Some Things Business Leaders Can Teach Other Leaders — and Our Next President


Life is not going to be easy for our next U.S. President.

I know, I know; you can say that about every president, and the fact of the matter is that it becomes infinitely harder to deal with world's challenges every single day.

But, that's true for all leaders and managers everywhere, because the complexity of life and managing people just gets more and more challenging and difficult as the world gets more complex and difficult.

5 great tips for a new leader of any kind

I bring this up because I was intrigued with an article published by McKinsey & Company titled What CEOs Can Teach the Next U.S. PresidentIt's easy to get fooled by the title, but the fact of the matter is that McKinsey's advice isn't aimed at just the next U.S. President, but at every (and any) manager or leader anywhere.

Here are five (5) of their "presidential" tips; see what you think:

  1. Start with your vision of where you want to end up. From McKinsey -- "Decide what you are trying to accomplish ... and what key themes you want to emphasize before setting your agenda. ... The former CEO of Juniper Networks, Kevin Johnson, once remarked that this approach does not require that “you translate your point of view into a new strategy on Day 1,” but that you should develop and prioritize a basic list of your long-term goals fairly quickly. A 2015 survey of executives highlighted that they considered the most important transition activity to be creating a shared vision and aligning their organization around this strategic direction."
  2. Focus on the next three years, not just the first 100 days. From McKinsey -- "From the start, striking a balance between near-term and long-term impact is important. ... You will want to score a few quick wins that signal your priorities and demonstrate your ability to achieve them. As Convergys CEO Andrea Ayers has noted, it is important to stay focused on what matters and for “your early wins [to] tie back to your major goals. The former has to be connected to the latter.” ... (But) you need to prepare for more than just the first 100 days. Indeed, trying to do too much in the first 100 days will not allow the organization sufficient time for buy-in and may lead you and the organization to feel like you are spinning your wheels."
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. From McKinsey -- "Effective CEOs (and leaders) understand their unique strategic role as communicators. ... It’s important to be trusted as a communicator by being as transparent as possible with your internal staff and external stakeholders early on so they understand your priorities and rationale, particularly if you are an outsider relatively unknown to the organization. Complicating this dynamic, however, is that the scrutiny is on you, especially at the beginning. Ensure, therefore, that communications are at the center of any initiative you take and that you have a story to tell before Day 1. ... Your clear vision and priorities are fundamental to your communications. These best practices do not mean you should make promises or that you need to have all the answers as soon as you start, but you should formulate a vision and sense of direction that inspires confidence."
  4. Welcome thoughtful internal critics. From McKinsey: "In any organization ... there is a natural tendency to rely upon a trusted inner circle. ... Nonetheless, be willing to include the skeptics within the organization on your leadership team or in your planning meetings. Andrea Ayers urges, “Surround yourself with people who will tell you hard truths.” If you shy away from the criticism or restrict meetings to only those who support your agenda, the criticism within the organization will find its way to you through other channels. ... You need to manage dissent, not avoid it."
  5. Make tough decisions on personnel as early as possible. From McKinsey: "In a recent McKinsey survey on executive transitions, respondents noted that they wished they had acted more rapidly on personnel decisions. When doing so, however, make sure you consider the context of the organization. Underperforming companies tend to see improvements when they reshuffle a management team, but the results are more mixed for well-performing companies."

Teach leaders speaker

It's smart to get to know your people first

My take: Although McKinsey has targeted this article on the "next" U.S. President, it's clearly aimed at leaders everywhere, particularly CEOs and senior executives. You can make a pretty good case that it's pretty basic advice.

But, I was also struck by the fact that leaders who are coming into new jobs with a mandate to drive changes or "make things happen" can often stumble because they take on too much too soon and try to get a huge number of things done all at once. Too often, that's a recipe for failure because it's easy to get caught up in the quagmire of issues that every organization has to the point that you don't focus enough to really accomplish anything.

Focusing on the basics can often allow new leaders to get settled into the new environment and learn enough so that what they tackle is supported more by what they really know than just by first impressions. Learning more about the organization -- and the people in the organization -- will help you to make smarter and more targeted decisions. And, maybe that will help you to drive more lasting change.

In every organization I've joined in a leadership role, I tried to get to know a little something about everyone under me first. That's not always possible in very large organizations, but it's a great thing to do if you can because I've always found that it gives you a number of unexpected insights and information you might not have ever heard much about. Those things can be a big help you as you focus on what it is you need to tackle.

Broad but useful advice

That's how I tackle a new leadership role, but I've also seen it from the other side and marveled at the missteps that some leaders can take without even thinking about it.

I worked for one organization where I had a new senior leader dropped in unexpectedly as my boss, and they spent exactly zero time trying to learn anything about me, or letting me learn anything about them. To the very end of my time there, I never, ever had a meaningful conversation with this person, and I left the organization thinking that this was not only a lost opportunity, but a terribly thoughtless way to manage people.

So, take McKinsey's What CEOs Can Teach the Next U.S. President? and use it as a broad, but very useful, guide for any new manager trying to get situated in a new leadership job. There's some very solid wisdom here, but don't think it's only aimed at new U.S. Presidents. It has great insights for ANY leaders or executives who want to get settled into their new role the right way.