David Noble of View Advisors on Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

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David Noble of View Advisors on Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

First — make space! The pace and uncertainty of today and tomorrow drives leaders to try to make the most of every moment so they can lead in “real time”. To do that many leaders rely on their reflexes built from years of experience. But when you are facing something brand new, like a technology disruption, a huge crisis or an opportunity with more scale than you’ve seen before, it’s not about the past. Here, your reflexes might serve you but then again they could take you in exactly the wrong direction.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing David Noble.

David is a coach and strategist, working with CEO’s and their teams, investors and star athletes. He was named by Thinkers50 as one of the world’s top coaches, and is a senior advisor to the Institute of Coaching, Egon Zehnder and Oliver Wyman Group. David was previously a Managing Partner at two global strategy consultancies and before that was a CEO. He lives in Miami, New York and London.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My career has taken many twists and turns, most of them happy. I never would have expected to be a leadership author and coach, but looking back in time, right now I’m exactly where I should be! I grew up in Canada and started out as an economist. I joined the best private sector economics department in the country, which happened to be at a major bank. Soon after, I was lucky enough to be selected as a high potential — the bank developed me into a “general athlete” by throwing me into a series of wildly different jobs around the world, as varied as head of strategy for Asia, to multinational corporate banking, to being CEO of the first digital retail bank in the US. After being an operating executive for several years, I switched to strategy consulting and was on the Executive Committee of two leading global consultancies. About 10 years ago, I moved into my current field, and I’ve been able to draw on all my previous experience to help my coaching.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It was my first night out after moving to Montreal. Tina Turner had performed earlier at a stadium. I decided to go out to a nightclub and when I arrived around midnight, a black limo surrounded by bodyguards pulled up to the entrance. Out stepped Tina, still in her performance outfit. How amazing was that as an introduction to the big city?! I was stunned. Tina swept into the club and started to dance with the patrons. I only learned the next day as I was telling the story to some new friends that the Tina I met was in fact a drag queen! I learned two things from that — how to laugh at myself, and how sometimes things are not as they appear to be.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am indebted to several mentors. One person had a particularly large impact on my development as a leader. Early in my career, I saw success as what I personally achieved. When I moved into banking I was assigned to work with one of the top bankers in the world. He was so gracious and thoughtful with me and spent hours talking to me about how to learn and excel. When I asked him one day why, as such a busy leader, he invested so much time he said “because you’re a future leader and it’s the right thing for me to do to pay it forward.” That changed me on the spot from being all about me, to knowing that I’m part of a bigger picture, and that I had a role to play in helping others reach their potential too.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

The purpose of my boutique View Advisors is the same as my personal purpose: to help well intentioned leaders get to clarity and personal growth where and when they most need it.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

I was leading the digital bank, and we had a massive setback, one which threatened its future. When I first heard the news it was so shocking to me that the room started to spin. I immediately called the Chair and said “this is my responsibility. I will fix it and then I will offer you my resignation.” It was just how I reflexed in that moment. He said “David, let’s work it out together.” Then I called a meeting of my executive team to tell them what happened, that I took accountability, and that I needed all hands on deck to work it out. That night I watched the Titanic on TV with a scotch in hand, and cried. That same evening my Chief Risk Officer told me she threw up her glass of red wine all over her white bathroom. And then we got to work the next day and we fixed it. Resilience, accountability and some imagination are great ingredients for leading in difficult times.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I’m pretty willful. I just don’t believe that it’s over until it’s over. Whether it’s a personal crisis or a business challenge, although I can be deeply affected by it, I will always get back on my feet and try new ways to find a way through, right to the end.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

The old master Peter Drucker’s book “On Managing Oneself” had a big impact on me. It’s about knowing your strengths as a leader, understanding your personal values, and figuring out what works best to help you learn. For years, I was like many leaders who say “don’t tell me my strengths, just tell me what I need to work on.” One day, I had a flash that what I needed to work on was knowing my strengths better! Why? Because I suddenly felt it in my bones that we can all draw on our strengths to tackle our development needs.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

This is covered at length in the section on the 5 most important things for leading in difficult and uncertain times.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

