The theme that shot through a number of our recent interviews with senior leaders were important reminders about bedrock notions of having direct conversations, taking ownership of your job, and being brutally honest with yourself. Here are the highlights:
BEING DIRECT WITH FEEDBACK
The art of giving feedback is a theme that comes up often in our Executive Mentoring work with senior leaders. Check out the approach that Saundra Pelletier, CEO of Evofem Biosciences, shared with us on how her bout with cancer transformed her approach to managing. Maybe her new style is not for everyone, but you have to give her points for being up front and transparent:
“I have a 15-minute check in every two weeks with each person on my executive team, and it’s another moment of brutal honesty. If somebody seems short-tempered or agitated in our meetings, or if somebody seems reluctant to make hard decisions, I’ll ask them why so we can adjust.
I’ll keep it short and sweet, and then joke, ‘Good talk. Good talk,’ and they will roll their eyes. They may want to make a voodoo doll of me when they go back to their office, but in my review at the end of the year, every single one of them said the most constructive interaction they have with me is in these 15-minute talks because they never have to guess what I’m thinking, and I give them a perspective that they’re sometimes not seeing.
My cancer diagnosis three years ago made me realize that I need to stop beating around the bush with people. Just say what you’ve got to say and say it with kindness. Make sure they know you’re doing it for the right outcome. It’s been cathartic for me.
After I got better, I sat down with the team and said, ‘Look, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect, and there are some adjustments I want to make. I want to operate very differently than in the past. The reason I’m telling you is that some of you are going to be caught off guard. Some of you are not going to like it. Some of you are going to love it. You can’t please everybody, but this is the right approach for me as a leader. It’s going to be truth serum time around here.’ Every person on my executive team stayed except for one.”
ADULT CAPACITY FOR WORK
We were struck by a phrase we heard recently from Zoe Krislock, CEO of MiniLuxe: “adult capacity for work.” It’s a memorable shorthand for the qualities that we all value in people. It came up in our interview when we asked her about the qualities she looks for in new hires.
“I want to hear passion. I want to hear that you’re a team player. I want to understand what you think is the difference between progress and perfection, and I want you to believe in the dream and that you will be a valuable part of making it happen.
Depending on their answer, I might ask for more details. Tell me about a time you’ve disagreed with a team member and how did you work through that and what was the relationship like afterward? I don’t expect people to always get along, but there’s an adult capacity to work, and a lot of people don’t have adult capacity.
Having honest conversations with people is part of being a grown-up, and a lot of people don’t believe in that these days. They want me to solve their problems, and I’m not going to do that. You have to be accountable and responsible, and I’m listening in an interview for whether they have those qualities.”
THE POWER OF RATIONALIZATION
We’ve come to appreciate that the most powerful force in the universe is not gravity but people’s abilities to make up stories about themselves to rationalize their behavior. Steve Stoute, founder and CEO of Translation and UnitedMasters, shared his insightful take on this dynamic when he spoke with us for our “Leading in the B-Suite” series.
“The most powerful drug, the most mind-altering drug by a long shot, is the power of rationalization. Whether it’s alcohol or another drug, you put yourself in a state of mind so that you feel okay about what you’re doing.
But the self-administered version of that — rationalization — goes really far, and you’re coherent when you do it. So it has a long-lasting effect because you make decisions based on it that are forever decisions. One of the things that you shouldn’t rationalize is when you start lying to yourself and you think that that’s okay.
Once you start lying to yourself and the power of rationalization kicks in, that’s the concoction that will put you on a mindless, long trail to nowhere. And that’s another way of saying that if you’re going to say something, really do it. Unfortunately, the most common downfall of people I see is the ability to lie to themselves and feel comfortable doing it.”
This article was contributed by The ExCo Group, a leadership development and executive coaching firm comprised of experienced former CEOs, independent directors, and global business leaders.