Strategy is Critical, Not Casual, for Real Business Success!

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I was very fortunate to have lunch earlier this week with a bright and articulate Investment banker this week. As we talked about business development and the rebounding market, I was quite impressed by a couple of his thoughts and they rang so true to my beliefs that it made for a wonderful leadership dialogue with a guy that is much more than an investment banker. He shared with me that he has many existing clients and as of late even more potential new clients who come to him and his organization looking to add to their businesses via acquisitions, raise capital to expand their businesses and/or potentially market their businesses to sell. His statement to me was that many of these clients or potential clients were not positioned to execute on any of these fronts because their businesses had be much too “casual” in their approach to their go forward business strategy. This approach had left them with slow growth, poor market position, declining earnings or in some cases all of the above!

As we discussed this situation, we both agreed that strategy is a CRITICAL on going yearly process that must be afforded both time and resource to develop and execute. As I shared in my book, strategic reviews are a cornerstone of the basic General Electric operating process and every business spent considerable time every year, normally in the first half of the year, to understand their market, their competition in the market, a strong SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) relative to this data, a plan for growth built on this data and a plan on how to resource the strategic plans that are developed. I subsequently used this processes in every business I lead outside of GE and it was a real driver of our growth and business development plans with USIS, the private equity portfolio company where I was CEO. My activity on this front that I describe in the book and all the years that I participated in this strategic review process in GE are witness to how critical strategy is to both defining how your business will continually succeed and what needs to be done to close the gap to get there.

In the end, I could not have agreed more with my lunch guest and I was excited to see how much he valued strategic planning and was driving it into the hearts and souls of small to mid-size business owners. For he knows as well as I do that long term business success does not allow for a “causal” approach to day to day operations or a “casual” approach to planning your long term future of your business. Both are critical to sustained business success!

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Are You Born A Leader Or Do You Become A Leader Over Time?

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I had the great privilege to be a guest speaker at two college entrepreneurship classes over the past few weeks. One class was a group of college juniors and one class was a group of college seniors. it was so refreshing to be in the classroom and witness the vigor and enthusiasm that these young folks have for leadership and their future opportunities in the business world! I spoke for about thirty minutes to each group about transformational leadership and what I emphasized was the fundamentals of never quit, proactive communications, continual change and delivering results. The attentiveness of both groups was outstanding and their engagement in the insuing question and answer period was energizing for me. In fact, I took a couple of books and promoted strong questions by offering a free book to the student in each class with the best question.

In one of the classes, I recognized the winning question as the question that is the title of this blog, “Randy, were you born a leader or did you become one over time?” What a great question from an aspiring leader in his twenties and it helped me to address some thoughts to the class that were maybe the best moments in my time with them. My answer, which truly came without much thought, was as follows. I knew very early in my career (within the first year of leaving college) that I had the desire to lead. I do believe that desire has to be one that you are born with, especially if you are to succeed as a leader. Second, I shared with the class that I may have been born with the desire to be a leader but the path to being a leader is via the experiences, failures and learnings from other leaders that you have over time. In fact, no leader, regardless of how much he/she feels they are born with leadership skills, becomes an effective leader with coupling desire with the hard work of learning leadership over time.

I feel it is important to share in closing how impressed I was with these students this week. We hear so much bad about the uture but I am truly encouraged about the future leadership of the business world based on the interface I had with these seventy future leaders.

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In These Days Of Mediocre Service It Is Hard To Be A Committed Customer

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In my book I write about the fact that customers will never be blind to poor service, poor quality and poor relationships. While I think most business owners embrace this as true, I am amazed more every day how haphazardly the associates who work in various capacities so poorly represent any regard for great customer service! I suspect that it is some what related to training and lack of measurement on customer service in various businesses but I also believe there is a lack of real desire to listen to customer needs and discover a way to fill their needs which in turn is driven by organizations where empowerment is just not embraced. So, what you get is customer service similar to my latest two examples.

First, I had been using the same dry cleaners for more than a year since I moved to my new location. On more than one occasion I asked for the amount of starch to be lessened in my shirts. Each time I asked, I was told no problem we can change that. However, after four times requesting this same thing it had not changed. Finally, one day I said this is the last time I intend to ask about the starch and they apologized for the continuing issue and promised a change this time. As you have guessed by now, nothing changed but where I now take my laundry! My new cleaners completes the task as requested but they go the extra mile every time I go there. If a button is missing or a stain will not come out they make sure I know about the problem and do all they can to resolve it before I ever even ask or know about it. I am thrilled to have made the change and I am happy to pay on average 10% more for the same work because the quality and service exceed my expectation!

