How an Interim CEO Saves a Company in 9 Steps

This is a guest post by Richard Lindenmuth. Richard has been an Interim CEO in a number of industries. He has over 30 years general management experience in operations and is noted for his comprehensive execution skills. Lindenmuth is Chairman of the Association of Interim Executives. He is the author of The Outside the Box Executive.

I’ve led major corporate transformations and turnarounds for decades — taking ITT and 12,000 employees through deregulation into record profits; overhauling Styrotek, a California agricultural packaging company, in 3 months during a drought. That’s the job of an Interim CEO: to parachute in, rebuild a jumpy staff’s trust and engagement, and manage profound change. It takes a unique skill set, but as I wrote in my new book, The Outside the Box Executive, extreme leadership is really leadership, just the condensed version: there are lessons for everyone.

 

“Leading by proxy is not leading.” Richard Lindenmuth

 

Here are my 9 steps for saving a struggling company:

 

9 Steps for Saving a Struggling Company

 

1. Hit the ground leading.

Don’t ask permission to start making decisions and forming strategies: do it. The Board brought you in to do a job. And don’t dispatch a group of VPs to speak for you. Leading by proxy is not leading, particularly in today’s business culture, where transparency matters (for good reason).

2. Get out of your office.

To learn about a company’s daily operations, its staff (good and bad), and its problems and challenges, you have to get out there. Don’t hide behind your desk. Walk the halls and let everyone see you.

3. Talk less, listen more.

I recommend active listening, in which you repeat back what someone tells you, and continue that cycle until you reach common ground. It forges mutual respect, paving the way for the honest opinions and information you need for your own due diligence. While an Interim CEO draws from outside experience to set direction and strategy, listening creates the necessary knowledge base.

4. Do your own homework.

No CEO is an island.You’ll need a team of the best and brightest to rely on, but forge your own impressions and make your own judgment calls. That way, when someone’s not being entirely above board, you know it. That’s how I stopped a damaging game of politics at one firm: I knew the difference between reality and rumor.

 

“A floundering company is a dangerous behemoth.” Richard Lindenmuth

 

Put the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work for You

Disrupt Yourself

Companies think about it all the time. Innovation. A new idea, one that will catapult the organization to the top.

Individuals don’t always think about the power of disruption and innovation to reinvent themselves in the same way.

 

“Disrupting yourself is critical to avoiding stagnation.” -Whitney Johnson

 

Whitney Johnson is one of the world’s leading management thinkers and is a former an award-winning Wall Street equity analyst. Whitney’s latest book, Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disrupt Innovation to Work, is all about putting the power of disruptive innovation to work on you.

If you want to be mediocre, this is not the book for you. But, if you’re daring, put the power of disruptive innovation to work on your own career.

Whitney recently shared with me some of the highlights from her book and research:

 

7 Variables to Mastery

 

7 Variables to Mastery

1: Take the right risks

2: Play to your distinctive strengths

3: Embrace constraints

4: Battle entitlement

5: Step back to grow

6: Give failure its due

7: Be discovery driven

 

 

You’ve identified 7 variables to move from gaining competence, confidence, and finally, mastery.  Is there one that most people struggle with?

One of the hardest is entitlement, the belief that ‘I exist therefore I am entitled’.  Sadly, I see it in myself all the time.  It comes in many guises, like cultural entitlement.  We all need to feel that we belong.  A sense of belonging gives us the confidence we need to try something new.  But as we begin to see the fruits of taking the right kinds of risks and playing to our strengths, it’s easy to start believing ‘this is the way things should and will always be’.  The nanosecond we start believing this, we stop learning.  So that right when you are feeling the most competent, and have the confidence to try something new, you begin to stagnate, potentially even backsliding.  If you want to enjoy the hypergrowth of disruption, of moving forward not back, battle entitlement.

Copyright Whitney Johnson. Used by permission. Copyright Whitney Johnson. Used by permission.


Identify Your Distinctive Strengths

I have always been a fan of working on strengths. How do you identify your distinctive strengths?

It’s easy to identify your distinctive strengths, after the fact, because they are what make you a fish out of water.  It’s figuring out your strengths in the first place.  So here’s a clue:  What compliment do you habitually dismiss?  You’ve heard it so many times that you are bored.  Or you wonder why they are complimenting you because it is as natural as breathing. Malcolm Forbes said, “People tend to undervalue what they are, and overvalue what they aren’t.” Take note of that compliment.  It’s likely a strength.  Then find ways to apply or use that strength where others are not.

 

“A distinctive strength is something that you do well that others within your sphere don’t.” -Whitney Johnson

 

Like Jayne Juvan, a partner at a law firm in Cleveland.  As a third year associate, she started blogging. There was some political flak.  Law firms tend to be conservative.  The partners didn’t see the opportunity.  But she didn’t back off.  Good thing. When the economy came crashing down in 2007, she sidestepped layoffs because she’d landed clients on social media.  She also had a compelling case to make when she was up for partner.  Learning the law was her pay-to-play skill, social media her distinctive strength.

 

“Beware the undertow of the status quo.” -Whitney Johnson

 

When to Make Your Move

Phrases Successful Leaders Never Use

This is a guest post by Zoe Anderson. Zoe is part of the team behind StudySelect. She’s interested in finding new motivation tools and branding strategies. After one of my recent posts on words, this submission grabbed my attention.

