MEDIA: The Diversity Files

I was recently interviewed by CBC News Network Radio regarding a story about an organization devoted to the advancement of women in the workplace having selected a man as the Chair of their advisory board. Although I’ve never been one to point to my gender as impacting my career progress, it served as a reminder of what an important issue this is.  I’m taking the opportunity to discuss this topic in a new blog segment, The Diversity Files.

Having women in leadership positions provides a tremendous role model opportunity, in terms of what can be achieved in the business world.  I was fortunate to grow up in an environment where I believed that anything was possible, in terms of the career that I could have.  It was not until I was much older that I appreciated the fact that not all girls (and boys, for that matter) have this experience.  There are also many points in a person’s career where discouragement could set in; being passed over for an advancement opportunity or pay raise, encountering difficult co-workers, or the boss who doesn’t support your efforts (or, perhaps, has the audacity to take credit for your work!).  These moments can call into question if it’s worth the effort, if that lifelong goal is really achievable.

It’s no secret that, even in 2017, women are still underrepresented in a number of senior level roles, including that of business owner, the executive ranks, and on governance Boards.  In too many cases, women are so badly underrepresented, it is difficult, if not impossible, to explain.

Studies have found that companies who employ more women in the C-Suite are more profitable, and those who have women on their Boards generate better performance at the governance level.  Since strong financial results and better corporate performance are integral to building shareholder wealth, it begs the question: why are there not more women in the senior ranks of so many companies?  Why?  Based on these findings alone, it doesn’t add up, not to mention what it means on a human level; the very thought that one being is somehow lesser than another.

This reality points to the business world itself.  Could there be something systemic that makes it less likely for women to progress to senior levels?  Unlocking the code to resolve this problem isn’t a casual matter; rather, it is integral to driving better results and fostering inclusion.  It is also simply the right thing to do.

It is not as if there is a lack of qualified women, educated in business and in the corporate world, to fill these roles.  Solutions lie in more women pursuing senior level positions, being supported when they do, as well as given their fair amount of the opportunity; they have earned it!  Women, without question, have the ability to perform well in senior roles, and doing so just doesn’t drive results; it represents a powerful opportunity to set an example for the next generation.  Heaven knows, they are watching.

NEWS: Executive Business Builder Program Now Available!

As the lead instructor, I’m pleased to announce that the Executive Business Builder Program is now available!

This program is designed to help business leaders build a future-ready company, including building value and best practices, through courses, mentorship, and access to a powerful network of inspirational, like-minded people.  Learn practical strategies for building a company that can generate solid performance and be positioned for transfer to someone else in the future.  Value doesn’t just happen, and leaders need to take tangible steps to enhance their company.

The first course, Strategic Business Planning, is already available, and additional courses are already in development.  Don’t miss out on this opportunity to move from business leader to business builder!

When Leaders Get it Wrong

As a business advisor, I’m always amazed by leaders who don’t act in the best interest of their own company.  It’s something that happens more frequently that one would expect, and examples of this non-productive behavior include:

  • Ignoring obvious problems
  • Hiring people who don’t have the skills and ability to do the job
  • Needing to be the “smartest person in the room”
  • Not being receptive to advice that could help them to be more successful

And the list goes on.  From my perspective, the most bizarre of these are the last two on the list.  Both tend to be related to ego and insecurity issues that end up taking precedence over the company at hand.  People who exhibit these behaviors miss the opportunity to build a better company, which, in turn, would reflect well on the leader.  A complete disconnect!

Consider the following alternatives, both of which lead to better outcomes:

  • Surrounding yourself with the smartest, most competent people is one of the best things that a leader can do.  Not only does this significantly raise the likelihood that a company will perform better (to the benefit of all involved), but it also provides a powerful opportunity for a transfer of knowledge.  A collaborative learning environment strengthens the senior team, as well as the leader.  In my own experience, the smartest leaders I have known have never been afraid to say “I don’t understand it”, while taking steps to do so.  Why is this important?  Because even the smartest, most accomplished people know that there is always more to learn, and they are never diminished by saying so (in fact, it makes them better leaders).
  • Experienced advisors bring a wealth of knowledge that can improve almost any situation.  Why would a leader not be receptive to such a powerful opportunity?  Not recognizing a good idea when they see it?  Ego?  Insecurity?  Thinking that the issue has already been resolved (when it hasn’t)?  Poor judgement?!  Whatever the reason, this lack of receptiveness will eventually catch up with the company, often at the worst of times.  Investors and financial partners screen for this tendency, and those who aren’t receptive to advice often don’t end up on the financing list.

