(This article first appeared on chiefexecutive.net and is reproduced here with permission from the publisher.)
If you are reading this, you are likely among the most influential people in the world. I don’t know whether to say “Congratulations!” or “I’m sorry.” As the adage goes, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and that is certainly true in these times of leading our organizations out of the pandemic. As you are aware, the decisions we make and the views we take as CEOs and senior business leaders regarding COVID will not only impact us and our families, but the lives of our employees, our suppliers, our customers and the communities that our businesses serve.
The good news is that if we handle this well, we have a chance to help our employees, our customers, our communities, our countries and our world. In my time leading Cambridge Air, I found four skills helped me get our company through any challenge and come out stronger on the other end:
1. Accepting Reality
The first skill I would like to highlight is one of Accepting Reality in a radical way. This is a tough one for me, for many CEOs I meet, and for most human beings. If you are a typical CEO, you’ve succeeded by controlling everything in your life to build a company exactly like you want. Why accept reality when you could simply create it instead? And for the most part, it worked. No problem has been too big, no mountain too high, so Accepting Reality sounds like weakness rather than strength. It is not until you run into something irrefutably beyond your control, such as the loss of a loved one or the mental illness of a parent or… COVID-19 that Radical Acceptance seems like the only path forward.
While this skill is helpful for the worst challenges of life, I’ve found it helpful for all challenges we face and critical to build it into the cultures we lead. As an example, at Cambridge Air, we built a daily rhythm of publicly sharing every quality issue that made it out to a customer. Rather than hide these realities, we accepted them, owned them and then addressed them. If we had a safety near-miss, we announced it the next morning in front of any guests and all of our employees. This showed that accepting reality was the first step in addressing any issue. At times the challenges were larger, but the step of acceptance was always the starting point. Is someone in the wrong role? Accept it. Is your county commissioner constantly changing the COVID response requirements? Accept it. Is your growth rate over the past 10 years flat? Accept it.
Question: What present or past situation do I need to start accepting?
Exercise: Imagine a hula-hoop around your feet. Everything inside the hula-hoop is within your control, everything outside of it is an area to practice acceptance. Not forever, but for now.
2. Practicing Gratitude
Chief Executive recently ran an article on the power of Practicing Gratitude and quoted 15 CEOs, myself included, on how they built this practice into their lives and into their businesses. I shared in that article, and I’ll share again here, that it is the most impactful habit I have ever developed personally and corporately. The main impact I want to share is that growth and change built on a foundation of gratitude is more sustainable growth than growth born out of frustration or anger.
In my previous role at Cambridge Air, we practiced gratitude everyday by asking people to share what they are grateful for in a company meeting. We would literally put a slide up in front of everyone that said, “Grateful/Appreciation” and invite anyone in the company to share. In addition to this corporate practice, I have been journaling gratitude almost every day for the past six years and sharing it with other CEOs and leaders and they have been sharing their journals with me. These two habits have spread around the world. I was just in Mexico City visiting a coaching client’s manufacturing facility and they were sharing gratitude each day in Spanish. I have been to Germany and Ireland and experienced the same and it is powerful in every language.
Question: What would change in your life, in your team, in your company if you developed a habit of gratitude?
What would happen in the world if each of us developed a culture of gratitude sharing in our companies?
Exercise: Start a 30-day gratitude challenge and ask someone to do it with you, sharing back and forth each day via your favorite texting app. If you’d like to share with me, contact me and I’ll be happy to help with the challenge.
Or take a virtual tour of CambridgeAir.com to see how we built a culture of gratitude and ask them any question you want about it.
3. Leading Courageously
I believe most CEOs want to be courageous in their leadership; I know I do. Also, most CEOs don’t like to admit when they are afraid — me too. This presents a challenge. If you look at the definition of courage you will normally find that it includes being afraid. My own definition is: “Intentionally doing something you are afraid of or uncomfortable with in order to become the leader you were created to be.” You see, if you aren’t afraid or uncomfortable, you can’t be courageous.
I’ve been working on this one for a long time. My belief is that courage is the #1 determining factor for personal, professional and business growth. Risk and reward are linked in our investments as well as in our leadership. I remember sharing this principle to the Cambridge team members by drawing a circle on a page and writing ‘comfort zone’ in it. I’d then ask “How far outside your comfort zone is this assignment?” It gave them a chance to share how much growth and courage it would require from them to take it on.
Question: What are you doing as a leader that is making you uncomfortable? What are you afraid of and yet still intentionally doing in order to grow?
Exercise: Put down a large challenge your business is facing due to COVID-19 and list the options you are considering taking. Which option makes you the most uncomfortable? Which one would require you to Lead Courageously? Seek wise counsel, seek your team’s alignment, but if you have both of those, go for it.
4. Encouraging Others
If you are following the above three steps and building them into habits for you as a leader, you are in a great position to be the CEO our world needs. I believe the best CEOs are Chief Encouragement Officers. My favorite definition of encourage is to breathe courage into another human being for the purpose of helping them become everything they were created to be.
Encourage: to breathe courage into another human being for the purpose of helping them become everything there were created to be.
I remember being over in Japan and visiting Toyota and many of their top-tier suppliers. It was an exhilarating trip and I noticed some of the most amazing leaders we met and how encouraged their people were by their leadership. The encouragement I saw and the level of business excellence that accompanied it changed the course of my leadership permanently. It was there that I became convinced that encouragement would be my primary aim as a leader to help people grow. As I focused my leadership energy in this area while back at Cambridge, I found that just focusing on the amount of courage the person in my presence had before and after our discussion, helped me to adjust my behaviors.
Question: How would you rate your current ability to encourage others? What would it mean to your business, your team, and your family if you became better at this skill?
Exercise: Connect with someone in your life who could use a little encouragement with the goal of increasing the amount of courage they have after your interaction.
About the Author
Marc D. Braun has spent the last 13 years growing and building one of the most studied cultures in U.S. manufacturing, CambridgeAir.com. He has recently stepped down there as president and is continuing his work of encouraging other CEOs and senior business leaders to build growth-based courageous cultures through coaching, writing, and speaking. He is the current board chair of The Association for Manufacturing Excellence with the mission to inspire a commitment to enterprise excellence through experiential learning by bringing people together to share, learn and grow.