Second, I recently called my regular pest control service with a rodent problem which I had no idea if it was covered under my contract. I originally solicited there service when I moved to my current location (just like the cleaners) and I have been loyal to their continuing quarterly service. However, when I called with my current issue, I was told not only do we not cover that in your current contract. We do not perform that service. I said fine but can you help me with who I might contact to take care of the issue. They said no they did not have a contact but hoped I could find some resolution by finding that kind of service. They did not offer to help find a service nor did they offer any immediate suggestions to deal with the issue. So, like the cleaners, I intend to have a new pest control service in the near future.

I assume that my dollars of business will not be missed initially in either business but I do wonder how many customers they will lose before they lose their business all for the lack of customer service/attentiveness. It is really hard to be a committed customer these days but where I find committed service attitudes I will have great loyalty even at a premium!

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When Working Hard Is Just Not The Only Answer

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I have always believed that hard work is the key to getting ahead and I believe that the folks that really win do so because they commit themselves to do whatever is required to succeed. With that said, I have learned some hard lessons about believing that all my issues and opportunities could be resolved or realized just because I was willing to do whatever it would take to win. I am writing about this because I had the opportunity to talk to a very hardworking individual his week who is making his business a real success but he is working so hard that he does not have the time to reflect on how the business could be even stronger and more successful.

My friend has an “event based” business which means his revenue stream is dependent upon finding his next customer, closing the transaction, executing the service and collecting the payment. He believes that his hard work and oversight of each transaction is required to assure excellence in customer satisfaction and a referral base for new business. While I greatly respect his work ethic and his focus on customer satisfaction, I worry a lot that my friend will never be able to sustain his business success because he is working hard but not working hard enough to think about how to grow his business based on the success he has already established.

As we discussed his business, I asked him a couple of questions about all the customers he had already established and how much effort he was making to sell follow up services to what I call his “installed base”. In all sincerity, he said I will do whatever I need to do to help an existing customer when they call, but I am much too busy creating new business to do more than respond when an existing customer calls. We continued to talk and I shared a couple of thoughts about how to sell most of his existing customer base some follow up services on a regular every three year basis. In fact, I shared that if he was not comfortable doing this himself, it would be a great business expansion that would allow him to bring in the skills to do this, grow the business and perhaps see that the need to always work so hard could take a turn for the better in the near future.

As you have heard before, sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. Likewise, it is often hard to see anything but hard work ahead because we don’t stop and think about other solutions beyond hard work.

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Leadership Is Not Easy But It Is Powerful!

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As i shared with you in the last blog, my speaking engagements allow me to get real time feedback and questions about Transformational Leadership and some of the recent conversations have been eye-opening to say the least! It just never ceases to amaze me how many so called “leaders” believe that their associates work hard for their business during the week so they can do what they want to do on the weekend. I am blown away that they just don’t get that associates want a life that has challenge, reward and learning during their working hours. Without that opportunity to be challenged, the associates become bored, unhappy and dissatisfied which leads to poor quality, poor service and many human issues. So, how do we change the leadership environment ?

I assume you already knew that I would say it can only be changed with real leadership and you could not be more correct in your thinking. It may sound very simple but the more we get our associates feeling good about themselves, about the contribution their work makes and about their involvement in resolving issues/needs, the more you drive business success. The old, autocratic ways of a manager are done. The new ways of leading are begging to be utilized and sustained by confident and committed leaders!

This whole thought of leadership with a focus on the future needs of the organization is leadership with a commitment to improve and be better versus just showing up. Transformational Leadership at it’s very simple core is a person or associate centered leadership that once a leader gets started it is like the proverbial snowball rolling down the hill in that it grows and can’t be stopped. While this is not necessarily easy to do because it takes focus versus just mindless management techniques, it is much more simple than many believe it is and it is the game changing and powerful way to create success beyond what many believed was achievable in any organization.

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It Just Does Not Seem That Hard To Do

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I had the opportunity to serve as a keynote speaker for a couple of great meetings over the course of the past two weeks. One meeting was focused on diversity and inclusion and the other meeting theme was collaboration. Both meetings were very successful and I was honored to be a part of the agenda; and to share with the attendees at both meetings the critical role that leadership plays in the success of both diversity and collaboration. What really struck me in both of these meetings with the folks, as I talked to them during the book signing time was a the old saying, “it’s not really as hard as it looks.” So, what is it that I felt is not as hard as it may look or sound? The “it” is real, open and committed leadership. The type of leadership that the book and my career has been centered around. Yet, I am always so surprised to the degree that is lacking in many organizations.

