Category Archives: CEO

How to stop your CEO (or boss) from screwing up!

More than a year ago, April 2016, I set out to study leadership, by experimenting, journaling and reflecting on my own journey as the new CEO for Redington.

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I’ve tried to look back on the past year dispassionately to learn clear lessons that can frame the next year. I have tried to think about what has mattered the most, what to maintain, what to let go of and what changes to make. This has actually been really hard to do objectively, given how self-preserving our memories can be, forgetting mistakes, making us blind to so much and especially the many people who play a huge part, the conditions and even luck.

I found it really helpful to look back at my journal and blogs throughout the year:

Reflections on Leadership 1 year in

Management, as we know it, was invented 100 years ago to get people to show up to work, to do the same thing efficiently, every day and in the same way. It was not designed to engage, adapt and innovate. Yet the world, our work and industries have changed beyond recognition.  We need an overhaul of our management systems, tools and thinking to ensure they are fit for purpose.  I believe we need to reinvent leadership.

Patrick Lencioni wrote about the 5 Temptations of a CEO. Here are some related reflections on my first year in the role:

1. When you’re a new leader (frankly new in any role) there is a natural desire to prove yourself, to show that your recruiters/backers made a good decision. As a leader stepping into this role, I knew and trusted my own abilities. It was natural to make plans based on what I knew I could do, without a deep understanding of other people’s skills, ambitions and capacity. I did not ask for help enough and didn’t seek advice often enough. I tried to do too many things myself. This can only ever succeed in the short term. If you’re not careful this can lead to bottlenecks, resentment, over-dependence and abdication of responsibility from those around you. I’ve had to reframe and hack my own tendency to ensure I ask for help from my team, from the wider employees, from the Board of Directors and other CEOs.

2. Everyone looks to their leaders for certainty. Everyone tells you to project confidence in front of your staff. I think this is dangerous. My goal is to develop a firm of leaders at Redington. As a result I have tried to experiment with being vulnerable, acknowledging my mistakes, as well as inviting critical thinking and challenge. It’s been difficult (it’s not at all natural for me) but really insightful. I have found that talented people really value openness, transparency and clarity much more than leaders projecting false certainty and offering blind assurances.

3. As a leader you enter a different echo-chamber in which it becomes increasingly difficult to put yourself in the shows of your front line staff or your clients. Dan Pink says there is an inverse correlation between status and empathy. Leaders find it harder to empathise and see things through the eyes of others. I was aware of this coming into the role, so my experiment to counter this has been to regularly schedule honest and open conversations with clients, staff and suppliers to invite their constructive feedback and to see the firm through their eyes. Even if you schedule regular chats, people often struggle to give you the constructive challenge you desperately need. I need to periodically push myself out of the business to spend time in different environments, with different people and experiences.

4. Popularity is very seductive. It’s very tempting to want to be everyone’s friend. So often leaders struggle to have difficult conversations, to hold people accountable and call out the elephants in the room. Too often leaders choose to maintain harmony in the team and avoid confrontation. It’s natural to want everyone to get on, even though you know there is value in debate, challenge and constructive conflict. This has been difficult for me historically. I have deliberately worked on this all year. I have been running training sessions (using the AltMBA learning format) for all my direct reports and other team leaders on “radical candour”. We have been able to create a common language, permission and shared practice. Whilst radical candour is starting to creep into the language of the firm, it will take a lot more practice and trust for people to apply effectively across the firm (without abusing it).

5. Success is dangerous. It leads to complacency. The more that things go well, the more you start to believe your own hype. Even if you start off with a risk taking, failure embracing, growth mindset, success has the power to shift you to being fixed and risk averse, without even realising it. Every win, every successful project, every initiative landed sows the seeds of complacency, gradually eroding your growth mindset. In addition, what took me a bit by surprise is that people assume you know what your are doing because you’re CEO; success just reinforces that. The dopamine hit means you do more things that give you more status (without even realising), rather than focusing on the choices that will deliver the best results. I have to keep catching myself, asking my team and the wider firm to challenge me, to point out “what I am missing” or “what should I think about differently”. I’ve found this particularly hard, but it is the key to consistently delivering results.

I have shared these and many more reflections with my team and the firm over the past few months. On my one year anniversary I invited blisteringly honest feedback from across the firm and in response to it have tried to set up our governance, communication and decision-making differently for this next year, to learn from those lessons, setting up new experiments to deliver different outcomes.

