Amber Sherlock Interview

Amber Sherlock: I’m Amber Sherlock. And welcome to the Trusted Authority Alliance Expert Series Show. We’re here today with Tim Ferris. Tim is Australia’s leading strategic advisor to CEOs. He’s had particular success in leading coaching and developing CEOs who are new to their role and want to unlock their leadership genius. He’s also the author of the book “CEO Strategy – Getting It Right The First Time”. A big welcome to you Tim. Thank you for joining us today. Can you share with the audience a little bit about your story and the success you’ve had in your career?

Tim Ferris: I’ve always been drawn to leadership I think, even since my teenage years – whether it was sporting teams, school groups and the like. I’ve always been attracted to leadership. I can’t always explain why. I think it was around the age of 18 where some key defining experiences to me just said, “I really want to point my life at the people side in growing and developing people”. And I think for me, the idea that, if you can impact a leader, the flow on impact to the people under them makes a difference to a whole lot of people’s lives. So I like going for that pointy end, where you influence one, you influence a whole lot.

Amber Sherlock: So why did you decide to write the book?

Tim Ferris: I have a lot of conversations with a lot of leaders, particularly a lot of CEOs, and there’s a lot of repeat content that I find myself saying over and over again, “…if you can just get this one thing…”, “…if you can just understand this…”, and I thought, “you know what, it’s about time I actually pulled some of those core conversations together”, and then I can hand this to a CEO or prospective CEO and say, “…if you want to understand how I operate and what I can do for you, have a look at this, and then let’s have a chat.”

Amber Sherlock: So is that who the book is specifically aimed at?

Tim Ferris: Particularly for new CEOs at the beginning of their career. If I can help them get it right first up, I think I’m doing them a huge service. I think a lot of CEOs, when they first come to that CEO seat, underestimate how big the leap is from being an Exec to being a CEO, and they probably sat at the table thinking, “… when I get there, I’m going to do a whole lot better than them. And I’ll do this, and I’ll do this.” And then they get there and completely underestimate just how lonely it is. When the buck finally stops with you, and you alone, and everybody else around you wants a piece of you, has an agenda around you and thinks that they can do your job better than you.

Amber Sherlock: What are some other things you’d like your readers to take away from your book? What are some of the big ideas?

Tim Ferris: Particularly for a CEO, I think one of the biggest ideas is that your self-awareness really matters! Every leader has a wake that happens behind them as they go about their day. And often leaders are unaware of it. There’s some research from David Rock who heads up the NeuroLeadership Institute where he measured the importance of self and social awareness as you go up the leadership chain. Obviously, the higher you go up the leadership chain, the more important it is that you’re aware of yourself and your impact on those around you. But the actual feedback data from leaders show that the higher up the food chain you go in corporate life, the lower people’s actual self-awareness is. So the further you go up the line there becomes this increasing gap between what’s needed and what actually is.

Amber Sherlock: So what sort of impact do you think your book will have on your reader and help them?

Tim Ferris: I think the first is opening to the idea that “me as a person” as a leader is important in this whole piece. My business capability, my business acumen, my technical capability may have got me here, but it’s not enough to succeed here, because the need for my technical capability fades away when I’m in that CEO seat, and my ability to harness people’s energy to get a result is what really matters. And so I’d say your self-awareness matters. Who you are as a person matters. But also, your success really comes from your people. One of my favourite authors that I read made this quote that, “There’s no strategy so brilliant that people can render it worthless”. And I’ve just sat back and seen that so many times, sometimes in my own world, and in the lives of clients, where they’ve got this brilliant strategy, “This is so going to work”, and the moment, they put people in front of it, and those people have to solve problems around that strategy, things tend to go to custard.

Amber Sherlock: So, can you give us an example of one or two success stories where clients have followed your approach?

