optimistic side of the debate,” Maselli said.

The research group also gave five “big predictions” about the global economy in 2017 and beyond:
No. 1: The current strength in global economic conditions provides good conditions to take on more risk.
No. 2: The window for macroeconomic tailwinds may be narrow as there is no shortage of domestic and global political and economic risks.
No. 3: The challenge in emerging markets is to keep driving value in economies that are likely to grow more slowly over the next 10 years.
No. 4: Firms need to adapt to increased labor market tightness, and especially focus on getting better at attracting and retaining talent.
No. 5: The transition to a faster innovation and productivity-driven growth path is an up-hill battle – often not smooth or without crisis.

Overall, growth is slow but steady. However, we can anticipate a recessionary slow-down after 2018 and companies should start preparing now.

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Key Characteristics of Successful CEOs I’ve Met

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As director of Silicon Valley Bank’s UK Corporate technology team, I love coming to work every day – I know I’ll learn something new from one of the UK’s top founders or CEOs. These are smart, passionate men and women committed to making a difference, whether they are at the helm of a fast-growth company or a global leader.

I recently served as judge for the annual UK Tech Awards and in the course of that work interviewed 16 CEOs. Here are a few takeaways from those conversations that may be helpful to your business, whether you are in tech or not. After all, every company today must be an innovator to thrive.

Thinking ahead, in years
I’m constantly surprised by how far into the future these CEOs are thinking – they see and plan for things that often are way over the horizon for most of us.

The CEO and founder of a 10-year-old company described to me his original vision of where his company would be in 2020. I was amazed at how close he is to realizing that 2007 vision. Think for a moment about how much has changed for your company since in a decade. It’s always a challenge to stay focused and have the will to stick with your convictions.

“CEOs have a great ability to communicate their vision in a way that makes you want to be a part of it.”

When asking a second CEO about his original vision, he laughed, confessing that he had no idea he would end up where he is. His ideas for the product and how people interacted with it had morphed over time. But he proved he could adapt to meet customer demand, while remaining ruthless about maintaining the precision of the product.

I would add – and this is key – CEOs have a great ability to communicate their vision in a way that makes you want to be a part of it.

The EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) debate
I believe that most founder/CEOs have an extremely high EQ, as well as the soft skills most associated with managing people and difficult situations. Still, as business leaders with many stakeholders to please, they may not be in a position to show their awareness of the situation. This may sometimes come across as distracted or disinterested, but is rarely the case. Transparent communication, even when the news is bad, engenders trust and helps motivate people to follow you.

Go for a ride
I’ve had the fortune to spend some quality time cycling with founders and CEOs. Taking someone out of their corporate environment with a shared experience extends business relationships to a whole new level. The more rigorous the experience, typically the better the insight. It allows you to observe traits and values that may be hidden in the corporate environment. You may see a new side of their competitiveness, drive or empathy – to win clients and recruit the best talent. CEOs have to demonstrate this. One CEO learned quickly – which translated into smart decision-making – on picking which battles to fight and which ones to avoid.

Sizing up ego and team culture
Many CEOs have an ego – the personal and professional sacrifices required to reach the top fuel this. But at the same time, many of these leaders willingly admit mistakes and acknowledge that no one person is solely responsible for their success. The very best CEOs and founders build a pool of talent around them that creates a cohesive and diverse team and shapes the culture of an organization. This culture drives a huge source of pride – especially as all the company’s intellectual property has been created by these talented people.

The best CEOs are passionate. They’ve found what motivates them, and they never want to quit. In the corporate sense, passion describes a deep and intense interest in knowing how things work and trying to make things better.

You can see the passion in someone’s eyes when you get them talking on their topic, and sometimes you will lose them for a few minutes while they completely zone out. It’s crystal clear how their unwavering belief in their vision drives them to find success, and, when back in the moment, how good they are at telling their story.

So there it is… create your vision, go all in, choose your battles intelligently, embrace your passion and tell your story well. Easy, right?

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We Have It Backwards: It’s Time To Start Making A Purpose Case For Business

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Purpose is not the easiest thing to talk about in the context of business. It can appear intangible and traditional metrics can be uncomfortably absent.

Purpose for many may be perceived as a personal endeavor, not always professional, hampering the honest discussion that can help you understand where yours lies and its importance in creating a successful company and living a fulfilling life.

