the roadmap to exceptional leadership part 2: the 7 pillars of leadership performance

Welcome to the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. In a world where knowledge has become a commodity, this podcast is designed to give you something more; access to the experience of a successful CEO who has already walked the path. So join your host Martin Moore, who will unlock and bring to life your own leadership experiences, and accelerate your journey to leadership excellence.

Hey there, welcome to episode 26 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. This week's episode, The Roadmap To Exceptional Leadership, Part Two. If you didn't catch last week's episode, I covered off my views on the leadership attributes that are so widely discussed, and the somewhat deeper subject of the capabilities that a leaders needs in order to succeed. This week in Part Two, I'm going to talk in more depth about the 7 Pillars of Leadership Performance model that we've developed at Your CEO Mentor. This is designed to unlock the real, practical strategies and focus areas that we believe will make or break your leadership journey. These are the things that, in my experience, differentiate leaders from the incompetent, through the mediocre, to the great.

These pillars, which you can continue to build on through your entire leadership career, will cut through the myths, the conventional wisdom, and the leadership platitudes, to pinpoint the things that really make a difference and these are things that will help you move forward, establish a strong personal leadership brand and become the boss that everyone wants to work for. So let's get into it.

In case you didn't catch last week's episode, which was Part One of The Roadmap To Exceptional Leadership, I'm just going to give you a quick recap. We spoke about the concept of ceteris paribus, all other things being equal. There are many ingredients that go into baking a tasty leadership cake, and of course putting the icing on it. So when we talk about the things that separate great leaders from the pack, we assume that there is an equivalency with your peers in terms of intelligence, education and experience. Our subject, in this case the performance characteristics of great leaders, then becomes a point of differentiation and this is over and above the need to satisfy the core requirements and pre-requisites of a leadership role.

We covered off on the subject of leadership attributes, those widely touted and much written about qualities that great leaders are supposed to possess, and although we're all familiar with the prescribed need for humility, transparency, fallibility and so forth, working out what this means and how you might possibly use it to improve your leadership performance, is about as easy as trying to nail jelly to a cloud. How do we even get a common understanding of what these attributes mean?

Each of us forms a picture in our head of what integrity is for example, but as we covered off last week, my idea of this might be vastly different to yours. Your base attributes are also really hard to change because your life experience grounds you in the values and qualities you exhibit and it's only with sustained, long-term and conscious effort, an effort mind you that very few people are willing to put in, that they can be changed. So whereas it might be fun and interesting to debate the relative merits and the importance of various leadership attributes and qualities, I must say that personally, I find it largely academic.

Leadership competencies however, seem to get closer to the crux of the matter. What do leaders need to competently do to successfully deliver on their organisation and team goals? I'm in no way suggesting that the discussion on leadership attributes shouldn't be held, but I'm saying that the competency discussion is a little more tangible. Last week, I went through a sample list of a baker's dozen, 13 capabilities that resonated with me when I was exposed to them and why I thought they were important in a leader's toolkit. These included some very tangible capabilities and some less tangible ones as well but it's things like seasoned judgement, financial acumen, attracting and developing talent, influencing and negotiating, mature confidence and so forth. So that's the recap on last week, attributes and competencies for leaders.

Now let's move on to the 7 Pillars of Leadership Performance. Hopefully you haven't spent too many days in breathless anticipation waiting for the punchline, but if you have, the wait is over. Even though the leadership competency discussion is extremely important, I would describe it as necessary but not sufficient. Self-evidently, there are an incredible number of leaders who exhibit all the major competencies but are still not great leaders. So what's my secret sauce? The 7 Pillars of Leadership Performance. These combine leadership imperatives, behaviours, competencies and core principles into a simple but powerful framework that will help you to bring everything together. As I said last week, this forms the basis for our online education program, Leadership Beyond The Theory. So if this hits the spot for you, go and check out the program on the Your CEO Mentor website. So let's run through, what are the 7 Pillars of Leadership Performance?

Pillar number one, Deliver Value. This is the object of the exercise and this is where it all begins and ends for a leader, with a value creation. Creating value should be the sole focus for a leader in any organisation and I have lots of people say to me, "Marty, we're different." No you're not, you're not different. It's all about value creation and what you have to work out is what value means in your context. Your industry, your organisation, at this point in time. Value can come from many different sources and in many different forms. Sure, there's the traditional financial value that's fairly obvious, but also you can create value by reducing the risk profile of your organisation.

You can create value through better customer outcomes, if you're a school, better educated students is a value add. Or let's say you're a surgeon. How about shorter recovery times for post-surgical patients? Or in an industrial business? Safer environment for your employees. There are many, many ways to create value and you just have to work out what it means to your team and your organisation right now. So much of what we do is just activity, nothing else. Getting a laser-like focus on the things that will add value and stopping activity for its own sake is sometimes the toughest challenge a leader faces. But great leaders create simplicity and focus for their people so that they know what to work towards and they build a continuance improvement mindset into the culture that delivers value all the time.

Pillar number two for exceptional leadership, handle conflict. Conflict aversion is one of the biggest career killers and it will basically dilute your effectiveness in pretty much everything you do as a leader. The reason it affects everything is to be able to handle conflict is critical to your ability to negotiate. The likelihood that you can build a high performing team is very, very low if you can't handle conflict and even your ability to contribute in group forums will be sub-optimised. Now you might even be quite successful in your career right now, but it will only be a shadow of your true potential and you will not enjoy the journey if you don't conquer the spectre of conflict aversion.

