The Successful Executive's Mindset

I just finished reading Scott Eblin's The Next Level: What Insiders know About Executive Success and it's a keeper I'll be referring back to.

In addition to strategies on what executives need to pick-up and let go to be successful at this higher level, Scott also touches on the different mindset necessary.

Although the new executive needed to be a results-oriented over-achiever to get to this level, this mindset will no longer work.

The executive, unlike the senior leader, needs to be focused on the organization's success and on furthering all their agendas, sometimes at his personal agenda's expense. The executive also has to be aware that his actions and words are always being carefully monitored and will be taken much more seriously than he had intended, both for the good and bad. Scott shares an anecdote where a new executive teased a previous peer only to have him ask if he's in trouble.

Scott's point is that when you get to the executive level, you need to spend more time looking out, collaborating, directing, inspiring, and working towards the greater good with your executive peers rather than focusing on your own good. And you need to be aware you are your company's ambassador and that you are now perceived differently by all.

I love that Scott also emphasizes the value of having an executive take the time to connect with staff at all levels, ask for feedback, and be approachable. This takes effort since people tend to be suspicious and wary of anyone at the executive level.

If you're contemplating whether an executive role is something you should aspire to or not, read this book. I think anyone taking on an executive role for the first time should read this book or one like it so that they know what will be expected of them. Yes, promotions and raises are nice, but being an executive is not for everyone.

Have you had the opportunity to watch a newly-made executive transition? What made the transition a success or failure?

Review: The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future

The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future by Steve Case
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Steve Case, founder of AOL, provides his informed opinion of what is coming in The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future. As founder of AOL, he was very much at the forefront of the First Wave, helping get America Online, literally and figuratively. By the time the Second Wave came around and the Internet had gone mobile, Steve Case was a startup and social entrepreneurship investor, so still involved albeit indirectly.

Steve predicts that the Third Wave will be more similar to the First Wave, the one he knows so well, since it will involve the disruption of large entrenched industries such as education, healthcare, travel, and food. Some of his other predictions are:
  • the Third Wave will require the 3 P's—partnerships, policy, and perseverance;
  • Rise of the Rest—these disruptions will not only happen in Silicon Valley, NY, or Boston but in other hubs throughout the US—and outside of the US too;
  • Impact Investing will be a rising trend;
  • and America itself can get disrupted and lose it's lead if government doesn't make it easier for entrepreneurs to start.
The book was a really quick and interesting read that shares both what it took to get the Internet to what it is today and what could come next. I highly recommend this for anyone who is interested in how the Internet of Things or digital will continue to evolve.

Review: It's Not the How or the What but the Who

It's Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best It's Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoy reading about employee engagement, culture, and related topics since I am a firm believer that the "human resources" if treated right, are a company's true competitive advantage. Luckily more startups and companies are starting to understand this and more studies and books support this.

Claudio Fernandez-Araoz in his book It's Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best shows us the flip side of this. He has studies and anecdotes to demonstrate that if you figure out how to hire the best and surround yourself with these people, you will be able to succeed well beyond the average. This, he believes, is the secret behind the great CEOs such as Bezos, Jobs, Agnelli and others deemed top CEOs in terms of value they provide their shareholders.

The book helps us learn how to do this for ourselves: from recognizing internal biases that can interfere with hiring the best, to how to set-up a recruitment process that will ensure we find the best, to onboarding them correctly so that they can shine. Given the author's experience as a senior global executive search adviser, the information and advise are invaluable and also very readable.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to succeed, since you will have to learn how to surround yourself with those that can further your success.

Review: UnSelling: The New Customer Experience

UnSelling: The New Customer Experience UnSelling: The New Customer Experience by Scott Stratten
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unselling by Scott and Alison is what a business book should be: easy to read, full of anecdotes that make the lessons come alive, and full of takeaways that you can apply to your life or business. Just reading this book will give you a better understanding of how to improve your customer experience, so that the customers are happy to return and bring others with them. It's a must read for anyone who has any contact with customers or clients, even if indirectly, which is all of us.

And I love their writing style and format so much, I've ordered two more of their books and look forward to reading them.

The Executive Difference

There is a distinct difference between being a manager, even a senior manager, and being an executive and Scott Eblin in his book The Next Level: What Insiders know About Executive Success takes us through these differences.

As Scott explains, some things that lead to the executive level need to go and other things need to be picked-up to be successful at this new level and beyond. He breaks these down into personal, team, and organizational aspects.

One main difference is that an executive can no longer do or even check all the work but has to rely on his team—and allow them—to do the work. It is the difference between relying on your functional expertise and your leadership expertise. It is also the difference between being responsible for getting the work done or accountable for ensuring it is done. A big difference which many struggle with. 

Another related difference is that instead of directing how your team does the work, you need to direct the what and trust that they will get to your desired outcome in their own way. This requires having the right people in the right roles, which Scott also discusses.

Scott interviewed many executives across industries and uses their quotes to "mentor" readers on how to make this transition. A great quote that he repeats a few times is that executives can't stay on the dance floor with their dance partner but need to get on the balcony to see the bigger picture and patterns. The executive can then return to the dance floor to execute on what he's seen.

Have you had to make this transition or worked with someone who has? What made them succeed or fail in this?

Internal Silo-Busting

After reading and writing about Gillian Tett's The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers, I got to thinking about the internal silos we all carry with us.

Gillian does mention how not revisiting classifications can lead to disasters such as the financial meltdown of 2008, but don't we all have our own labels? When was the last time you revisited what you think of yourself and your strengths?

I'm probably unusual in the amount of time I spend thinking about this and in all the personality tests I take to shed more light on this, but even I have personal classifications (aka, internal silos) I probably need to bust out of. 

The one that comes to mind is "I'm not a salesperson."

I'm not, really, but if you've read Daniel Pink's To Sell Is Human, than you understand that we all are. And I've actually held a business development role which I enjoyed more than I expected to and did far better at than I expected to. So perhaps I'm not the traditional type of salesperson that can sell just anything...but that does not mean that I cannot sell. 

And perhaps that silo has caused me to overlook opportunities in the past. Just today an opportunity to bust this silo came up and I'm considering considering it...so a step in the right direction but more work is needed.

There is of course a fine line between internal silo-busting and forgetting one's strengths, so perhaps the answer is to widen those classifications or look at the circumstances in broader terms. Perhaps one needs to carefully weigh all the pros and cons to see if an opportunity is a bad fit or an internal silo.

Do you have internal silos that need to be busted so that you can reframe how you see yourself?

Review: Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual

Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual by David Burkus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

David Burkus, in the afterword to his great book Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual, shares this quote from one of his interviewees: "Great leaders don't innovate the product, they innovate the factory!" And although this is definitely one of the traits shared by the leaders David profiled, I believe there is another, more critical underlying theme: trust.

David has outlined various practices that need to be upended in the new age of "knowledge workers" since as he points out, many of the old management practices were created for factory workers. Some of these practices are putting customers first, standard vacation policies, keeping salaries secret, noncompetes, performance appraisals, and inflexible org charts.

Doing away with these practices lead to more successful companies because in doing so, the leaders indicate that they trust their employees.

If you hire the right people, pay them fairly, treat them right and give them the tools and resources to succeed, you don't need to dictate how they work, how much time they can take off, or many other things that have become SOP in most companies.

This book is a must-read for anyone who manages or leads since it's a long-needed wake-up call and guide how to truly engage your staff and let them do their best work for you and your customers.