Three reasons why #CEOs should change their behaviour, help others change theirs and, together, agree a shared purpose #smallchange

You want to be a successful leader. You know what that means to you. Delivering the biggest bottom line? Being the best? Changing the world? Whatever.

But do you know why? If you don’t, then you’re not driving. You’re being driven. You are marching to another’s drumbeat. So who’s the voice in your head, if not yours?

A real test of the extent to which you are being driven is to find out what others feel your main behavioural weakness at work is. They’ll tell you if you dare ask. A humorous way to do this is to ask them what they think you are least likely to say. Their answer will be a bull’s eye on your behavioural weakness.

Most CEOs I meet are, as one wit famously said, not entirely displeased with themselves. Most tend to be sure of themselves, at least on the outside. This confidence is part of the reason they’ve reached the top. Somehow they have developed a belief in themselves.

So why would I recommend that they spend time changing themselves? Why would I suggest that they risk failure if they don’t? Why, if they ain’t broke, do they need fixing? And why should they spend any time at all helping others to change?

The first reason is that all success is based on striving to be the best you can be. Since this is, by definition, an endless task, you simply cannot be the best you can be without constantly changing. And your business or organisation won’t, if you and your team don’t. They comprise the business.

The second reason is that the skills that got you to the top are not necessarily the ones that will help you make a success of it. Your self-confidence, intellect, sharp elbows or whatever combination of personal, intangible assets propelled you to the top has done its job. It’s time to stop striving and start leading.

The third reason is that because you may have natural self-confidence or whatever doesn’t mean that each member of your top team has those attributes in equal measure as you do. It follows therefore that, logically, your business can’t thrive unless your team thrives. You and they can’t do that without changing.

No, I hear some say in response this. Just hire the “right people” and let them get on with it. No need for all this woolly, soft and intangible stuff. “I didn’t get me where I am today…” as Reggie Perrin used to say. Indeed. But this is the 21st, Century, not the 19th and things are changing. These days, when the going gets tough, it’s the soft get going. By soft, I mean those with high EQ, not just IQ.

CEOs should be doing only three things: creating an environment in which people thrive; growing the business and keeping stakeholders happy. The best way to help someone succeed is to help them deal with their greatest fears.

But you can’t do this if you are not dealing with yours. But what if you feel fearless? What then? Well, you must remember that you’re in a tiny minority. If only you could do everything in the business, then it would soar because there’s nothing in your behaviour you feel you need to change. But you can’t because you need others. That’s the rub.

At best the behaviour you need to change is your tendency to forget that everyone isn’t like you. At worst, you keep your members awake at night partly because of your behaviour and partly because of what it triggers in them. The latter isn’t your fault, but you need to attend to it if you want them to be the best they can be.

So, throw away the organisational chart. It won’t help you except to remind everyone about power differentials. They don’t need reminding of those. But they need frequent reminding and reassurance that you are there to help them be the best at whatever they do in the service of your shared purpose.

Shared purpose is the most powerful driver of success and fulfillment. It differs from team to team because each team is unique because each member is unique. Their ability to perform depends on your willingness to change yourself. An inconvenient truth, I know. But it’s a truth nevertheless.

Ciaran Fenton

November 2016


Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my LinkedIn profile or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335

CEOs who tend to manage both sides of a conversation invariably lose out because they don’t know how to…


…trust that the other party might, heaven forbid, meet their needs voluntarily. This is, I concede, a generalisation, but one borne out by many years of observation.

A good example is the dreaded annual appraisal of senior leaders by even more senior leaders.

I have prepared scores of people for these on both sides of the table. The most common mistake by the appraised is that they don’t allow the appraisers to do their job. Conversely, appraisers fail to use the process to create an environment in which their direct reports might feel more motivated to perform better.

It’s not unusual that both parties have sleepless nights. The appraised will spend hours second-guessing the line of potential questioning as will the appraiser, the potential answers. I tell them that their attempt to manage both sides of the conversation is doomed because they can’t.

Masters of The Universe they may feel themselves to be, but none yet has found a way to control another’s thoughts, let alone their feelings. I advise both parties to follow three steps to avoid this angst.

Step 1: Agree on the underlying purpose of the appraisal before the meeting

Is it to tick a box in a mandatory and tiresome process? Or, is it a “bollocking” masquerading as an appraisal – a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Or is it a chat, a catch-up, an honest review and genuine effort to help meet each other’s and organisational needs?

Step 2: Agree on the approach before the appraisal

Will it be a traditional form-filling exercise? Or, will the boss say “three good things and three bad things” with a right of reply? Or will there be an honest attempt to articulate and meet the three needs – appraised, appraiser and organisation?