I’ve long since had a theory that there are lots of business leaders who will opt out of what is in their own best interest, as well as in the best interest of their company.  Ironically, these people are the ones who tend to need the most help, not the least, and they might just have to learn this lesson the hard way.

NEWS: Strategic Business Planning Course Now Available!

I’m pleased to announce the launch of my new Strategic Business Planning Course, the first course in the new Executive Business Builder Program at The Knowledge Bureau.

It might be news to a lot of CEO’s and entrepreneurs that most business plans are not prepared very well.  Although a company’s management might find the plan useful, they tend to fall well short of what external parties, such as potential financial partners, require in order to make a financing or investment decision.  This course provides sound business planning guidelines for both internal and external use, putting leaders in a better position to pursue the necessary capital to support the next level of growth.

Getting it right involves developing a thorough and complete business model, strategy, and plan (including a financial forecast), as well as preparing to make the approach to potential financial partners.  Gain insight into a range of important areas, from the perspective of a former investor, including:

  • The key sections of a business plan and what should be included
  • What to consider when building a business model
  • How to identify and select a target market(s)
  • How to select and position products and services
  • Guidelines for developing a marketing strategy
  • Developing an organizational structure, including identifying key roles
  • Guidelines for preparing a financial forecast, including assumptions
  • The perspective of external parties, such as financial partners
  • Guidelines for approaching financial partners

Details and registration are available here.  Stay tuned for additional courses in the Executive Business Builder Program!

EVENTS: Speaking Tour (Distinguished Advisor Workshops)

Coming to a city near you!  Join us for the Distinguished Advisor Workshops in Vancouver (May 29th), Edmonton (May 30th), Calgary (May 31st), Winnipeg (June 1st), Toronto (June 5th), and Ottawa (June 6th).

Looking forward to sharing thoughts in the following important areas:

NEXT GENERATION CONTINUITY PLANNING

In this session, you will learn how to prepare your clients who are transitioning their businesses to the next generation of leaders and/or preparing their business for sale. Tax and financial advisors can be of significant help by guiding clients in the direction of formal business continuity planning

Learn how to address key issues your clients should be considering, including:

The transaction “knowledge gap”;

The opportunity to apply innovation to business continuity planning;

How to approach strategic business planning, and the succession transaction itself; and

How to address financial partner considerations.

Things to consider in finalizing the transaction.

The continuity of these companies could depend on your help: and, it’s your opportunity to differentiate your services from others.

BUILDING BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLANS

Every business needs a formal plan throughout its lifecycle, for focused decision making, as well as in preparation for its exit and/or transition.  This session will discuss the sound guidelines that business owners should use to develop such a plan and other value building considerations, including:

Guidelines for developing a well written business continuity plan;

Identifying and articulating your market opportunity;

The relationship between the business model, strategy, and plan;

Key planning components, including products/services, marketing strategy, and operations, and Management;

Guidelines for preparing a financial forecast for three to five years; and

An introduction to the Executive Business Builder Designation Program

Details and registration are located here.

As the lead instructor and author of four certificate courses in the Knowledge Bureau’s Master Financial Advisor (MFA) Designation Program in succession and business planning, and certificate courses in the new Executive Business Builder Designation Program, I look forward to delivering these sessions.  See you on the road!

Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Finale)

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Over the course of this series, we’ve considered a number of skill areas that are helpful to companies in the startup stage of development.  Whether they realize it or not (and many will not), startup companies need much more than technical skills and enthusiasm to build a business that will grow and prosper over the long term.  Some of the skill areas that we’ve identified include opportunity-based thinking, risk management, and the ability to handle and overcome rejection.

For those who are keen to find a young venture and start contributing, it often takes much more than skills and enthusiasm (sound familiar?) in order to find the right fit.  Startup companies can flash and burn like a shooting star in the night sky, and it can be difficult to identify which way a situation is trending until you’re on the way down.  Perspective is critical, and in order to ensure that you’re investing your valuable skills into the right situation, it’s important to understand some of the cold realities about start up companies.