But let me give you somewhere to start: I believe, at its core, all purpose begins with a real and clear intention to serve. In business that translates to an intention to serve your employees, to serve your clients, to serve a cause, and dare I say a broader intention to serve humanity.

Accepting this idea is tough for the business leaders still clinging to a dated view that the singular purpose of a business is to “create shareholder wealth.” Long-term shareholder wealth creation is a result, not the driver, of building a business that adds real and tangible value to its ecosystem. The old myopic view has served some companies in the short term but that has hardly ever been the ticket for creating a long-term growth and building a market leading company.

It is my belief that if your company will thrive in the long run depends on whether you are building a company steeped in purpose and in your ability to communicate that purpose to your employees, your clients, your suppliers and frankly anyone else in your ecosystem willing to listen. Now, what then might be the single biggest hurdle to building a purpose driven company? It is us – the CEOs and founders of said companies. I believe that it is impossible to build a purpose driven company if we as business leaders haven’t done the work to figure out our life purpose.

“Adding real value and selfless service is in fact a tried and true long-term business strategy that will result in sustainable profitability and shareholder wealth creation.”

A company will always reflect its leadership so if we want to build true purpose driven companies we need to start by building purpose driven leaders. So, have you done the work? What is your ethos? How do you want to show up in this world? How will you contribute? How will your company reflect your views? It is practically impossible in today’s digital age to hide your intentions from the world – who you really are and what you believe will make a public appearance. Hence, no task more important for a business leader than to do this work to define who they are and what they believe and then to make a commitment to living those value.

People often misunderstand what being in the service of others means, thinking it leads to becoming a selfless martyr. Nothing could be farther from the truth, it is my experience that true and deep fulfillment can only come from being in service of others and business is an incredibly powerful platform to deliver that service. Adding real value and selfless service is in fact a tried and true long-term business strategy that will result in sustainable profitability and shareholder wealth creation.

I have put these ideas into practice at both the companies I run so what I share in this article is not theory but experiential knowledge. As a specific example, at ASGARD in the equivalent of our C-suite, each member has developed a written a document that explicitly state what they believe, who they are when the best version of them shows up, who they want to serve, and what impact they want to have in this world. Every Tuesday morning the team gets together and each member reads out loud their purpose document and commits to living that ethos. This simple practice has a profound effect in keeping our team focused on why we do what we do, not letting the pull of short term goals push us off course, and providing a real sense of purpose to the team. The way I look at it, if I can keep the leaders in my company living on purpose I have a much higher probability of building a company that is truly purpose driven which gives my company the best chance of long term and sustainable success.

Now I am not suggesting this is an easy path, especially if you are a public company CEO and the pressure of quarterly earnings are real or you are a private equity backed company CEO and your sponsor doesn’t buy into this thinking. But real leadership has always been about making the right decisions even if they are hard. The result of choosing to live on purpose is that I get to do something I love every day, I find my work rewarding and fulfilling and completely aligned with my personal values, and I get to participate in the economic success of my companies which are profitable and growing. I also get to experience this journey with my team, with companies in which we invest, and with entrepreneurs we advise. That is what the power of purpose has delivered for me.

It was not easy getting to this point. A traditional investment banking career path on wall street, followed by running a private company had left me conventionally successful but without much real fulfillment and joy. I came to realize the cumulative negative impact this was having on me via a literal hard landing. A series of extreme anxiety attacks, which first manifested when I was behind the controls of a light aircraft, put me in the hospital. That was the beginning of my realization that I wasn’t living on purpose and something needed to change. In hindsight, it was the best thing that ever happened to me, giving me the push to create a more fulfilling life, one that is more in harmony with who I am and who I want to become personally and professionally.

I’d urge you not to wait for your push. I’m not here to help you find your purpose, I’m here to tell you to start the journey. Personal experience suggests the rewards are worth it.

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Flannery Embraces Role of Becoming the CEO Who Undoes Jack Welch’s Legacy

Chief Executive Magazine -

Jeffrey Immelt took over from Jack Welch as CEO of General Electric with the expectation that he would cement his predecessor’s legacy as the ultimate conglomerate builder. But instead, Immelt now can be regarded as more of a transitional figure to the man who is actually fundamentally reshaping GE for the future: Jack Flannery.

Barely weeks into the job after Immelt retired earlier than expected, Flannery this week announced a flurry of immediate moves and future initiatives that amount to no less than a surrender to the reality that the strategy forged by his two predecessors has failed.