Step 3: Agree on a rough agenda beforehand as follows

What does the business need? What does the appraiser need? What does the appraised need? Are these being met? What behaviour should stop, start or continue? Above all, what does the appraised need to thrive?

These steps, if followed, can lead to higher levels of performance, deeper trust and restful sleep. I find.

Ciaran Fenton

November 2016


Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my LinkedIn profile or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335

How CEOs can learn lessons from the Brexit-Trump shocks to build capability, not just performance, by investing in relationships with people they don’t like…



… because the commentators tell us that many voted for Brexit and Trump because they felt “left behind”. It follows that they would not have done so if they had felt the opposite.

The opposite of feeling left behind is to feel included. You can’t feel included if you are not in an inclusive relationship. The Remain Campaign and Hilary Clinton would have won if they had been in relationships with people who disagree with them but were willing to trust them.

The Remain Campaign did not campaign to Remain. They campaigned not to leave. Try that with a lover and see how far you get. If it doesn’t work in love, it won’t work in politics. It’s about both emotion and facts. The fact is that the Remain team did not believe in Remain, but they didn’t like the Leavers either. Mrs May was one of these fence sitters. They were not in a relationship of any sort with the Leavers. No wonder they lost.

Hilary Clinton did not build strong enough relationships with the poor of Ohio, the cynical of Florida, the fed-up of North Carolina. The fact is, Mrs Clinton didn’t demonstrate enough that she cared. Bernie Sanders did. Moreover, her relationship with the disaffected was so weak that many of them were willing to overlook Mr Trump’s misogyny, racism and lack of ability. No wonder she lost.

Now Mrs May and Mr Trump have to deliver. They won’t because they can’t. They don’t know what they don’t know about leadership, a lethal compound ignorance. What they don’t know is that success depends on creating relationships in which most of the people you lead, even those you don’t like, thrive. You can’t do that if you are not in a relationship with them.

Mrs May is heading for a fall. It will be a big fall, and it will happen soon because a) the disaffected Leavers have merely swapped places with unheard Remainers b) she has a hectoring leadership style which alienates people and is not conducive to the deal making she must now do and c) and above all, history will recall her nadir as the moment she failed to support her judiciary in the High Court. For many, this failure to lead will neither be forgotten nor forgiven because they care deeply about hard-won core values of democracy.

Mr Trump is also heading for a fall. It will come soon as he holds all the levers of power in Congress, Senate and The White House so there is little to stop him from falling. He has toxic relationships with those he doesn’t like. No weasel words in an acceptance speech or in the transition talks with Mr Obama will change this. He will fail because he needs the help of the people he hates. And they won’t help him.

How can CEOs learn from this? What has this to do with them? Surely there is no comparison between Mrs May, Mr Trump and the CEO of any business? There is because we all know CEOs who don’t build relationships wide and deep in their organisations. They stick with the people they know and like and only do the things they feel comfortable doing. There are Trump-like characters in business. We all know them. We also know leaders like Mrs May who may be useful function leaders but make poor CEOs.

Once, I ran a change Programme at a large organisation that treated one function poorly. They saw it as non-core, a bit second-class. Even its physical location reflected its low status. Morale was low. They felt “left behind”. But they made things worse for themselves by giving out a strong smell of burning martyr – understandable, but fatal.

The function was, as IT people like to say, “mission critical”. So I asked the CEO if I could move some of them from their out of the way location into the centre of the “mission”. To his credit, he said yes.

I facilitated a relationship change programme between the function and the centre by bringing them physically into the centre where healthy relationships could develop. It got off to a shaky start but as soon as “both sides” realised that they had a shared purpose and were valued and valuable in achieving that purpose, the relationships were transformed – a word I rarely used but is true in this case.

The lesson for CEOs is that it is no good trying to achieve excellent performance without building sustainable capability. Sure, you can deliver stunning results in the short term without paying much attention to the medium term, to “the important not urgent” issues and, crucially, to those who are not at the centre of your short-term bubble. But, sooner or later you will fail.

Former Goldman Sachs chief economist, Lord Jim O’Neill is reported in the Press as saying that the recent shock results may jolt business into realising it must do more for the workers and communities it serves. He also feels leaders appear to have lost the ability to connect with many of the people they are leading. He’s right.

If you build relationships with these, they will support you even if they don’t agree with everything you say. Fail to do so, and you may experience in your organisation an internal version of Brexit-Trump because you won’t know until it’s too late and, rest uneasy, these will do lasting damage to your business.

Ciaran Fenton

November 2016


Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my LinkedIn profile or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335