  • Most will fail: Bottom line, the vast majority of startup companies won’t survive, ranging from quick failure to becoming stagnant and fading away over time.  Don’t be fooled by those who achieve quick notoriety or attention, as many a startup who graced the pages of magazines or TV screens went on to subsequently fail.
  • They consume without apology: Like a young child that relies on adults to feed, clothe, and keep them out of harm’s way, startup companies are all about consumption.  They can require (or ineffectively use) an abundance of resources, including human, financial, and time.  If you’re not careful, a startup company can consume your time and energy around the clock.
  • They often don’t know what they need: Many entrepreneurs are new to both their venture and running a business and are typically not in a good position to understand what they need in order to move forward. This is why so many advisors are able to earn a living (for those who seek help) and also why so many startup companies fail (for those who don’t).  The category that the startup  you join falls into can impact your future in a big way.
  • The work isn’t glamorous: Building anything is a “hands on”, trial and error, messy business.  Whatever the roles in a particular startup company might be, far more is required in order to keep moving forward.  Recognize that joining a young company means performing lots of less than glamorous tasks, and if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty (literally), you will likely be happier doing something else.
  • Things can change really, really quickly: Young, emerging companies require agility, in order to chase opportunities, stay ahead of market trends, and make modifications in order to get closer to customers.  What the focus is one week can quickly change, requiring the team to quickly adjust, adapt, and move forward.  Surviving in this type of environment requires comfort with constant change, as well as the ability to work within it.
  • It happens in real time: For all the planning that needs to be done in order to develop and move a venture forward, managing the business is live, not a dress rehearsal.  Teams are often small and they rely on individuals to have the ability to determine what is required and take action; there are no layers of checks and balances here.  Although this might sound exhilarating to some, the reality is that startup companies face and endure risk every single day.

If this doesn’t sound like an environment for the faint of heart, that’s because it isn’t.   Having said that, the rewards are many for those who are up for the task.  Like the childhood fairy tale, you will likely have to kiss a lot of frogs until you find a prince (or princess!); that right startup opportunity.  If you recognize that this is what’s required in order to get started, the focus can be on the journey to find “the one”, as opposed to being on the setbacks that emerge along the way.

Bearing Witness to History: Eight Years Ago Today

Eight years ago today, I was fortunate to be in Washington DC for the first inauguration of Barack Obama.  How and why this came to pass is something that is known and understood by those who are closest me, but it suffices to say that a decision to be an active participant in history was a big part of it.  It is an experience that will always be with me, and is, perhaps, one of the most important things I have ever done.  Words seem insufficient to describe the magnitude of what it means to be a witness to history; it is truly humbling.

It is equally difficult to begin to describe what that sunny day in Washington was like; one that seemed less about political parties and more about people, community, and the new days ahead.  Although not everyone had voted for the incoming President, the sense of excitement and pride was clear.  I’ve never seen so many exuberant people in one place; teary eyed, with open hearts, raising their voices to be heard.

From my vantage point on the parade route, I listened to the ceremony as it echoed over the speaker system, alongside tens of thousands of others.  I remember thinking that the solemn silence of the crowd at that moment seemed almost eerie, as if in some other world, time, and place.  Maybe, they too where thinking about being in the presence of history that children would learn about hundreds of years from now.

How much our world has experienced since then.  I recently listened to the archive of a radio interview that I did on that day and was struck my comments: so much happiness was in the air; pride, togetherness, inspiration.  The call to action and responsibility for making the world a better place were met with careful contemplation.  “What’s it like to be there?”, I was asked.  “It’s great”, I said “people are so excited.  What more can I say?”, I wondered aloud.

I remember observing people of all ages connecting with one another in a way that I hadn’t seen before and haven’t seen since.  The crowd wasn’t one of strangers; it was humanity, and they were there to be humbled, to bear witness, to celebrate.  The roar on Pennsylvania Avenue was so loud as the motorcade approached, I could barely hear the reporter’s questions, but yet, I can remember it all now like it was yesterday (my time at the National Press Club moments later left me feeling equally awestruck, but that’s another story).

As an advisor, I’ve found that groups have a much better opportunity for success when they can find common ground; areas where they recognize that they are more similar than they are different.  In adversarial times, it can be difficult to find this state of mind, and I’ve been met with more than one blank stare or dead silence over the years when suggesting “why not collaborate?”, “why not talk to them?”, “why not listen?”  What’s inspiring, though, are times when those around the table see this opportunity, understand it, and are motivated to take action.  This mindset, even in some small way, reminds me of what I saw between strangers in the crowd on that special day, all those years ago.

