Become an Athletic CEO to Lead in Turbulent Times

athletic ceo

Throwing Out the Book

High-performing leaders don’t always lead by the book. They may not be full of praise. They may not celebrate small wins and give positive feedback. But somehow, some way they manage to deliver growth year after year. They can even set the bar for the entire industry. This leadership philosophy is different than what many of us follow today. Since I enjoy studying these various models, I wanted to share it with you.

Stanislav Shekshnia, Veronika Zagieva, and Alexey Ulanovsky have studied them for ten years. And they write about their findings in Athletic CEOs: Leadership in Turbulent Times. I recently asked Stanislav to talk about their research.

 

“Don’t let anybody work harder than you do.” -Serena Williams

 

The Athletic Leader Attributes

What is Athletic Leadership and what are Athletic Leaders’ unique attributes? 

Athletic Leadership is a model, a construct, which describes effective leadership in the specific context, defined by rapid obsolescence, high turbulence, heavy government involvement, high-power distance leadership tradition, and a medium level of development of human capital.

Athletic is a metaphor which we used to emphasize a very important characteristic of the effective CEOs we have studied – mental toughness. Just like top athletes these leaders are super-ambitious, passionate, focused, cool-headed and merciless to the competitors, followers and themselves. This evokes images familiar to all of us: Usain Bolt, Wane Gretzky, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.

At the same time, business leadership is more complex than sports. Athletic CEOs combine toughness with mental adaptability. They are proactively curious; they constantly reinvigorate knowledge, and they change their mental models. This almost improbable combination makes them effective.

 

“I love competition, so when you talk and tell me what you’re gonna do, all it makes me wanna do is work harder.” -Usain Bolt

 

The agendas of athletic leaders – their ambitions and major themes –  are complex and multidimensional, with many different overarching themes, time horizons and specific projects. However, there are two central leitmotifs in all this diversity: winning and transforming.

Athletic leaders strive to beat specific competitors – companies and leaders they recognize as such. They work hard to beat their own records, e.g. they want their companies to constantly outperform themselves. They would like to set world records. Their playing field is the world, and their benchmarks are the global leaders. And athletic CEOs want their companies to win championships as well as single matches; they make the long-term success of their organizations a very important element of their leadership agendas.

Leadership is always about transformation, and this priority sits high on the agendas of athletic leaders. Transformation, or positive change for its own sake, has a profound meaning for them. And, as with ‘winning,’ athletic leaders pursue different kinds of transformation at different levels. They change people who work for them, the companies they manage, the industries they compete in, the communities their businesses operate in and the countries in which they live and work.

Athletic leaders also use some distinct iterative behavior strategies for leading people and organizations which I call meta-practices. These practices produce superior financial performance (outputs of athletic leadership) and long-lasting transformational legacy (outcomes of athletic leadership).

 

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” -Pele

 

What do these leaders do that is not necessarily “by the book”?

The model of athletic leadership describes what effective leadership actually looks like in the specific context. This model seems contradictory: it reflects both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides of leadership. Some specific elements of athletic leadership go against well-established and widely-accepted leadership models. Let me give you some examples.

Athletic leaders do not fit into the well-known ‘Level Five Leadership’ model depicted in Jim Collins’s bestselling book From Good to Great. They are not humble, but openly ambitious. They say ‘I’ much more often than ‘we.’ They do not follow ‘the Window and the Mirror’ pattern that Collins describes; rather, they habitually take the credit for success and may blame subordinates for underperformance. They usually decide on a course of action and only then think about the people who will carry it out (contravening the ‘First Who … Then What’ principle of ‘Level Five’ leaders). They do not shy away from the limelight, but constantly seek it. CEO Vitaly Saveliev appears in every issue of the Aeroflot inflight magazine; Herman Gref has given more than a hundred press interviews since becoming Sberbank CEO.

