Creating Executive Leadership Solutions

I heard John Maxwell say, “Anyone can find a problem, but it takes a leader to find a solution,” (or something along those lines) for the first time nearly twenty years ago. In fact, I remember him sharing a story about the time he started requiring anyone on his team bringing him a problem to present at least three possible solutions to that problem. He went on to explain that there were a few team members who never brought him a problem again!

Whether we’re leading a small group of people or an entire organization, we’ve likely all experienced something similar to what prompted John to take that stance. As a supervisor, manager, or owner, our team often expects us to have all the answers! To that end, have you ever heard anyone who wasn’t in a leadership role say “they don’t pay me to think”? Each time I hear something like that, I’m flooded with a mix of frustration that anyone is willing to accept such a low level of responsibility and concern that this stance is taken so often in society today!

For most problems our organizations face on a daily basis, who is likely to have the most knowledge of the intricate detail that typically leads to a solution? The supervisor, manager, or owner who has to keep an eye on the big picture or the individual who’s dealing with the issue directly? That’s a bit rhetorical… In talking with Carly Fiorina while back, she addressed that question this way: “The leader certainly won’t have all the answers but they would absolutely be the one to empower the people closest to the problems, who almost always have the BEST answers, to take action.”

As a quick side note on this idea of any one person having ALL the answers, I remember seeing my sixth grade science teacher’s head almost pop once when a classmate told her that since she was the teacher, she was supposed to know everything. Her response was pretty intense for me to have such a vivid memory of it nearly 35 years later - and no, I wasn’t the one who made that particular wisecrack!

While Carly’s statement is powerful when it comes to solving the technical problems our organizations encounter any given day, that can leave us facing a different issue when it comes to building a strong leadership culture for the teams we’re leading. That responsibility often lands squarely in our laps and there might not be anyone else we can look to for support internally - especially when the buck truly does stop with us!

When Cindy and I developed the structure for the quarterly sessions we host with our Executive Leadership Elite Think Tank group, we were very intentional about building in time for the business owners and executives who participate to share the most effective leadership practices in their respective organizations as well as time to get input from other members on any issues they’re facing. This is where some powerful interaction begins to happen!

Leading up to this point, we’ve looked at several reasons for having access to some type of executive leadership council. As with anything though, the results we achieve can be so much better when we have a strategic purpose and structure for how we use it! Sharing those best practices gets the ball rolling, but we’ll look at the importance of an intentional progression as we move forward.

Challenging the Status-Quo

Sharing best practices with other business owners and executives, then bouncing around ideas on how to solve current issues, can provide resources few in these roles ever have access to. When this happens within a group that’s been built strategically to ensure there’s no conflict of interest, or even the perception of direct competition, there can be an unguarded openness that rarely happens in any other setting. And if that’s all that goes on in this type of setting, the juice is already worth the squeeze! But what if there’s also an intentional focus on pushing each member of such an executive leadership council beyond their current situation and toward their desired future states for their respective organizations?

As Cindy and I worked to map out exactly what the quarterly half-day sessions in our Executive Leadership Elite Think Tank would consist of, we knew we had to make sure every single minute we had with the group would have to deliver significant value. As some of the most successful business owners and executives in our area, we knew that time would be more valuable to each of them than any price tag we could ever put on them being part of such a group!

While the first hour of discussing the action steps they had each taken leading up to the session to build a stronger leadership culture within their teams proved to be a great way to share a meal, it could also send the message that we were all doing great just the way we were and that we didn’t really need to push all that hard to improve - and that would have been a huge mistake! I learned long ago that nothing stays the same; we’re either gaining ground or we’re losing ground because the world around us is constantly changing!

Not only have Cindy and I been mentored by some of the best and most effective leaders in the world, we deal with businesses in nearly every industry on a regular basis so we have the very unique opportunity of seeing the most current issues play out right in front of us. To make sure we’re doing our part to keep that group on their toes, we dedicate the second hour to sharing a lesson tailored directly for them based on the  most relevant issues we see top level leaders facing and geared at challenging each of them to push beyond their current status-quo!

Since we do this in a small group setting, there’s always powerful open discussion - and even candid debate - about how the topic is playing out in their companies. The most amazing part is seeing how every single one of us are able to learn from each other during this session!

If we went our separate ways at that point, I have no doubt that everyone would view it as time well spent. But why waste such a rare chance to dig deeper? We all need a little push from time to time and that is exactly what we do during our third hour with this great group of leaders!

More Than Just a Catchy Phrase

In 2015, I invested a hefty amount of money and an even heftier amount of time into getting licensed to teach, speak, and coach using some of John Maxwell’s work. I was super excited about this since I had been studying everything I could get my hands on from John for over a dozen years leading up to that. The opportunity to pass just a few of the lessons along, since they had been so influential in my career progression to that point, was one of the most motivating things I had ever experienced!

In complete transparency though, there was one part of the licensing that just didn’t create a spark in me. I had been teaching teams how to build successful behavioral-based safety processes for years and I had spoken in front of groups all over the country at that point, but I was struggling with the coaching piece… As I looked around, coaches of all shapes and sizes were popping up all over the place; health coaches who weren’t in shape, life coaches who were completely scattered in every aspect you can imagine, and leadership coaches who had never held any real-world responsibility for leading anything or anyone. The whole idea was just icky to me and I did everything I possibly could to distance myself from it… I wanted no part of being associated with that kind of ambiguous nonsense.