Leadership 2.0

Having started my second year in the role, I’ve been thinking about setting out some red flags and warning signs to the whole firm, so they can keep me (as well as the other leaders in the firm) accountable. This was inspired by fund manager research process where we identify what could go wrong with a fund manager in advance using “RedRadar”. We share this with clients that are investing in any fund from the outset, so they can anticipate, be alert and prepared if something starts to go wrong.

Much like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), these are 7 Key Risk Indicators (KRIs) for me and frankly any CEO or leader:

  1. Infallible: if your CEO or manager is not making any mistakes, they are not taking enough risk, maybe previous successes have created complacency.
  2. Unchallenged: If people stop asking the CEO/leaders questions, stop challenging them, start accepting whatever them say, this is a red flag.
  3. Frantic: If they are always running around, from meeting to meeting, neglecting rest, learning and reflection, complaining about not enough time to do the important things.
  4. Defensive: If they are defensive when you challenge or criticise their decisions, this is a worrying.
  5. Agreeable: If they start to avoid people, do not facilitate conflict, do not offer radical candour this is a concern.
  6. Indecisive: If you are always waiting on them to make decisions, so that you can move forward. If every decision goes through them, this is a warning sign.
  7. Controlling: If your CEO/leader does not invest in others, does not develop leaders around them, this is a problem. I think a good leader is always looking to make themselves redundant.

I find these are really helpful checks and balances for myself.

I know for example, I am struggling with feeling a bit frantic (#3) at the moment and am doing something about it. This was my overarching focus (new year’s resolution) for 2017, to experiment with daily hacks, habits, systems, routines and overrides to give time and attention to my family, my health and all the things at work and outside of work that are most important in the long term. It has been a daily battle, a weekly struggle and an ongoing war against my own mind, against the urgent, the loud and the easy. I am still trying to make deliberate choices, planning, scheduling, blocking out time, setting boundaries, managing distractions and creating a support network. Some days I win and some I lose, but its a daily battle worth fighting.

An invitation to challenge authority

Back to the overarching theme of this blog, I believe that everyone has a responsibility to hold their leaders accountable, to challenge them, to call them out if they show one of these warning signs and to help them succeed by not screwing up.

Of the various factors that have been tested by psychologists for what makes great teams, the one that stands out above all is ‘psychological safety’ – a shared belief held by the members of a team, that the group is a safe place to take risks and challenge authority.

Amy Edmondson wrote in 1996 in The Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, that “the best team leaders encourage people to speak up; teammates felt like they can expose their vulnerabilities to each other; people could suggest ideas without fear of retribution; the culture discourages people from making harsh judgements.” My ongoing fundamental cultural challenge remains – How do we help people to feel safe, whilst encouraging them to disagree? – I’m sure this is true for most other leaders too.

It has been an incredible year of experimentation, achievement and learning. It’s been a great start to the second year. I feel privileged to serve the people in the firm, to be part of this tribe and to have shareholders who want to make 100m people financially secure.

“We don’t hire smart people so we can tell them what to do, we expect them to tell us what to do.”

References:

7 months in a leadership lab – highs, lows, lessons & reflections

“Seeing life as a leadership laboratory enables you to try things out, make mistakes, strengthen your skills and take pleasure in the journey, as well as the fruits of your labour.”
– Heifetz, Grashaw & Linsky

I’m looking out at the ocean, reflecting on the past 7 months since taking on this role. It’s been an incredible period of my life. I’m learning every day, I’m being stretched, I’m doing work that matters, with people I really like.

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What are my highlights:

I’m grateful for how people across the firm have embraced change over these past few months. We are getting better at dealing with difficult issues, whether unspoken, unresolved or unaddressed. This skill will be critical to our success.

We launched the Redington MBA 1.1 with the first group focused on “Having Difficult Conversations”. This is our attempt to deliver targeted training that actually changes habits and behaviours, learning from the latest research in people development.

I’m really pleased with how Redington’s “game” (to make 100m people financially secure) has been received, not just internally, but also with clients and the wider market. The opportunity is really ours to create, innovate and scale our ideas. We want to be known for helping people tackle their most difficult problems, leaving them feeling smarter, capable and better equipped.

We held our first “Innovation Day” with a focus on tech. We heard a number of pitches for client and customer problems that our colleagues wanted to solve. They worked together in small groups to test the problem and develop solutions using a lean canvas approach. We need to move these ideas to the next stage now and will be repeating the whole process regularly.

We held our first “Month of Learning” with daily talks, training and classes that all staff could participate in. Topics included – how decision science can help our clients, understanding path dependency risk, the redington approach to ESG, etc. This has been great. We’re going to repeat it each quarter.

We have made improvements to our pension scheme, maternity benefits, working hours, flexible working, etc. There’s still more we need to do, but this is a great start.

