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The CEO Moment

Wouldn’t you love for this not to be just a time in which your organization survived, but that it actually evolved in ways that’ll enable it to thrive in unimaginable ways?

Are you an ‘unfrozen CEO’? Are you ‘leap-inclined’ in your leadership approach, seeking to turn this pandemic time of lemons into lemonade with and for the colleagues and clients you serve? Are you purposely and purposefully evidencing your humanity with and for your people, leading in a way that encourages them to emulate your confidence and commitment to innovation so that, come what may in this challenging circumstance or any other, together, you’ll succeed? Are you attentive to and focused on all of the stakeholders involved in and impacted by your organization’s mission? And are you collaborative in your approach, seeking growth and being willing both to share with and learn from colleagues and peers? If so, truly, now is your time.

Or, at least, that’s what McKinsey says: In its most recent quarterly publication, “The CEO Moment: Leadership for a New Era,” the venerated consulting firm reflects on both the unique challenge and opportunity that this pandemic era offers as well as on how some executive leaders are leveraging it as a very positive and powerful inflection point to move their organizations forward. In so doing, they’re evolving their leadership substantively, stepping up into the “ministerial” aspects of their roles and instilling confidence in their people by evidencing a “We got this” ethic, especially by revealing and emphasizing their character in addition to their competence.

Why are these exceptional executive leaders doing this?

They recognize the current time as one not only of unprecedented challenge but also as one of incalculable promise and opportunity, and, as they take action to lead into this, they’re confirming by their actions that this is (or could be for leaders who choose it) “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to consciously evolve the very nature and impact of their role.”

Do you understand this as such a time and opportunity?

How do you seize this CEO moment? Here are a few best practices to consider:

Are you being “extremely intentional about how (you) use (your) time?” Among other ways that many breakthrough leaders have leveraged this opportunity impactfully is to book “flight time” into their calendars: Now that they’re no longer traveling, they’re purposely and thoughtfully deploying the time otherwise spent in planes, trains and automobiles into strategy development sessions during which they’re not disturbed and can think deeply for an extended period of time about their organizations and where they can take them.

Imagine what could happen if you move beyond spending your professional time to investing it strategically.

Further, are you increasing your interaction with your people and letting more of your true self show? CEO moment leaders are. And as they let ever more of their humanity show, they’re experiencing the benefits of the increased trust and appreciation for their empathy that this engenders from their people, which, in turn, enhances their executive/leadership influence.

Intentionally and to great effect, they prioritize how to be in addition to what to do, which enables them to connect more meaningfully and impactfully with their people during this challenging time. Don’t we all need stronger connections with our people right now?

As Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg describes it, “Ultimately, my job is to give energy, empowerment, and vision to the organization.” What better way to do this than to show up more as well as more authentically by keeping it real yet constructive?

Which leads to another breakout behavior of these leaders, that of leveraging this time to demonstrate your confidence in the future of your organization and those it serves because of the individual and collective capabilities of its constituents. As David Schwimmer, CEO of the London Stock Exchange Group, describes it:

“People are looking to me for a different kind of leadership. In a normal environment, it’s about business leadership in setting up strategy, as well as culture and people decisions. In this environment, it’s about helping people maintain morale. It’s about people being prepared for whatever may come in the face of uncertainty.”

Also, in addition to being more attentive about how they show up, these revolutionary CEOs are also observing how their fellow senior executives do so and are encouraging the latter to be more engaged and authentic as well.

“It’s also about being the organization’s rock during a time that’s fraught with anxiety and uncertainty,” McKinsey said, in the report. As Lance Fritz, CEO of Union Pacific, frames it:

“Employees need to see that their leadership is vulnerable, empathetic, and making decisions in accordance with our values, which I’d better be the living proof of. Our people are expecting me to be transparent, to have a grip on the situation, and to be reasonable about what I do know, what I don’t know, and what we’re doing about it.”

Imagine how powerful it would be if, because of your confidence, grounded in the reality of and acknowledging the challenges that your organization and its people face, this expansively determined and proactive mindset were to ‘infect’ all of its stakeholders. That shared sense of manifest destiny could be as profoundly powerful as it is rare, at least at the present moment.

To go a bit further, are you perceiving this to be a unique opportunity for growth and development? How are you leveraging this opportunity to learn and innovate, both with your people and peers?

CEO moment leaders are leveraging the incision of Michael Fisher, CEO of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, who notes:

“I keep pushing myself and our team to think about how we use this inflection point to reimagine our potential together, as opposed to allowing our organization just to go back to the comfort of ‘Let’s do what we were doing.’”

Imagine the power of sharing a vision with your people not of returning to some ‘new normal’ grounded in the old but of a bold yet achievable new horizon, a time of unprecedented opportunity for all.

For example, how are you demonstrating that you’re “intent on accelerating problem-solving together by building on one another’s ideas, iterating novel solutions to use in the workplace, trading notes, and moving forward having learned what works best”? And be sure to appreciate that this challenge/opportunity is both an internal and external one. In addition to encouraging your people to engage more meaningfully in creativity and innovation, what’re you sharing with and learning from executive peers that could help the former do so even more meaningfully in impactfully?

McKinsey notes:

“CEOs are recognizing that the barriers to boldness and speed are less about technical limits and more about such things as mindsets toward what is possible, what people are willing to do, the degree to which implicit or explicit policies that slow things down can be challenged, and bureaucratic chains of command.

Realizing this CEOs are appropriately celebrating the magnitude of what their organizations have achieved (in this time of COVID-19) and considering how to stretch for more.”

Wouldn’t you love for this not to be just a time in which your organization survived, but that it actually evolved in ways that’ll enable it to thrive in unimaginable ways? This is what seizing the CEO moment is all about.

Finally, let’s acknowledge that this personal and professional evolution may be uncomfortable for many of us, at least initially. Yet, isn’t it worth summoning the courage to overcome this reluctance in order to take full advantage of the reality that this “moment has the potential to become a movement - one that could create higher-achieving, more purposeful, more humane, and better-connected leaders”?

What would the future of your organization and those it serves—as well as your own leadership legacy—look like if you chose to seize this CEO moment by leading “with humility, a learning mindset, and an open-minded commitment to ongoing development”? How could you lead your people to be “unfrozen” during a time in which, together, you could redefine what’s possible?

In other words, how’re you going to seize this CEO moment?

Walter K. Booker is the chief operating officer of MarketCounsel, a business and regulatory compliance consultancy for investment advisors.

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