To that point in my career, I had been held very accountable for producing tangible results, even as a safety and human resource professional where the vast majority of my work was geared at cost avoidance. While making a measurable impact on productivity and profitability in those roles was often tough, it was definitely possible and it taught me some very valuable lessons! That said, most everything I had heard or seen about the idea of coaching to that point appeared to have absolutely nothing to do with the kind of results I had been wired to work for.

But since it was a part of the certification and licensing process, I decided to at least pay attention with an open mind - and that’s where I learned just how impactful real coaching can have! Christian, who has since mentored me in several other aspects of business beyond coaching, taught me that the most important results from effective coaching come from being willing to ask tough questions that are geared at driving changes in behavior in order to achieve and sustain desired results. He was also adamant that the individual or group being coached already had all the answers, they just needed to be challenged to find those answers within themselves. And that tied right back to what I had been teaching on behavior-based safety for so many years leading up to that point!

 So far, I’ve explained how our Executive Leadership Elite Think Tank sessions have dedicated time for sharing best practices and time for a tailored lesson geared at challenging the group’s status-quo. While each of those segments serve a purpose, we wanted to make sure every participant received a level of value from their involvement that they likely wouldn’t get any other way so we carefully crafted the third hour of the day by facilitating focused discussion in small groups by using an authentic coaching approach with questions that forces each participant to think deeply into points we covered in the lesson then share how they can apply them in their own organization. As each member shares in their small group, then each small group reports out to everyone, they each learn from the perspective of their peers. This is where we see what may have started as a reasonable idea turn into something everyone involved can apply in one way or another and impact their entire organization! Those kinds of executive leadership solutions take the standard 1+1=2 to 1&1=11!

With the busy schedules business owners and high level executives have though, nothing we’ve covered so far guarantees the rubber ever really meets the road so we’ll take a look at how we’ve helped tie it all together...

A Plan for Immediate Action

Every session Cindy and I do, be it in person, virtual, or for any of our digital resources, closes with a call to action; a challenge for participants to identify what they can apply immediately from whatever we just shared. That call to action is really based on two things… First was the expectation that had always been placed on me to produce a measure impact on productivity from any training I had attended. The second thing was a comment I heard someone make in a training session just a few years back. One of the participants commented on all the take-aways they had learned and made notes on through the two day event. The trainer was quick to push back by suggesting that those take-aways wouldn’t do much if they never put them in play

Consider this; you’re away from work for a training event. It doesn’t really matter if that’s half a day of a full week, it’s extremely rare to have anyone cover for us while we’re gone… But the workload never stops, especially when we have any kind of leadership responsibility. And the more of that responsibility we carry, the higher the pile on our desk is sure to be when we get back! I’d ask if any of this rings true but I know just how much it is true all too well…

Not only does that pressure serve as a distraction while we’re away, investing into ourselves and our businesses, it can be a huge roadblock to applying even the best lessons when we return. I remember leaving numerous behavior-based safety conferences with some of the most exciting ideas for improving the work we did in our own facility, only to nearly drown in the work that was waiting for me when I got back to my office. Since being too busy was never an acceptable excuse, I still had to figure out a way to apply some of those ideas and show a tangible return. But it was usually really, really tough!

As I was leaving a conference one year, I noticed one company had reserved a meeting room in the same hotel and had all their team members who attended stay an extra day. Me being me, I started asking questions. Turns out they had been doing this for years! They had experienced the same issues upon returning to their respective facilities so they started booking an extra day to detail the specific action steps they could each take as soon as they returned to their offices. And they raved about the results!

Understanding that the workload almost always increases exponentially for business owners and executives, even when they’re only away for a few hours, Cindy and I took responsibility for building time into our Executive Leadership Elite Think Tank session for this kind of strategic action planning. The fourth and final hour of the time we have with this group on a quarterly basis, is dedicated specifically to allowing each participant to have an opportunity to outline the one thing they picked up during the tailored lesson and the group coaching session that they can apply right away. As they outline that immediate action item, we also challenge them to detail the results they want to achieve, who on their team they’ll work with to ensure it’s successful, the tangible impact they want this step to have on their business, the impact they want to make on their overall culture by implementing this step, and when they hope to begin seeing results. We also suggest they list three additional things they picked up throughout the session that they can apply moving forward. Those aren’t necessarily things they take action on right away, but the things that struck a chord with them and they don’t want to lose sight of. We typically close out the session with each member of the group sharing a little bit about what they plan to do. While this also helps hold them accountable to one another, they each typically get even more ideas from what everyone else is planning to put in place.

I’m certainly not suggesting that a group like this is the right fit for every business owner or executive, but we’ve definitely seen it serve the folks involved by helping them each hone the executive leadership skills they need most to serve their teams. Next time, we’ll take a look at a few of those specific skills and why they matter for building a strong leadership culture!

How Do You Create Your Executive Leadership Solutions?

The objective for our Executive Leadership Elite Think Tank group is to provide organizational leaders with an atmosphere for ongoing leadership development, a safe environment for collaboration and feedback on the leadership issues they’re facing, and to strengthen their business relationships with other top leaders in the area. This group is limited to a maximum of 15 participants annually.

Registration is only open between November and January each year but you're always welcome to reach out to us to learn more about how you can get access as spots open!