Blue Chip Tip: Open Your Mind

As a business advisor and speaker, I meet lots of people.  Many of these are leaders; of companies, organizations, and other groups.  One of the first things that I notice about people is their receptiveness to two things: learning opportunities and good advice.  I’ve found through experience that the most effective leaders are receptive to both of these things.  Why is this the case?

Simply put, smart leaders:

  • See opportunity everywhere.  There is a way to get success in every situation, you just have to find it.  Sometimes, the answer is relatively easy, while other scenarios require more thought and imagination.  Opening your mind to the ideas of others or new ways of doing things is essential for progress.
  • Are not afraid to say “I don’t know”.  Anyone who gives the impression of knowing everything lacks credibility and is easily detected from others.  Recognizing when knowledge is needed is the impetus to learning, and being able to say “I don’t know” is a part of moving forward, turning vulnerability into productive action.
  • Recognize that every situation is a learning one.  Leaders who cast off interactions as irrelevant or beneath them aren’t benefiting from the powerful mindset that has the ability to learn at any time.  This approach recognizes that lessons could be modified to apply to a particular situation or passed along to team members who could benefit.  An open mind looks for ways to make knowledge useful, not the opposite.
  • Are not threatened by successful people.  Talented individuals bring strategies and knowledge that can accelerate progress and benefit others.  Being in the presence of accomplished people is an opportunity, not a threat, and smart leaders would never pass up a chance to learn from this type of experience.
  • See what hasn’t yet been achieved.  Leaders who rest on their laurels or think they have every base covered don’t see what is left to be done.  Taking this approach can be dangerous for an organization, resulting in a blindspot to challenges that exist, falling into complacency, or being surpassed by those that are willing to put in the effort.  An open mind seeks out the strategies and tools to climb the mountain that is on the path ahead, as opposed to ignoring it.

If you’re in a leadership position, or aspiring to get there, how open is your mind?  Are you learning everything that you can or falling into the trap of not being open to opportunity?  Smart leaders know there is only one answer.  Do you?

Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Say Yes!)

Ice splashing in cup of water

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

It’s been said that some people see the glass as half empty, while others see it as half full.  Some people don’t even see the glass, much less believe that it actually exists!  Related to this idea are people in the business world who assume the role of naysayer; nothing is good enough, no idea will work, the road ahead is a minefield of challenges and despair.  This is perspective that the last thing that a startup business (or any company, for that matter) needs.

People who hold this “no glass” perspective are focused more on why things won’t work instead of why they will.  While it’s true that startup companies, rich with new ideas and ways of doing things, might face more challenges than the average business, it doesn’t mean that that success can’t happen.  It can, does, and there are startup companies out there who find success every single day.  The key is bringing the right perspective to “get to yes”, and in doing so, make the world your oyster.  Sounds a lot more interesting than doom and gloom, right?

Why it Matters

Since there is no shortage of people who can tell you why things won’t work, those who see otherwise are of real value.  What’s more, people who can find practical ways to advance an initiative or resolve a problem are extremely valuable.  Any seasoned executive, who’s been there and done that, recognizes just how true this “getting to yes” skill set is.

Think about the last time you were in a situation where good, or at least, interesting ideas were put on the table, only to be quickly shut down by others.  What could have been the outcome if even one of those ideas had been further investigated to find a workable solution?  Even more compelling is a situation where you see a competitor move forward with an idea that you had considered, but didn’t invest the time to make something of it.  Your competitor ended up with money in the bank, while all you were left with was a missed opportunity.

Get Started

Startup companies need people who can apply creativity, ingenuity, and a positive attitude to make things happen.  Seeing the glass as excitingly half full takes practice, something that can change your mindset over time.  Getting started is as easy as adding these approaches to your to do list:

  • Let every new idea have a life: Make it an unspoken rule that any idea that can be clearly articulated has a life; even 10 minutes of time will do.  Talk about it, consider who could utilize the outcome, what success would look like.  Keep track of the concept, so that you can rank it in priority in rational terms, as compared to other things that could be pursued.  If you can’t make this change in your current workplace, try doing so on a personal level.
  • Practice seeing the other side: Every good debater knows that there is more than one side to any situation, and solely focusing on the position of personal choice won’t advance the argument.  Have an opinion, but take the time to thoroughly understand alternative viewpoints, as this can be valuable to finding solutions to move forward.
  • Take on a project: In situations where others dump an idea, consider exploring it a bit further on your own.  You might be surprised what you find, resulting in the opportunity to take a more fully developed concept forward at a later date.  Don’t be surprised if others are impressed by what you’ve been able to achieve.
  • Learn how others get it done: Successful entrepreneurs and executives are skilled in finding ways to get things done, as they understand how valuable it is to be able to do so. Work closely with them to learn what they know; it will be some of the best experience you ever receive.