I run into a lot of conflict averse executives and as good as they are, they could be so much more. This is so important that I dedicated the very first episode of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast to the subject Respect Before Popularity because popularity doesn't matter, respect does. When I was CEO of a major business, I knew that every day when I walked into work, at least 5% of the workforce hated me for no apparent reason, my haircut, my suit, my title, it didn't matter. There would have been others of course that hated me with good reason but the point is, as a leader, you can't get caught up on that, you've just got to accept the fact that it comes with the territory.

Now overcoming conflict in the most difficult situations and those situations are the one on one, eyeball to eyeball conversations that you have with your people, is the place that most leaders shy away from but where the most benefit is to be gained, both for you and for your people. A surprising number of leaders lack self-awareness around this issue and many others spend an inordinate amount of energy avoiding the situations that might see them experience conflict. Handling conflict willingly and confidently is the price of admission to great leadership.

Pillar number three, build resilience. As we know, anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. You don't find out what a leader is made of until they're put under pressure and many leaders fold. They either get angry and take it on those around them, so I'm sure you've seen the boss who shoots the messenger. Some of them play the blame game, it's always somebody else's fault, and somebody else's problem. Or in many cases, leaders become frozen where they are and they can't make decisions. They basically go into foetal position and they're overcome with avoidance and procrastination. Leaders who lack true resilience can't ultimately earn the respect of their people and they can therefore never execute to their potential.

Building resilience to adversity is like building muscles in the gym. Buying a gym membership does absolutely nothing, the same way that having a leadership title does absolutely nothing. Without willingly accepting and facing into the tough work of lifting weights against a resistance, your muscles won't grow. Likewise, without willing accepting and facing into adversity, your resilience as a leader won't grow either. Developing coping strategies and using adversity in a concerted way, to build your resilience, is crucial to attaining the elusive grace under pressure that you see great leaders possess.

The fourth pillar? Work at level. It's so common to see leaders through all levels of an organisation working at the wrong level, sub-optimising their performance and effectively crippling their people. This is a pretty common mistake because as we go through an organisation, particularity for those leaders who see themselves as the smartest person in the room, no one can ever do it as well as you. That means there's a natural tendency to jump in and have all the answers. But less commonly recognised is the psychological anchoring in the comfort zone of a previous role and your home area of expertise. That's what pushes you to keep you operating at a lower level.

Becoming a professional leader, emotionally, psychologically and mentally, sooner rather than later will speed your transition and ensure that you're doing the hard work of leadership, rather than spending your time staying in your comfort zone and getting busy with the work of your people. Your own individual brilliance will only take you so far, the higher up you go, the more you depend upon your people to deliver results, which you have little control over. You then have to use the leadership capability of influence.

Pillar number five, master ambiguity. Now one of the foremost jobs of a leader is to sit comfortably in ambiguity and to translate that into certainty of direction and action for their people. The higher up you go, the harder this is because it gets more complex and more ambiguous and that's part of your day to day context. Every year, the world seems to hold increasing levels of complexity and ambiguity. There is no chance that as a senior leader, you can eliminate this. Instead, leadership performance comes from embracing it, understanding it and using your leadership competencies to map a path forward, making the strategy and objectives really clear for your people. There are some very simple but powerful tools available to help with this. If you force yourself to be disciplined around how you manage your emotional state, and make decisions in increasingly complex environments.

Pillar number six, drive accountability. If you want your people to execute well, nothing enables this more than clear, well-defined, single point accountabilities. The core skill for a leader who wants to execute well is to give clarity to everyone in the organisation about who is doing what. We touched on this in episode 19 of the podcast and next week, I'll specifically talk about how, as a leader, you need to support your accountable people in an episode aptly entitled, Getting Shit Done. But for now, it's important to recognise that people behave differently when they have the weight of accountability. Balanced properly of course, with the support of empowerment and clarity. This can be quite a tricky concept and some organisational structures are extremely complex. In fact, some organisations seem to have been structured and defined to make single point accountability as difficult as possible.

The final pillar to exceptional leadership, pillar number seven, make great decisions. Now, leaders get paid the dizzy dollars to make hard calls and being a leader who can make timely, well-informed decisions, will put their team and organisation in a winning position. In episode 20, we dealt with one element of decision making, which is getting the most of the people around you to enhance the quality of your decisions. However, there is so much more to this than meets the eye. In reality, great decisions come from a combination of the right value set, so for example removing self-interest in deference to the greater good. The right experience and capabilities, so good judgement and a deep understanding of the context of any decision and the ability to effectively manage yourself in what are sometimes highly-charged situations. Doing all of this while creating an appropriate and responsive tempo to decision making is clearly not as easy as it looks but as with all seven of these pillars, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it and there would disappear your point of differentiation as a leader.

Great leaders who master this stuff stand out because leaders who don't simply aren't willing to put in the work, the commitment, the sacrifice and the focus. As my good friend and mentor Danny Hovey says, "If you do the hard things in life, life becomes easy. If you do the easy things in life, life becomes hard." Anyone can do it but not everyone will and that my friends, is what makes a no bullshit leader.

All right, that brings us to the end of episode 26. Thanks so much for joining us and remember at Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally so if you liked this episode, please share it throughout your leadership network. You can also subscribe to the podcast through your favourite app, give it a rating and write a quick review so that we can reach even more leaders.

Until then I know you'll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t leader!