Sadly, late last month we learned of the sudden death of Ed Gilligan, president of American Express. Gilligan spent his entire business career at American Express and was considered the likely successor to CEO Ken Chenault.

Also last month, David Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey and husband of Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, died unexpectedly when he fell while exercising on a treadmill in Mexico.

These tragedies are unquestionably and, thankfully, infrequent. Nevertheless, they are a reality and remind us that planning for casualty is a necessity both for families as well as the businesses and organizations we all inhabit.

Planning can take many forms, but within the context of businesses, it is succession planning that should take center stage. Who is next in line for a role? Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, was a proponent of succession planning, and GE is often looked upon as the standard by which succession planning should be practiced. (read more…)

According to a recent study by the Korn-Ferry Institute, “knowing thyself” isn’t just a nice-to-to; self-awareness flows directly to a firm’s bottom line.

I’ve been sharing this information with my network and it’s generating a lot of interest. While we’ve all know that awareness of strengths and weaknesses and how we are perceived by others is essential to being an effective leader, it’s interesting to see a connection made to a firm’s financial results.

Here’s more from a June 15 press release:

An analysis by Korn Ferry (NYSE:KFY), the preeminent authority on leadership and talent, shows that public companies with a higher rate of return (ROR) also employ professionals who exhibit higher levels of self-awareness.

The Korn Ferry Institute analyzed a total of 6,977 self-assessments from professionals at 486 publicly traded companies to identify the “blind spots” in individuals’ leadership characteristics. A blind spot is defined as a skill that the professional counted among his or her strengths, when coworkers cited that same skill as one of the professional’s weaknesses. (read more…)

It’s remarkable to see huge companies go up in flames due to managerial failure. And yet it happens regularly. Why?

Frequently, the cause of managerial failure is rooted in corporate culture. Managerial failure often springs from a lack of humility, curiosity, and open-mindedness that is reflected in the attitudes, language and behavior — the culture — of the people in a company, and in particular, the company’s leaders.

For example, a company fails to notice and respond to the changing marketplace or to opportunities to bring about disruptive innovation in its industry. The failure leads to declining revenue and profit. Costs must be cut in order to survive. People lose their jobs. The company fails to recover and sells itself or closes its doors for good.

Are there “red flags” that might indicate the effect your current corporate culture is having? Ask yourself the following:

  1. Are our leaders consistently seeking the opinions and ideas of others then considering what they hear before making decisions?
  2. (read more…)

It was another late night returning home from a business trip this week. Spring weather in Denver has been rainy for a week straight. We need the moisture (not as badly as other parts of the country), so no complaints.

The overcast was heavy with a light sprinkle as I left the airport on the hour’s drive to our mountain neighborhood. There was little traffic at midnight. When I got within 2 miles of our home, a heavy fog stopped me cold.

Visibility was less than 10 feet (!). I could barely see the center line, much less the outer edges of our paved two-lane highway. The rest of my drive home was at less than 5 mph, sometimes dead stopped, creeping along to ensure I was on the road, not heading off of it!

It was an unsettling end to an otherwise boring drive home. I simply couldn’t see. The fog caused me to slow way down, to discount my years of experience (driving on this road), and to increase my frustration and anxiety. (read more…)

Pop quiz: what is the difference between a board of directors and an advisory board?

If you are not sure of the answer, do not worry, as you are in the majority.

While corporate boards of directors are a newsworthy topic, boards of advisers are often overlooked. Globally, corporate boards serve as fodder for speculation, debate and often criticism. As they are the main instrument of governance for all types of companies as well as not-for-profits they do indeed deserve our attention. Delaware corporate law mandates that the responsibility for the oversight of the management of a corporation’s business and affairs is vested in its board of directors (per Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD.)

However, as I hope to clarify in this article, boards of advisers are an effective tool that can aptly serve companies and non-profits both as a compliment to a board of directors or in its place. (read more…)