If I could say in this blog that the one thing that attendees at both of these meetings had in common which were hundreds of miles apart, it was the desire to have and the frustration with the lack of real, open and committed leadership. Here is where I feel that it is just not as hard as it might look to many leaders who fail to deliver this to their organizations. Real leadership does not mean you are not in control nor does it mean that you have to be too soft with your organization. However, what it does mean is that you have to be committed to regular communications with the entire organization and that the communications contains sufficient clarity as to the business’s/ organization’s needs, issues and future direction. Employees, for the most part, want to feel they are knowledgeable, involved and a part of the organization’s critical resource!

In the book, oner of my favorite pages is the chart that talks about the difference between managers and leaders. It always gets great reception in my talks because there are still way too many managers in many organizations. People are looking for leadership and let me tell you again “leadership is not really as hard as it may look”

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How Important Are Communications?

executive leadership mentoringI got into very healthy debate over the weekend with a good friend about the most important aspect of real game changing leadership (Transformational Leadership!). We were in violent agreement that having the right, talented people is critical and that a compelling vision married to a strategy is fundamental to any business’s future. However, we debated more than I ever expected about my belief that those and so many other critical needs are all secondary to the ability to execute real strong, clear communications. We ended up agreeing that most of what works in our lives, or fails for that matter, is the result of the job we either perform or miss on the communication front. Now that I think about the conversation, it is funny but we were able to have a healthy debate because we are both good, clear and honest communicative leaders who care about each other.

In my book,the first chapter in the secret sauce of Transformational Leadership (chapter4) is actually titled “Win Them Over–Communicate, Communicate, Communicate”. I make many critical points in this chapter but the main message is that the leader must drive the communication process, establish his presence and become a real caring open leader to the broad business team. As I point out, this complex process consists of many steps but the first step is really simple. You must become totally open as to who you are, where you came from, what you know or want to know about them and the business, how you operate and what you expect from them. The more this can be done with candor, humility and conviction the faster the transformation will start!

The most important part about communication as the catalyst for change though is not just this front end work but the ongoing consistency of the communication. How are we doing? Where are we going for future success and job security? Why are the metrics so important? What is the value of productivity to my future? What do our customers think and a they satisfied with our work? Will I share in the future success of the business? These and so many more questions are constantly on the mind of your organization. They deserve to have answers and they deserve it without asking. The bottom line, the more your organization knows the more they will see the need to constantly change and drive the needs of the business from their own informed perspective. Communications the real key to Transformation!

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Authentic Leadership Attracts, Retains and Grows The Best Talent

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Within the last couple of days I was talking to a really focused leader in a well known private equity firm and the more he described a current leadership issue in one of his portfolio companies, the issue became really clear to me. This is a problem that is all too common in business leadership but with some of the recent economic challenges it has become more pronounced in many businesses. The issue is that many business leaders believe the best way to deliver results is to control virtually every aspect of the business and those who have been charged with leading in respective areas of the business. In other words, the trust and real openness that are so critical to any organization’s development are compromised by the belief that control is more important than people, creativity and clarity/openness of thought.

Learning to be a real leader who is open to not always being right, one who can accept failure and one who can trust those in the organization is not necessarily easy but the payoff for the organization and for the leader is significant. Your best people in an organization are first recruited to an organization but over time they choose to remain and perform because they are attracted to it and the opportunities it gives them. In all my experiences, my best people were attracted and retained because I had enough trust to allow them to call their own shots and own their objectives that supported the overall business results at all levels of the organization!

The heart of an organization is driven to a strong beat by the openness and authenticity of its leaders. When a leader ignores the needs for empowerment and the organization’s desire to feel successful via their own efforts, it inevitably means we are ignoring the the development and retention of the organization. So when the leader fails to be authentic and really care about the organization’s needs and development, the organization will stop being authentic as well. It stops bringing its talent and energy to the workplace and quickly loses sight of the vision and objectives for the future of the business. I think that being a real person who understands the needs of the organization and conveys that regularly is one, if not the most critical, skill required in high performance leadership.