Last month we participated in the Sunday Times Best Places to Work survey, I was over the moon that we had 100% of employees take time to complete the 70-odd questions.

We’ve just launched the #RedingtonReturnshipProgramme, which will kick off in January. This is an internship to encourage mid level and senior women and men to return to work after a career break. I’m really excited about the potential of this programme to enhance the cognitive diversity of our senior team.

I’m delighted with how the Faculty of Fun Stuff (our social committee) have managed our social/charity budget – Halloween Party, Poker night, Arabian night, Drinks, etc. they’ve done far more that has been valued than a top down management of this could have delivered.

In terms of revenue, we had a record quarter and half year. This is testament to the tireless efforts of lots of talented people. No time to be complacent though. We are tightening up our sales and business development efforts, with a new governance structure. This is showing some early positive signs, the key to its success is holding each other to account. I’m really pleased with how the whole team has engaged with this.

What has been my biggest low:

I have allowed myself to get really busy, engrossed, sleep deprived and exhausted by the end of each quarter. I’m leaving home early, coming back late, sleeping late, and generally getting exhausted. Moreover, I can’t stop thinking about work. It’s manageable but I want to address this early, I don’t want it to become a deeply ingrained habit.

This quarter I am going to get stricter with myself. I’m going to have a fixed time to leave by – 6pm – no matter what, to make it home for dinner and storytime. I’m going to go to the gym 2 times a week before work and not compromise on it. I’m going to make time for my morning routine, reflection, journaling and meditation each morning. To make it all happen I’m going to identify my triggers and plan for them in advance. I’m going to be even better prepared.

We need to be alert as a business of the dark side of engagement. People across the firm willingly work long hours, especially at quarter ends. For our longer term sustainability, we want to help our colleagues find better balance. Moreover, we want to be an employer that can attract talent that wants to work more flexibly. I have a responsibility to set the right norms and expectations, not just in words and policies, but in action.

What have I learnt?

  • The importance of having difficult conversations, always, at all levels.
  • The need for daily, weekly, quarterly goals. It’s the only way I’ve found of not becoming a victim to my diary or just reacting to demands on my time.
  • The need to align the rhythm of reviews around capacity and busy periods.
  • I need to get better at writing and sharing minutes. I can’t rely on regular verbal communication.
  • Despite my best intentions I cannot meet/talk to every employee as frequently as I’d like. I need to meet people more regularly in groups to consult and debate ideas.
  • You can only get out of your brain what you put in – so reading and learning has to continue no matter how busy we get.
  • I’m really pleased that we booked regular holidays in advance for each quarter end. I’m definitely doing that again next year.
  • Over the past 7 months I have tried to be involved in every function of the business, for my own familiarity and experience. This is not sustainable. I have to step back and help others lead confidently. After all, I want to create a firm of leaders.

Further Experiments:

My priorities this year are to grow our culture, capability and infrastructure to enable us to move closer to our ultimate goal of making 100 million people financially secure. Though we have made a lot of progress on these, there are many more experiments to be done.

I have come across these two definitions of leadership that really appeal to me. They offer a model of leadership that I think Redington needs to achieve its game. It is also an approach to leadership that is essential for the future.

I think Redington can be an ambidextrous/adaptive organisation. This is my personal challenge for the rest of this year.

“Adaptive leadership is the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive. Adaptive organisations name the elephants in the room, share responsibility for the future, value independent thinking, build leadership capability and institutionalize reflection and continuous learning.” – Heifetz, Grashaw & Linsky

Be the change: Reflections on 100 days as CEO

Friday marked 100 days since I took on this role as CEO of Redington – “the best job in the industry” – as one of our clients put it.

They say that during his first 100 days in office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt “sent 15 messages to Congress, guided 15 major laws to enactment, delivered 10 speeches, held press conferences and cabinet meetings twice a week, conducted talks with foreign heads of state, sponsored an international conference, made all the major decisions in domestic and foreign policy, and never displayed fright or panic and rarely even bad temper.”
– Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Age of Roosevelt

I didn’t have a specific 100 day plan and I’m not sure 100 days is quite as valuable a period for assessment as the hype suggests.

Fortunately, I’m not in Roosevelt’s shoes, though, I did feel these were big shoes to fill. The job description I proposed for the Redington CEO, 10 years after the company was founded by entrepreneurs like Robert Gardner and Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, was to grow the culture, capability and infrastructure to move us closer to our ultimate goal of making 100 million people financially secure.

