Taking over a company in trouble and turning it around is a real challenge. This is what was facing my client at the beginning of 2014. As the new CEO he was expected to reverse the fortunes of the organisation and make it profitable in a very short space of time. He had to convince the board of directors to change direction and then make sweeping changes throughout the organisation.
Quiet leaders do not speak loudly or make rash arbitrary decisions. They use considered, effective communication and explain clearly how to embed the changes. They work to get their teams on side, to motivate the workforce and to take ownership for actions and different ways of working. This is the leadership style of my client.
Nonetheless, it was necessary for this CEO to be assertive with certain members of the board and his leadership team. They had done things the same way for years and found it hard to adjust and accept that different ways of working would benefit the company in the long term. I supported him to be quietly assertive and to use his ‘circle of influence’ plus his excellent record of achievement to his advantage. He devised ways of working with his leadership team that were new for him yet he found them essential for this difficult role. His multi-national team all have different ways of working and often misunderstand phrases and expressions English speakers take for granted. ‘Ball park figure’ ‘Under the radar’ ‘Over the top’ ‘Too hot to handle’ ‘Dangerous ground’ are just a small selection of confusing expressions I have heard at international business meetings. I have worked with this CEO to cut out jargon, phrasal verbs and expressions that may confuse his teams. He has used ‘clean language’ questions such as:
What kind of (their words) is that? And “Is there anything else about (their words)?
So he gets clarity when foreign nationals use their own expressions and explanations. In this way he is able to remove his assumptions and be respectful to their language and ways of communicating. As a result his own leadership teams are also learning from this and cross cultural communication is clear, considered and jargon free.
Thinking strategically, planning the various stages, communicating well and gradually introducing the teams to new methods and processes, has begun to reap rewards. The clarity of communication so essential when companies are going through change is now in place. He made sure 1-2-1 meetings were held with his direct reports at every stage. Then he used clean language questions to ensure they understood and were fully engaged in the process. This really made a difference and cut down the misunderstandings and errors. In addition the team came up with a powerful metaphor where they were a crew of a Racing Yacht. Each member of the team had a role on the yacht and they often spoke of how they could enhance the performance of the team and win the race. This made speaking about difficult issues easier to cope with. They found they could address difficult conversations without fear of becoming emotionally involved. The CEO also met regularly with the board of directors to keep them abreast of the changes being implemented and to inform them of the tangible benefits to the organisation. He used a couple of useful techniques to build his confidence when presenting information. He was then able to express himself clearly and succinctly thus getting across the messages that were vital to impart.
The company will continue to change and grow at a rapid pace over the next few years. There are many challenges facing the CEO and the organisation but the better the communication, the easier it will be to implement those changes. This will result in bringing all stakeholders confidently into the future.