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Looking in The Mirror is a Difficult Task

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I often feel that my personal thoughts and habits have improved greatly as I experience more of what life has to offer. I also think that my commitment to exercise is one that is stronger than the average individual and I feel that it is helping me to age gracefully. Then on occasion I make that necessary reality check by looking in the mirror both figuratively and literally! On a figurative basis when I stop to reflect I realize in the mirror of my mind that I still have a lot to do to grow mentally in my thoughts and actions. Then I see literally in the mirror that my exercise is good and dedicated but it will only slow down the aging process.

If I use that same mirror test for leadership, it is a good process that often employed will make me stop, think and make a difference to those who follow me. For you see the leader is completely responsible for the atmosphere with which others work and see themselves both as individuals and as a team. The leader by constantly looking in the mirror establishes the mood and environment which encourages the associates in the organization to look in the mirror and accept the responsibility to drive personal, professional and business success. The leader of an organization uses the mirror to see if he is causing things to happen and to see if he/she is creating an environment where others work to own and drive success.

So like with the aging process, looking in the mirror is difficult but it allows us to confront the reality of where we are. So it is with the leadership mirror, a real introspective look to see if we are leading or controlling the organization and all involved!

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Everybody Loves A Winner!

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With all the hype that surrounds Super Bowl Sunday, I thought this is the perfect title for my thoughts on this blog. Please don’t get my thoughts wrong from this title. One team will lose the big game and they will have fans that will love them just as much as they ever did but when you are not a rabid fan of one particular team it is often easy on Monday morning to join in a conversation about what a great team these guys are because you are in short associating yourself with a winner. A really eye opening example of this which I found myself right in the middle of was the recent National Championship win in college football by Auburn University. I have shared before that I am a big Auburn fan and I have been for years, growing up there as a child, However, following their win over Oregon and an undefeated season, it seemed to me for a number of weeks that everybody I talked to was an Auburn fan! This activity of associating yourself with a winner does not just hold true for sports. It happens in business and other organizations as well. So, let’s talk about creating wins in business so that you can be loved by employees, customers and investors!

Real business transformation takes significant time and most of your customers, employees and investors will not be in it for the long haul without some evidence of winning along the journey. With employees it is important to set performance improvement goals and clear yearly/quarterly objectives that will feed the transformation and then reward and celebrate these achievements with recognition, promotions and financial gain as the business gains. With customers it is critical to know what their most compelling needs are to improve the relationship/performance and incorporate that into the vision. Then it will be even more important to let the customer know through clear business metrics the focus you are putting on their most critical needs and the progress or setbacks that you are experiencing it achieving these objectives. Customers and employees alike both want to know they have been heard, that there is clear business objectives relating to their needs and that open, honest feedback will be given relative to the objectives. Finally, your investors are interested in all the customer/employee activities as well but they want to know how it will positively impact their investment and when. Again, clear objectives and and real metrics should pave the way to being a winner both in the short term as well as the long run with investors. All three groups will have patience and a commitment to winning with the right structure and the structure and execution will have all three groups love being a part of a winner!

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Randy’s Blog

Good Leaders Do Not Manage Change……They Lead Change!

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have had several interesting consulting engagements recently and they have provided me some great experiences to … [Read More...]

Motivational Leadership Speaking Motivational Leadership SpeakingRandy continues to be an exciting motivational leadership speaker, which has been his passion for over 25 years. He honed his skill as a motivational speaker and business coach working at GE under the tutelage of Jack Welch. From line supervisor to President & CEO, Randy has successfully lead individuals through his specific motivational methods that produce tangible results. Randy is personable, authentic, and driven. He has a speaking ability that motivates and energizes individuals to achieve beyond their potential.
Executive Leadership Mentoring Executive Mentoring & Leadership ConsultingRandy Dobbs is a proven CEO with strong operational/execution skills who has demonstrated success in fix-it situations. Randy has been a mentor for over 30 years helping individuals, senior leaders, to CEO’s at GE, Phillips Medical, USIS and wcasportfolio companies. Randy was trained in mentoring while at GE and subsequently pushed to train all the top leaders in Philips and USIS while implementing mentor programs at both organizations.Randy mentors/coaches CEO’s and some of their direct reports today in his current role.
Buy Randy’s book “Transformational Leadership” Transformational Leadership

Sharing personal experience and practical business blueprints, Dobbs takes the reader on a journey through the transformational process. Leaders working in organizations of various sizes--and facing diverse challenges and opportunities--will find Dobbs' ideas transformative, personally as well as professionally. This is a book for persons who want to be change agents within their respective organizations. It is for all who want to make a difference for themselves and their coworkers.