Now, Flannery says, he’ll lead a GE that is “simpler and easier to operate.” So, with dispatch Flannery has already decided to make GE a smaller company with fewer businesses, not only deconstructing much of the empire built by Welch but also undoing some of the ambitious designs of Immelt. In fact, he has put up for sale GE operations that date back to the days of founder Thomas Edison, including light bulbs and railroad locomotives.

Flannery also underscored the seriousness of his intentions by cutting GE’s quarterly dividend in half, to 12 cents a share, demonstrating that he plans to take some of the corporate reshaping out of investors’ hides. GE long has been one of America’s biggest dividend payers, but that also was a legacy of Welch’s grand design.

“John Flannery is generally saying and doing the right things. But I was looking for more – faster and more aggressive moves, both on cost-cutting and thinning the portfolio of businesses.”

“We understand this is an extremely painful action for our shareholders, our owners,” Flannery said. “It’s not a decision we took lightly.”

Still, while suffering a share-price meltdown over the last several years, investors weren’t all that convinced even after Flannery’s presentation on Monday. Shares fell sharply again that day and are down nearly 40 percent for the year.

“John Flannery is generally saying and doing the right things,” Scott Davis, head of Melius Research, told the New York Times. “But I was looking for more – faster and more aggressive moves, both on cost-cutting and thinning the portfolio of businesses.”

Welch gained a reputation as a leadership titan and management guru by building a diversified industrial giant with operations that ranged from loans to jet-engine turbines, insisting that brilliant management grounded in a handful of principles – such as Six Sigma quality control and strict performance metrics – could efficiently and effectively handle a bunch of unrelated enterprises.

Immelt recognized that streamlining became necessary when he took over GE in 2001. But even though jettisoning some operations such as NBC Universal and home appliances, Immelt sought to maintain the essential diversity of the company while putting a new-era sheen on it. So he added software and sensors to industrial equipment to make “smart” machines and moved GE’s headquarters from leafy Connecticut to digitally kinetic Boston.

Now Flannery is biting the bullet in a big way, saying that GE will shed at least $20 billion in assets during the next couple of years, putting businesses up for sale while focusing on the remaining essentials such as electric generators, jet engines and medical-imaging equipment. He’s cutting the size of the board by 50 percent and shaking up executive compensation. That’s on top of moves he’s already made such as grounding the corporate jet fleet.

GE will still “power the world,” “transport people safely” and “save lives,” Flannery noted. But it won’t be the same GE.

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A Service Company CEO Is Bringing 1,300 Jobs to Detroit

Chief Executive Magazine -

While the Trump administration has been focused on bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, Rock Connections is creating service jobs in Detroit, a city much better known for its factories.

And those new American jobs are in the contact-center industry, which over the last 20 years became synonymous with offshoring of work to other countries where labor is cheaper.

Rock Connections, part of billionaire Dan Gilbert’s family of companies headquartered in Detroit, is hiring 50 new contact-center employees a month in Detroit on its way to a goal of 1,300 by the end of the year, up from about 800 at the end of 2016.

The company began as an internal function that handled customer-contact duties for Gilbert’s Quicken Loans flagship. But then it was spun into a separate enterprise in 2012, and since then CEO Victor You has made Rock Connections a fast-growing profit center by hiring and training people who could handle cross-selling, upselling and forming “lifetime relationships” with customers, not just one-off, commodity-type transactions.

“What we thought would be a different value proposition is finding a way, through quality people and leading technology, to add incremental revenue streams for our business partners.”

Several brands in a handful of verticals now count on Rock Connections for those services, which in addition to typical call-center services also include inbound and outbound calling for sales and lead generation, appointment setting, and email and text-message direct marketing.

“What we thought would be a different value proposition is finding a way, through quality people and leading technology, to add incremental revenue streams for our business partners,” You told Chief Executive.

“If you think about why people offshore in the first place, it’s usually under the premise of being more cost-effective,” he said. “People are thinking about one-dimensional means for representing their company. But we didn’t want to play the cheap game. We decided to flip the business on its head and really invest in our offices, our equipment and our people so we could add that revenue and increased value.”

And to provide those value-added services that require both deeper understanding of a brand and products than regular call-center work, and where a cultural understanding of American customers can be vital, You and Gilbert believed that the jobs needed to be held by Americans, in America – and specifically, Detroit. As Gilbert and others continue to rebuild the city’s central business district, You knew that Rock Connections would be able to get adequate numbers of both city dwellers and suburbanites for these jobs.

