Greetings from Bristol, once a central port city to the old European Slave trade. Today, it’s a nice British town with a vibrant college feel.
I’m here for an executive planning session. That means a lot of staring at spreadsheets and engaging in “street (US) / “city” (UK) talk about the company. I’m pretty comfortable with it having been involved in one IPO and many M&A transactions.
However, when planning, I’m more interested in the “inspirational” elements. The reason for our plan can’t just be explained on a spreadsheet or a powerpoint presentation. I want to be part of something BIG — something bigger than me. I want to disrupt or change or contribute. And I want to take my people with me.
Of course, a company needs to create shareholder value, but the story has to be more compelling than that. Good financials should be a NECESSARY mean to accomplish a greater end.
If people are inspired, they will be more engaged, more invested, more creative, more motivated. Cross check the planning in context of a story. How interesting is it? So what? Does it get people’s attention?
Be real, but also be inspiring. That’s what an executive needs to be.
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Management teams say a lot about any company. Effective leaders surround themselves with great people. Such leaders understand their weaknesses and know how to augment those inadequacies by hiring accordingly. Real leaders are not afraid to hire people who will challenge them intellectually.
An effective CEO also knows when someone on his/her management team will not make the team better, and does something about it decisively. Inaction often has as much, if not more, consequences than making an ineffective decision with the right intentions.
When building an executive team and personalities are involved, a young CEO and entrepreneur may not be able to decipher who on the management team is effective and who is not. Other times, he/she do understand the shortcomings of the team but is too inexperience or immature to move quickly to fix the problem.
I’ve met with a lot of young companies and their management teams. I can usually tell within a couple of minutes whether the team has the right chemistry or not, whether the individuals push each other constructively, or whether the team is dysfunctional.
In one company, many made excuses for one of the top executives before I even met him. That was not an effective management team. Recently, I met another management team where everyone comfortably contributed to a meeting. No one person dominated, including the top executive. I knew right away that this group headed for success.
Be honest now, how effective is your management team? Are you making excuses?
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A long, long time ago (mid-1990s) when ARIS was growing rapidly, our company was a sexy, up-and-coming Seattle story. At that time, a senior business development executive from Oracle approached us about helping ARIS expand to the East Coast.
The late Pat McGovern had been raised in the Seattle area and graduated from Seattle Prep. He later became a colonel in the US Army and served on President Ronald Reagan’s staff in charge of communication systems, working in the same rank as Colonel Oliver North. While his distinguished military career had taken him around the world, he eventually settled in the Washington DC area with his family. After his stint with President Reagan, he joined Oracle in its new mobile division. Yet, he was drawn to our Seattle upstart company that gave him a nostalgic tie back to his home town.
I was a young executive who hired this experienced and distinguished executive. I ended up moving my family to Washington DC and we grew ARIS’ presence within the Eastern Seaboard together.
He was patient with me and always respected my opinions. It was only much later that I realized he had also imparted a lot of wisdom to me. Once when I was frustrated over some employee issues, he calmly told me that after all his years in the military, he had realized that no one can make someone else do anything that the person does not want to do. I still think about his words when trying to lead a team toward a common vision.
It is a leader’s job to assess who will follow a common vision and who will not. A leader must lead by example, not just words nor with some title. A leader, himself, must be committed to the vision. I stopped complaining about what may be going wrong. I became more transparent about what I was thinking. I learned to be clear about my vision and find people who WANTED to be with me. In the end, a leader’s success is measured NOT by personal achievements, but only by the team’s overall success.
Pat passed away years ago from cancer, but his insights still guide me as I build my teams, and my companies.
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I hosted a Lift9 shareholders meeting last night at my place. Having helped raise money for three companies now, I was selective about the company’s initial investors. The group last night was fantastic and very supportive about what we’re doing at Lift9.
I wanted to host the meeting at my personal residence and put in extra personal effort toward making the evening enjoyable. I cooked blue-cheese crusted filet mignons with red wine sauce, and had some nice wines lined up from a ’06 Groth Reserve Cabernet for the steaks to a ’85 Elysium for dessert, and many others in between. If you have good filets and wines, it’s really hard to mess up a meal. The dinner was a way of showing personal appreciation for the shareholders’ trust and support. The evening allowed me to serve them, symbolic of what I’m trying to do everyday as the CEO of Lift9 to all our stakeholders.
The current shareholders are our initial (seed) investor family and an employee partner. As the founder, I have controlling shares, but still need everyone’s understanding and support around our progress and direction.
Many entrepreneurs do not like managing their shareholders or board. Yet, it’s a critical part of their job and one that they should take seriously — and personally.
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