 

“I hated standing on that third-place podium. Hated it, hated it.” -Michael Phelps

 

Athletic leaders do not always demonstrate another recognized attribute of effective leadership: emotional intelligence – at least not in the way described by Peter Salovey, John Mayer, David Caruso, or Daniel Goleman, who write about understanding and regulating personal emotions, understanding the emotions of other people, and interacting with them on the basis of that awareness.  Athletic leaders are relaxed about managing their own emotions and give themselves the freedom to raise their voices or threaten followers. They criticize more often than they praise. Providing positive, constructive feedback is not their strongest competency. One of them said to us, ‘My deputies are mature, well-paid professionals – if they don’t understand what they do well, they should not be where they are. They don’t need feedback.’  Athletic leaders do not often reflect on what effect their actions and words have on other people and rarely take any steps to correct negative outcomes. They are so passionate about what they do that they assume others share the same passion, demonstrate the same level of commitment, and therefore do not require any kid-glove treatment. Like top athletes, athletic leaders are so concentrated on winning that they tend to forget about the people who help them to win.

 

“I don’t fold under pressure, great athletes perform better under pressure, so put pressure on me.” -Floyd Mayweather

 

Outcomes and Outputs

A Travel Guide to Training Around the World

global travel

Learn from Other Cultures

Every year I have the opportunity to travel and conduct business around the world. Learning from other cultures is something I treasure.

The world is getting smaller. When I run into someone I know halfway around the world, I’m no longer surprised. And I’m reminded daily that social media is an exercise in global communication.

Getting a team trained, no matter where they’re located, can be a daunting task, even without cultural differences. Add in the need to think globally, and it can be overwhelming.

That’s where Donna Steffey and 15 other authors can help, with their book Destination Facilitation: A Travel Guide to Training Around the World. As someone who has conducted training in 25 countries, Donna is someone I was eager to talk with about developing a global mindset.  

Donna Steffey, MBA, CPLP, president of Vital Signs Consulting, is an international trainer, author, facilitator of the ATD Master Trainer™ Program, and adjunct faculty member at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

 

“Cultural Intelligence develops intentionally with your commitment to increasing your global mindset.” -Donna Steffey

 

The Impact of Globalization on Training

How are the major trends in technology and globalization impacting the field of training?

DestinationFacilitation-EditedbyDonnaSteffey-bookCoverThe traditional face-to-face classroom training is now less than half of all training done. According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD) 2017 State of the Industry report, that means that 51% of training is delivered via webinars, mobile, self-paced online, or other methods like DVDs or Podcasts. This represents a 10% change in the last 5 years away from traditional classroom training. With over 300 multi-national organizations employing over 35 million people around the globe, online technologies really do become the best method for reaching remote employees.

We see a trend toward mobile learning with 67% of people saying they now use mobile devices to access learning. What is interesting is that only 20% of organizations have formal mobile learning programs.

A trend known as micro-learning is becoming popular to shorten the path from learning to succeeding. Micro-learning is a bite-sized chunk of learning lasting 3-10 minutes and only covering 1-2 crucial points. It often includes interactivity and testing. According to the Dresden University of Technology in Germany, micro-learning improves retention by 20%.

 

67 percent of people use mobile devices to access learning.

10 Examples of Nudge Theory

swimming

Motivation

A few summers ago, I watched a father coaxing his daughter to jump into the pool. It brought back memories of me doing the same thing with my daughter years before.

She was adamantly refusing to leap. He was frustrated. And then something happened. He sweetened the offer with a promise of a grape popsicle.

Splash!

She was in the water before I even knew what happened.

That little incentive was a nudge. Motivation at its best.

I first became aware of nudge theory from the book, Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The authors highlighted how we think and make choices. Others had written about it previously, most notably James Wilk before 1995.

Since then, I am more conscious looking for how others are trying to influence my behavior. I also use nudges to help me meet my own goals. Putting healthy food within reach and making it harder to reach unhealthy snacks falls in this category.

Do you use nudge theory?

Here are a few examples of it:

6 Leadership Strategies To Build A Bulletproof Business

road to excellence

How to Achieve Organizational Excellence

 

Excellence.

