Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations were grappling with how to unlock new value and attain sustainable growth against accelerating markets and technological turmoil. This past year and half exponentially accelerated the pace and depth of this disruption – leaving no industry or sector unaffected.
For a grounding perspective on a leader’s role in these moments, I spoke with Geoff Frodsham, a veteran of leading complex organizations through major transformations.
Geoff spent 15+ years as an executive at Canadian Tire where he ran teams in Finance, Logistics, Strategy, Supply Chain and Retail Operations. He led the complete supply chain reengineering for Loblaws Canada and at Home Depot Canada. Geoff also did a two-year sprint at Walmart Canada before becoming President and CEO of Princess Auto Ltd.
Condensed from our conversation, these are his five top lessons on successful leadership in times of transformation.
Creating an environment for others to succeed is critical to effect successful transformational change and build a business that sustains the ability to find innovative solutions and leverage new markets and opportunities.
“The team’s success is completely dependent on the environment you create for them,” agrees Geoff. “What I realized is that my job as a leader is to help them get their work done most effectively.”
The most impactful leaders then, are ones that make sure their teams know that they are on their side and that provide both runway and guardrails to their work scope and do so with the right perspective.
According to Geoff, the right frame for this is a “long haul” approach. “An enormous amount of good, confident, steady leadership is about the long haul – the marathon, not the sprint. It’s about being there till the end, rather than a bright light for a moment.
Equally, understanding your team is essential to creating an organizational culture for others to flourish. “You must understand the people you’re leading, the environment you’re creating for them, and their needs…You have to help others get things done, but you can’t do it for them. You must create an environment where they can learn.”
It is up to leadership to model what this looks like and set the tone across teams and management, so it intentionally becomes part of the culture and it is effectively implemented.
And as Geoff points out one of the most effective ways to do this is to lean into team member’s strengths.
“People are good at things for a reason. Why would you then allocate so much learning time to improve on things you hate? Why not create a place where people can be great at something they love?”
The teams that navigate transformation and leverage unexpected growth moments are ones where people are able to be vulnerable – meaning they can try, fail and move on in rapid iteration and while feeling supported in their efforts.
“They’re not gonna get it right every time. And they have to trust that there’s at least a support structure when that happens”, says Geoff. “A culture of vulnerability is one where people can trust that they can go forward and look forward as they learn and develop and get things done.”
The acceptance that your team is not going to be perfect is so critical. It may seem obvious, but in a world driven by metrics and short-term results, it’s hard to sometimes accept this truth. But what I’ve consistently found is that the leaders that empower teams with the vulnerability to take measured, thoughtful risks, become the most successful at propelling them forward.
Creating a culture that can do this starts with leadership, who set the tone and expectations for how this looks on a day to day basis.
Group think is always detrimental to a business – but the negative impact is compounded during times of transformation and disruption, when multiple perspectives are exactly what’s needed to be able to find new opportunities, markets and solutions.
“When people are trying to tell me what they think I want to know I get very nervous”, says Geoff. “You need people who think and act independently and share their divergent points of view.”
I love Geoff’s comments here and completely agree. In my experience working with countless numbers of client teams, great leaders look for variety in opinion and the best solutions come from the combining together of divergent thinking. For a leader, success needs to be about having people that push each other (and you). Again, there is a cultural undertone here – you have to want diversity, hire for it, nurture it and accept the bits of friction. Those bits of friction, when managed, can spark amazing ideas.
“Ultimately, as a leader if you don’t hire great people, with diverse perspectives and give them an environment where they are empowered to share their unique perspective, then, that’s your failure. You need people who aren’t going to tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. You cannot hire clones. That’s the dumbest thing you could ever possibly do.”
In high growth and competitive environments, patience is always a challenge. But this is especially the case in times of transformation, where time takes on a new urgency. However, as Geoff reflected, his largest professional failures have come from making rash decisions that were rooted in a lack of patience.
“I’ve made my own mistakes, when I lacked patience and judgement. Have patience, work through things, and really take a moment to think…You’re always going to have some emotion [in the game], but it’s about having your private moment, and thinking things through first.”
Your success is your ability to ensure those you have led are as, if not more, successful in leading after you.
“I look at the teams I’ve built…All the young ones are running the show and building on what was started in my time. That’s success. If they’re in a position to develop the next group, you have something with longevity and that matters! It’s enduring. Success is through people.”
It’s a powerful and important reminder that ultimately the measure of a leader is the ability to pass leadership traits forward and it becomes a powerful framework for how to think about the people around you and the influence you can and should have.
Transformation can be overwhelming but we can help your teams break through and create a culture of innovation and impact that creates new opportunities and solutions in a shifting landscape.
I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to Lauren Singer who supported the interview with Geoff and the development of this piece.