The Collapse of Leadership in a Digital World

In a digital world where everything that can be measured is measured, do you still need strong leadership? What difference does management make when data steers the ship?

Many technology companies have the mindset that data trumps all, but are some companies suffering as a result? Look to the news to see how this is playing out:

•Zenefits’ founder Parker Conrad was thrown out for creating a culture that violated insurance laws
•Uber’s CEO resigned for multiple behavioral reasons (writing code to defy local authorities; sexual harassment allegations; staff and senior team exiting or fired)
•Volkswagen techies wrote ingenious code to defeat auto emissions testing. Smart, but illegal.

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Business Owners Should Demand Action from Leadership

“Action and feeling go together, and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling.”
– William James

One of the biggest benefits business owners report when they take on fresh leadership, whether an interim or fractional executive is a sense of relief. Of having done the right thing. They report the feeling that someone else shouldered a burden that was becoming impossible. Just too large to handle alone, or with the current resources on hand.

The real reason behind this for all of us business owners is that the challenge is just too painful to deal with on our own. Whether it’s family dynamics, lack of future planning, or declining business, we get embroiled in the inertia of our organizations. Sometimes the pain is so vast, the only solution is to sell the company.

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Selling in a Few Years? Start Packaging Your Company Now

According to a Harvard Business Review report, the failure rate for mergers and acquisitions sits between 70 and 90%. Even before the deal closes, it’s not uncommon for deals to unravel.

If the odds can be overwhelmingly negative, what can you do to increase your chance of success if you are looking to sell your business?

Prepare.

Don’t wait for the M&A process to begin to get your team in gear – that’s a sure fire way to fail.

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Interim executives, or interims, have recently become an important tool that organizations can use to effectively address a variety of pressing needs. Having said that, many companies are either unaware that interims are even available or appropriate for their current situation. The most common understanding of the role of an interim is to fill an immediate need in the executive team caused by a sudden voluntary or involuntary departure. In this case, a seasoned executive can step right in and allow the company to progress unabated. While much of what an interim does is similar to consulting, successful execution is critical and unique to the role of interims. This blog presents seven case studies to help companies better understand other instances where interims can help. There are certainly more examples, but these are representative. While seven represents everything from the apocalypse to luck in gambling, we’ll stick with seven.

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In a recent interview with The Philippe Matthews Show, Association of Interim Executives Chairman, Richard Lindenmuth sheds light on the most important component of any company in transition: its people. Lindenmuth, who has been an Interim CEO in a number of industries ranging from high technology to services shows how to gain people’s respect, trust, and engagement.

Interim executives are becoming a popular alternative to using a consultant or leaving a position vacant while a search for the right person is conducted. An interim executive also brings a fresh, unbiased review of factors driving organizational health and operational results. The interim executive does not waste time or company resources trying to secure a full time job, but is driven by the opportunity to make changes which lead to a sustainable value increase for all the stakeholders of the business. The client and their customers can expect immediate improvement in delivery, quality, and cost while a search is conducted to fill the permanent position.

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Despite the bitter Chicago cold, wind, ice, and snow (sounds appealing doesn’t it!?), there is something energizing about this time of year. January is a fresh start. A blank slate. But also a time to apply lessons learned. It’s easy to jump back into the daily grind without first reflecting on what actually happened the previous year to set a strong foundation for growth in the year ahead.

There were a lot of moving parts that made up our year at the Association of Interim Executives. Thousands of conversations with owners and executives, further development of the Rapid Executive Deployment program, our first interim executive annual conference and more. While those developments were visible signs of progress, there were underlying themes that helped serve as a driving force.

Here are 5 things I learned from owners, entrepreneurs and other brilliant minds:

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I was travelling recently near Guanajuato, Mexico, to the small village of Santa Rosa de Lima, population 3000. We visited a cooperative run by five local women called Conservas Santa Rosa. This company was founded in 1998 with support from the government, which sought to exploit natural resources such as wild fruits produced without fertilizers. They started making strawberry jam by hand for the local communities and now have a contract to supply a national restaurant. With this growth they have raised the standard of living of over fifty families and are now sending their children to school. They have been recognized by the UN as a successful rural productive project.

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40 years in public company management, merchant banking and entrepreneurship in multiple industries has left an indelible imprint on me. In the two dozen businesses that I have been involved with as owner, investor, operator or contractor, my belief is that businesses that seek outside help tend to focus on fixes for weaknesses in growth or profitability. Whether it be failing or non-existent cash flow, troubled industries, poor strategic fits, etc. my belief is that the damage was done far before the negative symptoms occurred. Operating and financial weaknesses are the symptoms of the larger illness.

The root cause is always about two factors: people and leadership. A leader creates the culture for his company and that culture is palpable at every level of involvement including the C-suite, middle management, rank and file, customers and suppliers.

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One of my early mentors inspired me to restart, after each painful management lesson, by paraphrasing the following excerpt from Teddy Roosevelt’s 1915 speech at the Sorbonne.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the one who points out how the strong stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if one fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that one’s place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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