We currently help just over 1 million people achieve greater financial security primarily through our Defined Benefit pensions business. Against the backdrop of pension fund disasters, our clients continue to perform well. They manage their funds with discipline. Rather than spending lots of time forecasting the future, our clients work hard to ensure they are more resilient, whatever happens.

We regularly ask ourselves: what client problems we can solve better; what unmet or un-articulated needs could we fulfil; what legacy methods or systems should be challenged? The next 10 years could see us enter new geographies, start new business lines and/or adopt new technologies. Above all, we will need to test new ideas, empathise, innovate and take risks. This is Redington’s ‘game’.

Rob and Dawid have been clear about their longer term ambitions ‘game’ too. So far though, I have not talked much about my dream or mission. It’s always a bit scary sharing your dream, it makes you vulnerable and open to criticism. Being more vulnerable was my New Years resolution, so here goes…

Continue reading Be the change: Reflections on 100 days as CEO

8 weeks in: This isn’t the finish line, it’s just the beginning

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It’s been a busy few weeks. In the spirit of openness, vulnerability and learning, I’d like to share some of my recent mistakes and lessons:

We held a town hall last week to share our 3-5 year strategy with all staff, which overran. I don’t just mean by a few minutes, but by more than 30 minutes. I was grateful for my colleagues’ patience, but I was cross with myself that I allowed it to happen. I and everyone else, spoke for double the time allocated. I was kicking myself for not rehearsing and preparing all the speakers to make sure that we were joined up and on time. From now on, I have to get strict on myself and others – no practice no presentation. At least, we didn’t have it in the kitchen this time, with everyone standing for that long. Also I’m really really glad that we gave everyone a simple and powerful take away in the form of a one page strategy summary. It’s great to be transparent about what I am working on and to be able to ask others to do the same.

Continue reading 8 weeks in: This isn’t the finish line, it’s just the beginning

Taking responsibility (for myself)

It’s been a month already! The curve is still steep and the learning is relentless. I’m still loving it, with all its ups and downs. A great question to ask yourself is: What is a game worth playing –  win, lose or draw? (Source: Mike Harris).  For me the opportunity to scale Redington’s culture is a pretty awesome one. I continue to feel very grateful for this role and the incredible people I have around me.

http://gratisography.com/

Continue reading Taking responsibility (for myself)

Reflections on talent, culture, leadership and engagement (Strategic HR Magazine)

At a recent conference, I found myself sitting next to the founder of a rapidly growing media company. She was talking to me about the challenges of hiring and retaining graduates. “What is it with millennials?” She said. “They are so impatient, some haven’t even been working for a year and they want to be promoted. In my day, you just put your head down and did your time.”

Continue reading Reflections on talent, culture, leadership and engagement (Strategic HR Magazine)

We have 2 ears and 1 mouth (Day 15 as CEO)

It’s been a busy second week in the role. I have learnt so much this week just by listening to (and talking to) a cross section of people across Redington and our client base.

2 ears 1 mouth

My main reflections and lessons are as follows:

Last week, I gave my first all-staff presentation in this new role. I decided to try something different in terms of format (breaking from convention): 45 minutes instead of 90 minutes; stand-up instead of sit-down; landscape instead of portrait; in the kitchen instead of a meeting room. It didn’t work – the room got too hot, legs got tired and people at the back couldn’t see the screen (fortunately people liked the content). I was a bit gutted, but on reflection was still pleased I had tried it. I think you have to try things, you have to take risks and it’s ok to get it wrong sometimes. In fact as a leader, I think you have to publicly take risks and get things wrong to foster an entrepreneurial culture where it’s ok to try and test and fail.

Continue reading We have 2 ears and 1 mouth (Day 15 as CEO)

10 best ideas from Mike Harris (Days 2-3 as CEO)

Over the past couple of days we have been locked away in a workshop with Mike Harris. [For those that don’t know of him, Mike was the founder / CEO / Chairman of Mercury Telecommunications, First Direct (the first telephone bank) and Egg (the first internet bank); he has been coach and adviser to various telecom and technology giants and startups; and a lecturer on “disruptive innovation” at MIT. Though he has now retired, he’s been persuaded to continue coaching 3 firms, one of which is Redington.]

Here are the 10 best ideas I took away from Mike over the past couple of days (interspersed with my own reflections and lessons):

Continue reading 10 best ideas from Mike Harris (Days 2-3 as CEO)

Day 1, as CEO of Redington

Yesterday was my first day as CEO of Redington.

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Redington is not a conventional company. We care deeply about improving the lives of those around us, especially our future generations.

I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the confidence and trust placed in me by Redington’s co-founders Robert Gardner and Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, as well as our colleagues and clients.

Continue reading Day 1, as CEO of Redington