What you emanate as a leader, your character strengths, matter as much as what you say and do. Cultivate strengths like perspective, listening, and fairness. Appreciate others: tell them how valuable they are to you and their organization. All too often, leaders leave these things unsaid despite this being a game changer for motivation. Acknowledge others’ impact when they win, recognize their effort when they don’t, and encourage them always. Give people room to act with autonomy, help them create healthy relationships, and give them the opportunity to show their stuff.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

It’s gotta be timely, true and helpful. If you don’t communicate on a timely basis your reputation will suffer and the situation may deteriorate further, bringing even more bad news. If it’s not true then you are misleading others about the cause or severity of the situation. And if it’s not helpful then you are not being a leader by setting in motion a way out of the situation, or at least a way to make things a bit better.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

First, expect surprises. Pretty much anything can happen, any time, anywhere. These days, no plan survives contact with reality. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan. On the contrary, in periods of high volatility, leaders should double down on planning by creating many different scenarios: base case, high and low cases and even worst and best case outcomes. Use these to create contingency plans that can be activated when the base case plan inevitably goes off track. And keep updating these scenarios with everything new that you learn about the external conditions and new strengths and vulnerabilities of your own organization.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

For sure. Keep your eye on the future but make sure you stay alive in the short term. It’s about dancing with life. It reminds me of the classic song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds. “There is a season, and a time to every purpose… a time to build up , a time to break down …. A time to gain, a time to lose.” In the best of times, most things involve two steps forward and one step back. In the worst of times, this reverses into two steps backward and one step forward. When times are bad, make the most of that one step forward!

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Leaders who have experienced a lot of success may be overconfident when facing difficult times, especially if it’s a first for them. Asking others both inside and outside the organization “how could we be wrong?” is a great way to stay centered and up to date.

Being unprepared for bad news happens all the time, requiring organizations to scramble to react to economic downturns, reputational challenges, technology setbacks, and the like, which may not be predictable . As I mentioned earlier, always expect surprises, and develop contingency plans where you can, ahead of the bad news.

It’s also easy to panic and move too quickly or precipitously than necessary. While we can never have all the data, we need to know when we have enough to act. Ask yourself: is a bad development a data point or is it the start of a trend?

Finally, it’s equally easy to delay making decisions, until it’s too late to avoid disaster. Hope can be a strategy, but it’s usually a strategy of last resort!

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

I remember when I first started as an economist a long time ago, I was writing speeches for my Chief Economist about how “the world is experiencing unprecedented volatility and uncertainty!” Well, guess what? It’s 10x that these days!

First — make space!

The pace and uncertainty of today and tomorrow drives leaders to try to make the most of every moment so they can lead in “real time”. To do that many leaders rely on their reflexes built from years of experience. But when you are facing something brand new, like a technology disruption, a huge crisis or an opportunity with more scale than you’ve seen before, it’s not about the past. Here, your reflexes might serve you but then again they could take you in exactly the wrong direction.

Let’s take an example. Imagine you are a leader who faces every issue head on. Now imagine you have encountered something unfamiliar which appears to be a powerful threat. Your reflex is to lean in hard. That may be fatal. A better option may be to gather more data about the threat, or see if you can step out of the way and let it go right past you.

How do you know if you need to overcome your reflexes? And if you must, then how do you do it? One great way is to center yourself with a short exercise, so you are less trigger happy. Ask yourself these questions about how you’re doing right now, on a scale of 1–10, 10 being the best

– How calm are you?

– How curious are you about new ideas and learning about yourself?

– How clear is your thinking?

– How courageous are you in this moment?

– How compassionate are you toward others?

My writing partner Dr. Carol Kauffman and I call these the 5 C’s. Whatever the answer to these questions, this exercise increases your awareness of your feelings which can drive your reflexes. It can also have a powerful settling effect that helps you really step into your leadership role.

Now that you’ve made space, how can you be at your best as a leader? Carol and I developed the MOVE model, an acronym that both helps you create space, and then make the most of it.

Second — be Mindfully Alert to your goals (the M in MOVE)

We believe leadership is a 3-Dimensional challenge. The first dimension is what do you want to accomplish in the external world? What are your goals and top priorities? The second dimension is who do you want to be as a person? What character strengths and values do you want to project and what might you cultivate further as part of your personal development? Could it be decisiveness, generosity, kindness? The list goes on. And the third challenge is interpersonal: how you can best relate to others to unlock their potential and achieve goals together.