In a world that so many see as stacked against them, you can set yourself apart by shedding light where they see nothing but grey.  Even better, once you have some examples of initiatives that have been successfully advanced, despite the odds, others will begin to take notice.  “Yes” is the word, indeed.

Leaving a Leadership Legacy: Big Skills in the Leadership Space

ThinkstockPhotos-479188196

Published by The Canadian Society of Club Managers in CMQ (Winter, 2016)

Most people recognize that leaders have the ability to impact many aspects of an organization. One of the key areas is people, including staff and management team members at all levels.  There is a perception that leadership involves guiding the masses, who, if not for the leader, might never find their way forward.  This is a concept that is quite dated.

Leaders have the ability to create an organization that is empowered at every level, in terms of continuous learning, improvement, advancement, and dare we say, independence. Envision a place where staff members understand their role, take steps to perform it efficiently, apply innovation and improvement where it makes sense to do so, and strive to take on and learn more.  Staff members know what to do and how to work well with others, putting their hand up only when help is needed.  Micromanagement isn’t practiced here.

Instead, managers are able to free themselves from mundane and repetitive tasks that consume far too much time in a given day: the questions of what to do, who should do it, and why. Instead, they are able to focus on things that actually improve how a club functions, is perceived in the marketplace, and perhaps most importantly, where it’s going in the future.  If this sounds like an elusive place that doesn’t exist, think again.  It’s all a product of what empowered leadership can do.

Trouble in the Club

One of the realities of being a leader is that the higher you rise, the more people you have reporting to you. Although many might represent indirect reporting relationships that don’t actually interact with you on a daily basis, rest assured that they are out there, keeping a keen eye on how you lead.  When leaders operate on a basis of insecurity, indifference, or a lack of purpose, a wide range of negative outcomes can result.  Regardless, there is a missed opportunity to “leave the place better than you found it”, in terms of advancing the capability of staff and management team members and how they approach their roles.

Believe it or not, some leaders have a strong need to be “needed”; to be the referral point for all the questions, the one who provides all of the directions, and is the proverbial “smartest person in the room”. This type of approach misses the opportunity for staff members to stand on their own two feet and creates an unhealthy dependence on the leader (for both the organization and its people).  Looking sharp in this type of environment actually doesn’t make you valuable; rather, such leaders are a barrier to an organization’s ability to grow and make progress.

Leading Large

One of the most powerful things that leaders can do is put everyone in the organization in a position to do more.  Development can be fostered well when it starts at the top, as an example of how all staff and management team members should operate.  Here’s how to get started on the empowerment path:

  • Focus on the bigger picture. Insecurity can arise from scenarios where people feel that they are “giving up” something to someone else. Delegating some of your tasks to a member of your senior team shouldn’t create feelings of insecurity, such as “what if they do a better job?”; rather, it should increase the level of organizational performance overall, a goal in which you should find comfort.
  • Establish professional development plans. Performance management shouldn’t just focus on what a staff member did in the past or where they currently are. Include an action plan of two to three items that are to be successfully learned over the next six-month period, such as taking on a new area of responsibility or completing a training program. This approach helps to keep the focus on progress that can be applied, measured, and built upon.
  • Be a learning organization. Make it a requirement for all staff and management team members to commit to learning on an ongoing basis. Approaches could include taking on new responsibilities, completing courses or training programs, or mentoring a peer. Remember that teaching and transferring knowledge is also learning.
  • Don’t settle for less. Seek to replace those who aren’t on board or don’t consider development to be part of their job description. Negative attitudes and opting out of what’s expected don’t just harm the role at hand, they also hold back the rest of the organization. Effective leaders can’t afford to carry this type of baggage.
  • Reinforce the vision. Remind staff and management team members that your organization is a place of excellence where everyone can soar. Show them how this behavior fits with where the organization can go in the future. An environment where people see the opportunity to make progress in their role and are empowered to do so is a great place to be.

Developing and empowering staff and management team members to a level of independent competence represents an opportunity to create a lasting legacy. If you think that sounds powerful, that’s because it is!  Those who have the courage and ability to make it happen differentiate themselves in the leadership arena more than they know.

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