“You do need a higher-skilled team member or person representing your brand if you’re going to be generating revenue or understanding concepts of lifetime value of a client,” You explains. “It’s not just one interaction, one conversation on the phone today. It’s the client experience over time, and being able to sell a product over the telephone. We have highly specialized roles.”

Clients such as General Motors and Meridian Health Care have realized that “when a consumer calls in or has a question or concern about their product, who do they really want representing that company? Do they want it to be someone who actually drives a Ford or a Chevy and believes in the value of that product and understands how America works?

“Out of that person you’ll get a certain passion or compassion when speaking to a consumer that I don’t believe you’ll get offshore.”

Also, Rock Connections’ contact-center employees specialize in only one client, or one campaign – one business focus – at a time. And they are free to move forward in their careers by advancing within Rock Connections or moving into one of about 100 other Gilbert-owned companies.


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Sonnenfeld: Uber Investment Deal May Not Mean Smooth Sailing

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Uber’s announced investment deal with Japan’s SoftBank Group yesterday indicates that while former CEO Travis Kalanick and Uber investor Benchmark have found some common ground, the company could still face some unsettled seas as it gears up for an IPO.

The deal, which could be worth up to $10 billion, would mark the end of a legal battle between Kalanick and VC investor benchmark. Once the deal is closed, it’s been reported that Benchmark would drop its lawsuit against Kalanick, while the former CEO would need to receive approval from a majority of Uber’s board when he wants to replace the board seats over which he has control.

But while deal brokered in part by current Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi means peace on the board for now, there could be some lingering resentments under the surface.

“I believe that this board continues to be a smoldering cauldron of mistrust between the founders and the venture capitalists,” senior associate dean for leadership studies at the Yale School of Management Jeffrey Sonnenfeld told Chief Executive.

“There may be a lurking future confrontation over this possible strategic plan.” – Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

In the long run, Sonnenfeld believes that investors will ultimately look to have Uber controlled by the surging ridesharing tech rival Didi Chuxing of China, which has been expending its global reach. Uber merged its Chinese business unit with Didi in 2016.

“While Uber was frozen out of China, forced to sell out to Didi, Didi continues to spread globally,” Sonnenfeld says. “There may be a lurking future confrontation over this possible strategic plan.”

Khosrowshahi said last week that he has full support from Uber’s board to move forward with an IPO in 2019, so the expansion of the company’s overseas operations bears monitoring in the year ahead.

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Under Bruce Broussard, Humana Is Boosting Its Productivity And Competitiveness

Chief Executive Magazine -

(L-R) Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, President and Tournament Chairman Bill Haas, President and CEO of Humana Inc. Bruce Broussard and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem during the final round of the Humana Challenge.

Under President and CEO Bruce Broussard, Humana Inc. is investing in technology and infrastructure so it can offer more competitive health insurance products—and focus more on value-based care.

“Over the last several years, and particularly throughout 2017, we’ve committed to productivity initiatives designed to promote operational excellence, accelerate our strategy, fund critical initiatives and advance our growth objectives,” Broussard said last week in the company’s third quarter earnings call.

The Louisville, Ken.-based firm, beset by heavy losses on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, is in improvement mode since its merger last year with Aetna Inc. did not work out. After reporting an 11 percent decrease in third-quarter earnings, to $799 million, Humana is now embarking on a voluntary early retirement program and an involuntary workforce reduction program, expected to impact about 2,700 employees, or just under 6 percent of its workforce.

Still, earnings were better than expected, and for 2018, Broussard is especially confident about the continued strong performance of Humana’s individual Medicare Advantage business.

Humana is also partnering with health care providers to support their transition to value-based care, including making investments in payer-agnostic care coordination technology and analytics capability that enable providers to be successful in the value-based models, Broussard said.

“Throughout 2017, we have been oriented to improving the productivity of the organization,” he said. “There’s a continued need to invest in the business for long-term competitive positioning, whether it’s in technology or it’s in areas that are building capabilities, like in our provider area or even in our home (healthcare) area, which helps us with clinical outcomes.”

Broussard is No. 55 on Chief Executive and RHR International’s CEO1000 Tracker, a ranking of the top 1,000 public/private companies.