All three dimensions are inextricably linked if you want to be a great leader. We all know one or two dimensional leaders, like the results-oriented executive who runs roughshod over people. Or the wonderful, caring leader that wants to develop people but finds it hard to hold others accountable for results. Start thinking of yourself as a fully formed, three dimensional leader. What would that look like for you? What would others say about you if you lived up to these goals?

Third — Generate Options (the O in MOVE)

Research shows that it’s not just willpower that gets us to our goals, it’s also “waypower”. Most leaders map out some kind of path to achieve success. For example, one leader I worked with said “whatever I’m facing, I like to draw on data, move fast, and take small tactical steps that add up to a big impact.” Now, that’s a great playbook for certain types of situations, but it’s too narrow and confining to support peak performance at all times

Having multiple pathways available is crucial to success, especially when conditions take an unexpected turn. Great leaders generate several options so when an opportunity arises or a crisis hits they can pivot in real time and choose the best pathway forward.

Start by thinking about all the angles you could take to tackle your biggest business priorities. For example, should you go

– Fast or slow?

– big or small?

– Risky or conservative?

– Rely on data or intuition?

– Be innovative or go for what’s proven?

And so on. Go through this list — it’s a great starter kit to broaden your thinking and create many different options for success.

Fourth, Validate your Vantage Point (the V in MOVE)

So, you’re clear about the three dimensions of leadership, and you’ve worked out your options. You feel you’re ready to act, but how can you be sure that what you’re seeing is real? We all want clear vision and we never want to be blindsided. But many things cloud or limit our vision, including our personalities, assumptions, values and data. It’s so important to see reality for what it is, as best you can. Because that gives you an advantage as a leader. I collaborate with a retired four star general who is also a leadership theorist and he says “I fight the war I have, not the war I want to have.”

Begin by making sure you’re aiming at the right target! Revisit your 3-D priorities by asking yourself whether you are discounting or exaggerating the threats or opportunities you see? Or are you possibly completely missing the point?! One leader I worked with was convinced that her goal was to get approval for a major expenditure from the leadership team she was part of. When we talked it out, she realized that a better immediate goal was to give everyone a voice on the decision, and then use that input to come up with an even better proposal for the next meeting.

Now, take a look at your options and see if any of these are unrealistic in terms of effort, cost, risk or your own capability. Throw any out that simply don’t work and try to generate a few others which do.

Fifth, Engage and Effect Change at Scale (the E in MOVE)

This is the last element of the MOVE model. It pulls everything together, so you leverage your impact as a leader of leaders, and then you can really MOVE.

Many leaders charge ahead to meet their priorities and when (or if) they look back, they find they have no followers. Don’t let this happen to you. It’s easy to give your team too little guidance by delegating everything to them or deciding to stay at the 100,000 foot level.

In those cases your people spend their time trying to guess at what you actually want and need, or fight with one another because they have no common goal that they all buy into.

At the other extreme, you can give too much direction, micromanaging or second guessing your team.

Find the right balance between giving too little and too much direction and send the right leadership signals to others to amplify your impact.

The first type of signal is what Carol and I call Leader’s Intent which is often formed in collaboration with your team and it expresses several things

– What we need to accomplish and what destination we are headed toward (this draws from your 3D priorities)?

– Why are we going there? why does it matter? — this helps to inspire others

– How will we get there? What are our high level options for our mission (this draws from options)

– What limitations do we have in terms of resources and what signposts will tell us along the way that we are winning (this is from Vantage point)

After you have developed your leaders’ intent, get some feedback to see if the signal received was the same as the signal sent, and keep refining your guidance based on what you learn over time. Keep doing two-way check-ins with your team and other stakeholders to gather new data. This is the way to roll in difficult and uncertain times.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’m a big fan of some of the Dalai Lama’s philosophy. He said “if you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” I remind myself every day. Some days are better than others, but as the years go by, I feel I’m getting better (and happier)!

How can our readers further follow your work?

Please go to RTLInstitute.com for more on my forthcoming book with Carol Kauffman “Real Time Leadership: How to Find Your Winning Moves When the Stakes Are High”, to be published by Harvard Business Review Press on February 21. And visit www.view-advisors.com.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

David Noble of View Advisors on Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.