What's Keeping CEOs Awake These Nights?

Do you handle those issues with “Radical Candor” or “Minnesota Nice”?

October 17, 2018

My name is Ryan Watkins and I’m CEO of the Minneapolis office of the Marsh & McLennan Agency. Part of what we do here is help organizations and their leaders make the best possible decisions to make their companies even stronger. So, I spend a lot of time telling others what our experience and expertise tells us they ought to be doing.

But I also often remind myself that I need to pay attention to what we tell our clients. Because that advice also applies to me and the company I lead.

What Keeps Business Leaders Up At Night?

  1. Being a good — no, strike that — great leader
  2. Growing the business — in the smartest possible way
  3. Engaging and retaining the best talent
  4. Identifying and managing risk before it manages you

#1 Does Being a Great Leader Mean You Have to Be a Tough Leader?

Depends on what you mean by “tough.” If you mean having the ability to make hard decisions when absolutely necessary and carry the weight of the company’s future on your shoulders, then yes. If you mean being the biggest jerk in the room who shows no compassion for anyone else, then no.

Being a great leader requires what is known today as “Radical Candor.” It simply means that you need to challenge people and problems directly, to get things done. But you have to do it with compassion; you have to care personally to be truly effective.

“Minnesota Nice” can keep the waters smooth, at least on the surface and at least for a while. But “radical candor” can help you make sure your issues are really being addressed and that your people have respect for how you’re addressing them.

#2 What's the Smartest Way to Grow Your Business?

Let’s start with a warning from one of the all-time great CEOs, Jack Welch of GE.

“If the external rate of change is greater than the internal rate of change, the end is near.”

Balancing a respect for your past with making sure you’re doing what it takes to move the organization forward is essential. That’s why the Jack Welch quote is so important. If you’re not keeping pace with what’s going on in the marketplace — or better yet, leading the way — you’re going to wind up irrelevant or worse.

In order to grow intelligently, leaders need to function as the primary energy drivers for their organization. They need to help create cultures that create opportunities to grow. They need to stay on offense. Yes, great defense wins championships in football, but leading requires staying on top of everything happening inside and outside of the company and then moving aggressively, but intelligently, forward.

#3 Can You Attract and Engage the Best Talent?

Leaders need to be talent magnets. That comes with creating the best possible culture. It comes with being the best possible kind of leader. It comes with demonstrating that the company is on a growth curve — and that new talent will be invited to contribute.

You need to develop tomorrow’s leaders, today. Make sure you’re investing in the absolute best people to lead your company into the future. Empower them to succeed. You don’t need more managers. You need people who will be able to inspire and innovate.

#4 Do You Know Where Your Risk Is Hiding?

You can’t run from risk, you have to manage it. Identify it, prioritize it, and then manage it. Know when risk is the best use of capital and when you need to pull in your horns. Structuring and managing risk is the key to growth. And it’s a key to keeping your talent engaged. If they know where the potholes are, or at least how to find them, and if they are allowed to recognize intelligent risk that can help the company, they will understand their worth and know they are appreciated.

Be Respected, Not Loved

Making the tough calls will not always make you the most likeable person on the planet, but it can make you well-respected. And that’s more important for a leader. If you can be loved and respected, great. If employees know that your heart is in the right place and you truly have their best interests in mind, it’s a win/win.

What’s Keeping You Awake?

I’m guessing that the four areas mentioned above have to be pretty close to what you’re mentally chewing on day and night. But maybe you have other issues you need to address as well.

Marsh & McLennan Agency has on-staff experts and multiple resources to help you analyze where you are now, know where you want to be, and understand how best to get there. If you’d like to know more, I’d be glad to talk with you. You can reach me at  ryan.watkins@MarshMMA.com.