Bruce Broussard

President and CEO (Since January 1st, 2013), Humana

Previous position and company: CEO of McKesson Specialty/US Oncology

Start date at previous company 2000

First Position at Previous Company: Chief Financial Officer

Age: 55

Education: BBA from Texas A&M and an MBA from the University of Houston

*External, came from McKesson so changed some of the info

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CEO Optimism Rebounds in November Amid Growing Hope For Tax Cuts

Chief Executive Magazine -

In the latest survey by Chief Executive, CEOs are reporting a renewed sense of confidence in where the business landscape will be a year from now, registering an average confidence level of 7.07 out of 10 on our monthly CEO Confidence Index, the highest level since April.

This represents a net change of 3.21% month over month— and a gain of more than 6% from September. The rebound comes amid signs that the GOP appears to be making headway on cutting business taxes in Washington.

Despite overall optimism, an increasing number of CEOs are also now predicting they will see diminished profits and declines in hiring over the coming 12 months, as the pool of available workers shrinks and wages grow amid continued economic growth.

Who’s Up, Who’s Not?
Financial services CEOs were the most optimistic of those surveyed, with a ranking of 8.06, 14% above the average score across all industries, and up from a January level of 7.07. The sector’s CEOs in fact reported having greater confidence in what lies ahead than in current conditions, which they nonetheless ranked positively at 7.72.

Industrial manufacturing CEOs had the biggest increase in confidence this month, showing a confidence spurt in expected business conditions 12 months from now of almost 10% since the month prior and making November the sector’s most optimistic month so far this year.

At the other end of the spectrum, after starting 2017 with an 8.25 rating, Health Care CEOs’ confidence in the future fell to 6.57 in November, a drop of 20% year to date. The battle over cost-sharing subsidies, the wavering list of participating insurers, confusion in the marketplace and uncertainty regarding the fate of Obamacare altogether are all factors likely playing a significant role in this decline.

Small Companies More Pessimistic About The Future
Looking at responses per company size (based on annual revenues), large middle-market companies share the top forward-looking confidence spot with their middle counterparts, ranking 7.29 and 7.23 respectively, ahead of the 7.07 average and reaching their highest levels since last spring.

Small companies are the only ones on a downward trend since January, having slipped 4% from 7.06 to 6.79. “Regulations and over the top food safety requirements will put most small businesses out of business,” complained the president of a small consumer goods manufacturing company who anticipates both profits and number of employees to plummet a year from now.

Mixed Picture for Revenue, Profit & Hiring
November data reveals an increasing number of CEOs anticipating profits and hiring will dwindle a year from now. Some 14% now foresee a decrease in profits this time next year, up nearly 6% since September, and closing in on one of the highest levels it’s been all year. Some 11% anticipate a similar downturn in hiring, the most since January.

Revenue projections are up, with 82% of CEOs predicting gains 12-months from now, an increase of 4% over the prior month, and back to beginning-of-the-year levels, but still trailing early-spring enthusiasm.

Overall, despite all the volatility, America’s CEOs continue to rank current business conditions as ‘very good’ (7.03 out of 10) while remaining hopeful for a better tomorrow.

About the CEO Confidence Index
The CEO Confidence Index is America’s largest monthly survey of chief executives. Each month, Chief Executive surveys CEOs across corporate America, at organizations of all types and sizes, to compile our CEO Confidence Index data. The index was based on 199 responses in November.

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Why Gratitude Is As Important As Revenue

Chief Executive Magazine -

In business, there are two things you can’t have enough of. The first one is obvious and known to all: revenues. Ask any business owner or salesperson, and they will share with you this harsh truth. It seems like an endless pursuit of an ever-increasing revenue target with very few breaks in between. Just as they meet their target, a new, higher one is set.  The constant pursuit of the new customers distracts companies from the obvious truth facing them every day. This “hamster wheel” type of business operation distracts people from the other thing you can have enough of in business.

The second thing you can’t have enough of in business—yet is the most neglected aspect of most businesses—is gratitude. We take existing customers for granted and think that once we have delivered the promised product or service, we are done. We don’t stop to express our appreciation for the fact that they chose us over the competition. Instead, we opt to try to sell them more. “Why not,” we think to ourselves, “they are already customers.”

“It’s time to appreciate the revenues we create through employees’ efforts and customers’ choices and do the most human thing of all. It is the same thing we would expect if we were on the other side of the equation.”

When it comes to employees we repeat the same crime. Great performance is often met with more tasks and assignments and very little gratitude for a job well done. It seems as if getting paid is the ultimate confirmation of acceptance. Similar to how we expect more business from our loyal customers, when employees do a great job they are met with requests for more output, not greater gratitude.

