The Blog

I had the honour of interviewing seven outstanding CEOs and senior executives this week. What an amazing group of people! Collectively, they have amassed hundreds of years’ worth of experience in corporate business. Their skillsets and knowledge are impressive.

Even though they all work in different sectors and industries, several themes quickly became apparent:

They really like people. As one CEO said to me, when I asked him if he liked people, “I LOVE people!” These individuals deeply care about people; it’s what energizes them. They know that the decisions they make affect their employees (and the communities in which they operate) and they feel the weight of those implications on their shoulders.

They never stop learning. The CEOs and senior executives with whom I spoke are humble enough to realize that the learning never stops. They actively seek out feedback, welcome best advice from their direct reports, enter into spirited dialogue with their peers, and read avidly. They know that their managerial path is a long one, and don’t delude themselves into believing that they have reached the end of it.

They make fun an essential part of their life. There was a lot of humour, a lot of laughter during the interviews. These people like to have fun! And they know that their employees relish a great working environment, where their talents are valued and nourished, where their roles are clear and their authorities to do their work well established. But above all this, employees appreciate laughter. Successful CEOs and senior executives know and encourage this.

They understand the difference between leadership and management. One CEO said, “Leadership is like a Mars bar. It picks you up and you feel great. But then at 3 o’clock, the sugar rush is over.” Management, on the other hand, makes things happen. And without great managers, there are no followers for leaders.

We will be releasing portions of these interviews in the upcoming months. Stay tuned by checking out for more information.

Nick Forrest

The big story this week is the $34B buyout by Halliburton Company of rival drilling company Baker Hughes Inc. There are still regulatory hurdles to cross and shareholders to persuade, but if the deal passes, what will be some of the implications for the company?

Well, for starters, its combined workforce will be a major challenge to manage. Halliburton states on its website that is has approximately 80,000 employees world-wide; Baker Hughes has more than 59,000. With a merged employee population of 139,000 spread out in more than 80 countries, the super-charged organization will dominate an already extremely competitive industry, offering hydraulic fracturing and oil field services.

How can one person manage such a large number of employees? Naturally, there is little doubt that post-merger, the number of employees will retract, due to elimination of duplicated departments and the scaling back of more expensive and riskier, less desirable, ventures. However, even if a fifth of the combined workforce is terminated, that still leaves an enormous number of employees to be led and managed. That’s a tremendous accountability for one individual.

In my experience, the key insights for a CEO heading a large workforce are:
1. Understanding that they have more, not fewer people to manage;
2. Realizing that they are accountable for everything; and
3. Appreciating that they need to manage, and not lead, more.

It’s a whole different ballgame when one commands such a large employee population. It’s the CEO’s accountability to maximize the productivity of each and everyone of their employees.

Nick Forrest

Today is November 11th, Remembrance Day (Veterans’ Day in the U.S.A.). This is the day we remember the sacrifices made by fellow citizens in order to preserve our cherished constitutionalized freedoms.

We do not use this time to glorify war; instead, we pause to reflect on the implications of it. We recollect the hardships endured by our fathers and mothers, grandparents, brothers and sisters. We mourn those who suffered and those who lost their lives.

Is the concept of sacrifice a vanishing one? For many of us who live in North America, we have been insulated from the direct hits of war. Yes, our countries have active armed forces and all of us know of someone who has served in some way, either abroad or at home.

But now the word “sacrifice” means different things to different people. I asked several people this morning in the line-up at my local coffee shop what the word means to them, and got various responses, ranging from, “Not having my morning coffee!”, to “Tightening my spending”. Not one person correlated sacrifice to the importance of November 11th. How sad that over the decades since the Great War the word “sacrifice” has become trivialized and its impact minimized.

We are just so lucky, and we don’t know it. We really don’t have a clue. Let us all pause to reflect today at 11 a.m. what sacrifice truly means.

Nick Forrest

Whatever side of the fence you find yourself regarding the allegations concerning CBC journalist and host Jian Ghomeshi, the fact is that Mr Ghomeshi, an employee of the Canadian broadcasting corporation, was terminated from his position.

From a managerial leadership point of view, a dismissal is unpleasant. But it’s the manager’s job to apply consequences to disappointing actions, subpar performance, and/or a failure to meet behavioural expectations.

In my book, How Dare You Manage? Seven Principles to Close the CEO Skill Gap, I write about how CEOs are accountable for making sure that within their organization, managers add value. And the “sacred relationship” of manager and direct report must be protected and respected. A functional relationship employs truthfulness as a key driver. On the other hand, a dysfunctional relationship will thrive when anaklesis (i.e., the inability of individuals to hold honest conversations about issues with others due to a fear of damaging the relationship) takes root.

Perhaps anaklesis reigned for some time at the CBC before the axe fell. Only time (and it appears that a lengthy legal battle is about to begin) will reveal all the details and steps taken during Mr Ghomeshi’s tenure.

At the simplest level, in the Ghomeshi case, a manager made a decision to terminate an employee. Given the star power of the former CBC employee, no doubt this decision was escalated to the highest ranks. A recent statement issued by CBC CEO Hubert T. Lacroix, confirms this. The corporation is supporting its management’s decision to avoid internal dissonance by taking what it considers to be a fully justifiable managerial step.

Nick Forrest