It’s the focus of every leader. It’s the aspiration of those who seek to make a mark.

How to achieve organizational excellence is the subject of a new book by David Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training. THE ROAD TO EXCELLENCE: 6 Leadership Strategies To Build A Bulletproof Business is the result of his research and experience as a CEO of a global organization. I asked him to share some of his leadership insights as well as some blind spots that can catch business leaders off guard with potentially disastrous consequences.

 

“Effective leaders are always in recruiting mode, not just when an opening appears.” -David Mattson

 

Leadership Blind Spots

The first part of your book spotlights the blind spots that many have in building a culture of excellence. Of these 14, what blind spots do you see leaders making most often when it comes to leadership excellence?

The most common mistake – and it seems to be universal across all industries – is the failure to make recruiting the very best people an ongoing, continuous priority. Effective leaders are always in recruiting mode, not just when an opening appears. They build up a bench of talent, so that when there’s an unexpected departure by a key person, there’s no crisis that threatens the entire organization. If you look at the top-performing companies that dominate, you almost always find that they’re the ones that have made recruiting the very best people an ongoing organizational priority. You are always, always looking for the best talent.

 

“All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.” -Orison Sweet Marden

 

Know the 6 P’s

The Power of Company Culture

company culture image

The Power of Company Culture

In more posts than I can count, I have written, discussed, and interviewed authors on the importance of organizational culture. A powerful culture fuels an organization to achieve greatness. When a new book by Chris Dyer titled The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits hit my desk, I was interested to see the author’s view of culture and his interpretation of the latest research. Chris didn’t disappoint. The book takes the reader on a thoughtful overview of culture and shows the practical steps to take to improve yours in record time.

I recently spoke with Chris about his work on company culture.

 

“Culture is the bedrock of business success.” -Mark Goulston

 

3 Ways to Increase Transparency

Transparency. You share some great ways to increase transparency. Is it ever possible to be too transparent?

Of course! Take any example, and a case can be made that too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Each company needs to decide how transparent they should be with employees, customers, and vendors. InThe Power of Company Culture, I present evidence that more transparency is usually better. Regulations, privacy concerns, and competitive advantages aside, transparency is really about writing—and playing by—the rules of the game.

When companies take charge and share information about their financial health, successes, failures, goals, and dreams, they then control their own narrative. As humans, we can only use the information we already have to explain something new we don’t understand. By providing more information to those impacting our companies, we help them arrive at the correct conclusions and outcomes.

Any company looking to improve their transparency should start in a few key areas. First, ask: Does everyone in the company know what goals have been set by senior management? Overall company goals, department goals, and even team goals should not be a secret.

Second: Does everyone know and understand the financial health status of the organization? For public companies, this information is available to everyone. But most companies are not public. Decide how far you are willing to go, and share the numbers that you can.

Third: Do teams, departments, and employees understand what is expected of them by senior leadership? Nine times out of ten, when a department or person is not measuring up to what is expected, there is a disconnect as to what they believe is expected.

 

“Transparency is both a business ethic and a cultural element in the workplace.” -Chris Dyer

 

Develop a Positive Culture

How do leaders develop a culture of positivity?

There are lots of ways to infuse positivity into an organization. I suggest a deep dive into the Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Leadership working models, via books and interactive workshops.

Before you do that, consider where your business falls on the positivity scale. Do your people ask, “What went right?” or, “What did we do well?” Or do they just focus on solving “problems”? Often, we forget to ask and identify what is working, and consider that the place for us to do more.

Positivity also entails identifying who does what, well. In a team, it is common for some people to excel in one area, and others somewhere else. Aligning tasks and goals around strengths, and minimizing weaknesses, is more positive than working on what’s not working.

Additionally, look at the language used by people in your company to find potential tweaks for positivity. Instead of addressing troublesome issues as “problem solving,” which is a negative concept, start calling them “opportunities to improve.”

 

“Give feedforward not feedback.” -Chris Dyer