What CEO ‘Gear’ Are You In?

October 21, 2019
By Rowan Belchers

I’ve been conceptualising my approach for next year’s offerings and I thought I’d share my thought process.

A business should always have a clear intention about it: growing; contracting; changing; evolving; emerging; pivoting. Absent of this kind of impetus, there is the risk of inertia making a business susceptible to losing competitiveness.

It’s stating the obvious that the CEO is the person who determines this impetus and the rationale that lies behind it.

My experience is that CEOs seldom recognise that their own impetus as a system leader needs to be in alignment with that of the business. If this is not the case, it’s like the car is wanting to go faster, but is not in the right gear, or not in gear at all – metaphorically speaking, of course.

There are some things we can consider in order to put the gears, and the vehicle, back in sync:

Firstly, the leadership team that delivers on the CEOs agenda needs to be ‘in gear’ themselves. They need to be thinking about their activities as a team, as individuals, and as function heads, and they particularly need to ensure that they are orientated correctly around the business direction. For instance, in a time of change or uncertainty, Exco engagement needs to be sharper, more frequent, more alert and more responsive than at other times.

Secondly, certain aspects of culture need to be emphasised to better enable the business. For example, traditional South African banks are dealing with an onslaught of modern, nimble online competitors. These leaders need to acknowledge this in internal communication to make it clear that these new competitors are being recognised and responded to appropriately. This will placate staff who might be wondering about the long-term security of their jobs.

Thirdly, a CEO needs to be thinking clearly about themselves to ensure they are facing the challenge with a full suit of armour: good self-care in times of pressure; filling skill/experience gaps, or adjusting strategy processes that might not match the needs of the business.

The point is this: for a CEO, there is no ‘business as usual’. There always needs to be some kind of emphasis and the CEOs approach needs to adjust to match that emphasis.

Personally, I am thinking about 2020 with the following emphasis:

  • As Lockstep expands, so my actions need to elicit maximum impact for minimal effort;
  • I need to be thinking about how I communicate across an organization that is no longer in one single country;
  • I need to do more international travel and my family and health needs to be taken into account so I can optimise my travel for both;
  • As our client base expands and the organisational workload increases, I need to watch quality more closely;
  • Due to increased geographic distances, I won’t be able to personally mentor my team as closely as I would usually – I need to think differently about internal training and skill development.

With Brexit, trade wars, unsteady populist politicians, slowing growth and climate change all being in play in 2020, you would do well to think about what gear your business needs to be in and how that impacts your own approach to CEOship.

Rowan Belchers

Rowan Belchers

Rowan is the founder and CEO of Lockstep, a business leadership consultancy. Lockstep works with CEO’s, executive teams and future leaders globally, partnering with clients who seek customised leadership solutions. Rowan is a highly respected advisor to CEOs with over two decades’ experience in guiding businesses and their leaders towards reaching their fullest potential. Rowan leads The CEO Project, a Lockstep initiative.
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