So why is it that we fail in such a basic relationship aspect? There are several reasons for this “failure to appreciate”:

1.       The focus on the new – We are always busy with acquiring new customers or employees. They seem to be more interesting than the ones we already have.

2.       Busy and rushing – It seems like we are always in a rush and have very little time for small things like saying “thank you.”

3.       Lack of prioritization – We never made gratitude a priority. It’s always an afterthought and the last item on our checklist. We hardly ever get to it.

4.       Fear of creating new demands – “Well, if I will share appreciation with my employees, they will ask for more money,” a manager told me. The rationale he presented was that it was “better keep them hungry and unfulfilled, and they will work harder.”

5.       Feeling uncomfortable – Yes, some of us find expressing gratitude uncomfortable. Let’s face it: if you have never received expressions of appreciation, you may not know how to give appreciation.

In a recent study of employee engagement at one of our clients, managers pushed back and claimed that it was a pointless study because all employees will ask for more money and more staff. In analyzing the employees verbatim responses, we discovered an interesting finding. While 13% of employees did raise compensation and benefits issues, 36% of the employees simply asked for expressions of appreciation. During a focus group, one employee shared with me that he was the employee of the month in his company. As I congratulated him, he told me that he found out about it in the company’s newsletter.

“Did you at least get a check?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied, “but I didn’t get the handshake.” It was clear that the handshake was much more meaningful to him than the check.

It is time to place gratitude on the same level as the other things in business we can’t have enough of. It’s time to appreciate the revenues we create through employees’ efforts and customers’ choices and do the most human thing of all. It is the same thing we would expect if we were on the other side of the equation. No one wants to be taken for granted or feel “bought.” People do business with people. People work for people. It is time to let humanity prevail and create appreciation-centric working relationships.

Here is my recommendation for taking the first step: start your day by calling a customer and thanking them for the business they already do with you. Try the same with great employees. Start your day with appreciation.

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The One Thing Every CEO Should Immediately Stop Doing

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Don’t be the leader who unknowingly renders large parts of their team ineffective with your own words and actions. Here’s something to keep in mind – if you tell people long enough or loud enough (in word or deed) that they’re not leaders, you shouldn’t be surprised when they begin to believe you. Your job is not to keep people from leadership, but to bring out the leader in everyone. The goal is to create leadership ubiquity. Don’t lionize the few – mobilize the masses.

The most successful organizations are ones in which everyone views themselves as a leader. Leadership that isn’t transferrable, repeatable, scalable, and sustainable isn’t really leadership at all. Build your organization on a framework that builds into all team members regardless of where they reside on the org chart.

“The best path forward for any organization looking to improve performance is to immediately stop doing anything that creates, emboldens, or builds on bad leadership habits.”

We live in a world that far too easily suffers fools in leadership. We embrace pseudo-intellectuals and idiot savants as thought leaders, we accept poor performance as normative, and we value being politically correct more than we fear being incorrect. Leadership should not be about who is right, but it should be about what is right.

I have long held to the belief that leadership exists to disrupt mediocrity. However my observation is that many in positions of leadership tend to protect the status quo (mediocrity’s best friend) at all costs. The best path forward for any organization looking to improve performance is to immediately stop doing anything that creates, emboldens, or builds on bad leadership habits. Don’t embrace outdated, static, or politically correct thinking – neutralize it at all costs.

Stop trying to leverage your people and focus on how you can create leverage for them. Stop asking your people to do more with less (Not Smart) and find ways to provide them with a resource advantage (Smart). Stop imposing hiring freezes (Not Smart) and begin a relentless pursuit of creating a talent advantage (Smart). CEOs who complain about a lack of resources are doing nothing more than demonstrating their own lack of resourcefulness.

Your job as CEO is to consistently unlock hidden value within your organization. The fastest path to that destination is always found in your people – that is, if they’re engaged and valued and not ignored or alienated. Listen to your people, value your people, engage your people, learn from your people, lead your people to become the best leaders they can be – it’s your job.

The best CEOs know when to stop harming themselves, they know when to get out of their own way and they know what to STOP doing. As we near year-end, I want to encourage you to be bold and think differently. While there are many things I could offer up as forward looking leadership counsel, I thought it best to leave you with this; Stop being a manager of tasks and initiatives, and focus on unlocking the value of your greatest asset -your team.

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