Tim Ferris: There is a client I’ve been working with for probably three years now. When I first came to them, they were in a real mess. This is a utility organisation and they were spending more time fighting each other than getting the job done, in reality. The leader was absolutely frustrated with everyone. Everyone was absolutely frustrated with the leader. And we took some measures of their culture and the engagement of the people, and it was a bit of a train-wreck. And, everything in my experience as I engaged with that organisation told me that those results are absolutely spot on. It was really tough. Nobody was happy there, despite the fact that conditions were good. The location they were at was great. Nobody was happy. So we started work with the most senior leadership, with the CEO and with the senior leadership team, and we did some really intensive work around diagnosing where their behaviour was causing the impacts that they were having – that were being had in the organisation. So we worked really solidly with them for at least two years. Then we did a whole lot of work around team development and work with individuals right across the organisation to give them a great awareness of how their behaviour was impacting their ability to get the job done… How a lot of the time the things that all of them, on every side of the equation, were complaining about, were actually pretty much their own fault. We remeasured again after two years, and across every measure of culture, they’d improved between 10% and 40% across every measure. Their staff satisfaction improved by 10%, and their quality of output improved by 35%. And, when I went in and engaged the whole organisation two years later, the stories that people were telling me where very different – the emotions that people were expressing were very different. It was anger and frustration and quite, at times, an outright hostility – a whole lot of that had settled down. The place was not perfect. It’s still got a way to go. In a sense, they’ve now arrived at where I start with most organisations, but where they have come in two years… I sat with the CEO and said, “Hey, have a look at this!” And he in particular had worked really hard on himself and his style, because he was having some impacts that weren’t helping him that he wasn’t particularly aware of. And, I had sat with him many times as he agonised over this, he would say, “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to do this differently.” We would work through it, and I was able to sit with him with the results after two years and go, “Have a look. We’re actually making some gains here. It’s actually been worth.” To that leader’s credit, he had done a fantastic job working on himself and everything underneath was shifting as a result.

Amber Sherlock: When you’re selecting the clients you want to work with, what sort of criteria are you looking for?

Tim Ferris: I’m looking for leaders that are least willing to come to the realisation that part of the problem could be me as the leader. A lot of the time, when I first walk in the door, and I say, “Okay, tell me the challenges you’re experiencing. Tell me what’s keeping you awake at night…”, they start talking about all the people out there, and all the things that they’re doing that’s frustrating them. And one of my own personal leadership philosophies is “if there’s an ongoing problem in the environment that I lead, the problem is probably me.” So, I want to know that they’re going to be at least willing to look at themselves. And I’m going to be looking for that little crack in the door that says, “I’m willing to look at me”. And from there, I’m willing to invest my own time and my own money in developing me. But also I’m willing to invest time and money in developing the people around me. A lot of the time the problems that they’re facing are costing their organisation a whole lot of money. A client I’ve been working with recently – they’ve got a problem that’s costing them somewhere between $2 million and $4 million a year. I’m asking the question, “so are you willing to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars to fix a $4 million problem?” And if they say, “Well, no, that’s a bit much”, then it’s giving me the idea that they’re not actually prepared to pay the price for change, and staying with the status quo is more comfortable. So I want to know that they’re really committed to this and they are willing to put their money where their mouth is and invest where it’s needed.

Amber Sherlock: So what are some of the challenges you see for CEOs, either now or into the future?

Tim Ferris: One of the biggest ones right now is that we have a trust crisis in this country. Swinburne University, did a study in 2015 called “Leadership For The Greater Good”. One of the questions in that study was, “Do you believe there’s a leadership crisis in this country?” 58.3% of people said, “Yes”. It asked about how trusted leaders were. And I’ll distill the figures into the pragmatic outcome here… when a leader speaks, about 40% of the people that they’re speaking to flat out don’t believe them – just flat out don’t believe what they’re saying. A further, 50% are sceptical at best. Only 10% actually take that leader on face value and believe them – because they actually trust them. Now, if you think about the amount of effort that is wasted trying to convince people, because they just don’t believe you… And the biggest problem is one of trust. And I say in my book right up front, the biggest question that, as a leader, you need to answer is, “Am I trying to gain control of my organisation? Or am I trying to gain the trust of my organisation?” If you’re trying to gain control, we’re either going to have a whole lot of conversations to resolve that, or we’re probably not going to have a lot of fun working together. Because, if you can gain the trust of your organisation, you’re going to be deeply influential, even when you’re not in the room.

Amber Sherlock: What is the single best piece of advice you give to your clients?

Tim Ferris: So, one is, “the view from the top of the food chain is very different to the view anywhere else in the organisation”. Often CEOs fall for, “this is the way I see it, and this is the way everyone else sees it…” But when you’re at the top, controlling the resources, it’s a very different view and a very different experience to when you’re further down, and you can’t just go, “I don’t like this, I’m going to change it”. So, as a result, CEOs are often unaware of their impact. And the other message would be “as a CEO, you are the chief emotion creator in your organisation, and the way people feel working for you, matters”. It directly impacts their productivity. It directly impacts whether they use their energy to cover their backsides or the finger point and blame, or they use their energy to actually get results for the organisation.

Amber Sherlock: Your book is, “CEO Strategy – Getting It Right The First Time”. Tim Ferris, thank you so much for your time.

Tim Ferris: Thanks, Amber.