The Power of Words

Words have power. Just ask any successful leader. Whether in business, politics, or life, the right words can open the doors of opportunity, while the wrong words can get that same door slammed in your face.

With this list of phrases that you will never hear a successful leader use, you can benefit from the wisdom of others and avoid having the doors of opportunity and success closed to you.

 

“That’s not my fault.”

Good leaders always take responsibility and would never dream of throwing their subordinates under the bus by trying to shift blame. If you always take responsibility, you will gain the trust and loyalty of your team.

 

 

“I’m the boss.”

If you have to keep reminding your team who is in charge, then you are showing your weakness as a leader. Confidence, rather than arrogance is the attitude you should be aiming for. People naturally follow confidence, while arrogance invites contempt.

 

“I’ll do it myself.”

This shows a lack of confidence in your team and sends the message that no one else is as good as you are. If you find that your team isn’t performing up to standard, it’s your job to guide them through and get them the help they need. The first attempts at doing something will rarely yield stellar results. You may need to give people a little space to fail at first so you can give them the feedback they need to improve.

 

How to Market Above the Noise

Above the Noise

 

Does Your Marketing Matter?

What makes some messages stand out above the noise?

 

Marketers everywhere have been busy in the past several years keeping up with mobile, new technology, and the fundamental changes in a social media world. Though the pace is increasing, it is also important to review the basics of marketing to ensure that what you do matters. Linda J. Popky, in her new book, MARKETING ABOVE THE NOISE: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing that Matters goes back to basics and offers an approach that combines timeless principles with today’s technology. Linda is the president of Leverage2Market Associates, a firm that helps transform organizations through powerful marketing performance.

 

“Asking for input and not using it is wasteful and dangerous.” –Linda Popky

 

The Promise of Social Media

How has social media changed the way companies interact with individuals? What are companies doing well? What are they not doing well?

The good news is that social media opens the possibility for powerful real-time communications and conversations between companies and their audiences—including customers, prospects, employees, and the local community. The bad news is that social media also raises expectations amongst those audiences, while creating distraction and noise that often makes it harder to be heard.

The result is many organizations do not use these channels effectively. The key point about a conversation is that it’s two way. It’s not a monologue of marketing or sales messages from a company to customers. And it’s not an opportunity to bombard them with information that doesn’t fit the audience.

 

“Successful organizations analyze external forces.” –Linda Popky

 

More and more companies are using social media to engage with their customers, and they’re learning to listen effectively. However, they also need to bring back what they learn to the right groups in the organization to effect change. Too often this is still lip service.

For example, several months ago, I had a very negative experience with a major national retail chain. I tweeted about this and almost immediately received a response and apology from their Twitter customer care manager. The problem was they assured me I’d be hearing from headquarters soon to resolve the issue. Not only didn’t that happen, but the Twitter customer care manager moved on and left me hanging—a huge missed opportunity on their part, which is indicative of how much room there is for improvement.

 

Timeless Marketing Truths

5 Lessons on Innovation from Outlander’s Diana Gabaldon

A Creative Force

One of the most innovative people I have ever met is my friend Diana Gabaldon. Last year, her wildly popular Outlander novels became even more popular as the new television series was released. Whether you are reading her Outlander series or her Lord John novels, you will be hard pressed to categorize her writing. Most critics give up and classify her work with a list of descriptive words ranging from historical fiction and romance to mystery and adventure.

However you describe her novels, you may find it even more challenging to describe the author. Diana is equal parts scholar, writer and historian. Mix in a bit of archivist; stir in comic book writing, and the unique recipe begins to take shape.

When I first met Diana, I had not read any of her books. She captivated me by the way she told a story. How she went from college professor to best-selling author was a story I will never forget.

Here are a few lessons I learned from the impossible-to-describe creative force named Diana Gabaldon:

 

Lessons from A Creative Mind

1. Try….why not take a chance? 

It seems that most people have an idea, think they should do something, and then push that dream into a drawer. They never really give it a go.

Years ago, Diana read comic books. She felt the writing quality was declining and that she could do it herself. Have you ever felt that way? You see something and think, “I can do better.” Most of us have. What sets Diana apart is that she didn’t stop there. She investigated. She found out who was in charge and then turned in a submission.

Years later, Diana would take a different chance. She thought that she would like to try writing a novel. That try, what she calls the novel she was writing for “practice,” became Outlander.

What idea have you had that you have left in that drawer? What could you do to give birth to something new?

 

2. Study…for the love of creating.

Long before her mega success as an author, Diana spent years as a university professor.  She has a PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. She also holds degrees in marine biology and zoology. That type of academic success shows an underlying love of learning.

And it’s that same love of learning she uses in the meticulous research for her books.  Her fiction books are known for their accuracy, and it is no wonder.  Her personal library includes thousands of books. Her Arizona home alone contains over 1500 reference works on topics such as warfare techniques, poisons and history. Some of the topics are very specific, such as the art of passementarie (the knotted tassels on 18th century furnishings) or the 126 books on herbals. If you have been searching for Sam Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) or Captain Francis Grose’s A Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811), look no further.

Often people look for the shortcuts to success. You may hear that Diana decided to write a book and then found herself on the NYT list. The truth is that great public success is almost always the result of planting, tilling and working in private.

Diana Gabaldon's bookcase, Used by Permission Diana Gabaldon’s bookcase, Used by Permission

 

3. Fail…and keep going!