Q3 · 2019Executive Performance Transformation

Jeff could not quite believe his ears when the CEO of his company lauded his efforts and results of the past few months during the leadership team meeting. She heaped praise on him for the enormous progress he had made in remodeling his division.

Flashback: 18 months ago Jeff had been promoted to managing the division, with the task of strategically realigning and profoundly reorganizing it. This task turned out to be complex and intricate, demanding attendance across five continents – incessantly. Right from the very first day, the board and CEO expected immediate results – with his divisional leadership team reacting dysfunctionally to the overdue reorganization. Despite clear data and detailed explanations, some of the members resisted the necessary change. The pressure on Jeff was intense.

Eager, obsessive, energy-sapping

When Jeff turned to me during this period, he had a vivid recollection of his first weeks in this role. He had been looking forward to work every day, tackling his tasks thoughtfully and vigorously and eagerly learning something new on a daily basis. Regardless of the severe strain, Jeff was enjoying his role and full of positive energy. But as time went by, the scale of his challenge became clear. Even in those parts of the division that he had thought were functional he found flaws and failings. Departments were working against each other and he was forced to demand information and exert unpleasant pressure in order to make progress. He felt he had to be on top of things 24/7. His initial joy in the role soon turned into inescapable obsession, sapping his energy and, frankly, making him unhappy.

18 months later

“We owe this to Jeff,” his boss closed her summary. “This outstanding performance in such a short time proves his passion and leadership. We are lucky to have you on board.” After the previous all-consuming 18 months Jeff lapped up every word. When the meeting was over, his boss invited him for lunch. She asked him: “I’m about to settle my succession – are you ready to become CEO of this company?”

Soon after that lunch, during our coaching, Jeff was not sure how to feel about his prospects: “Do I want this? I’m far from happy.” What had fueled him initially in the company and in his role, the positive energy and joy he had experienced at first, had been substituted by pressure and hassle.

Not experiencing joy is normal

Jeff and I are working on his Executive Performance Transformation, a model I describe in my book “The Melting Point – How to stay cool and sustain world-class business performance”.

At the beginning of a new role you feel driven and enthusiastic about your new tasks and you are fully motivated to master them to the highest levels (Stage 1, “Drawn In”). After a while enthusiasm turns into obsession. Duties, time pressure and workload drain you. To keep up with your increasing responsibilities, you work harder and longer (Stage 2, “Obsessed”). The critical turning point of this stage is to take important mental steps forward. This is the hardest task. Your view on your staff, the company, your division or department, and how they are all intertwined alters. Reflecting on your day to day work, you see how the business ticks, and you learn how to “oil the wheels”. Prioritizing decisively, you realize what you must do yourself and what you can delegate.

Once you have mastered this, you are ready for the first big wins. This is a crucial step forward on the Executive Performance Transformation: adjusting perceptions and behavioral patterns patiently and consistently (Stage 3, “Ready for Success”). If you continue to do so, you will reach a point where you can perform with ease – even playfully. Knowledge and experience have shaped your ability to prioritize and focus confidently. This is how you stay cool and sustain world-class business performance. Now, you experience joy again (Stage 4, “Playful”).

Executive Excellence

Jeff is not certain whether his potential promotion is right for him, because he is not experiencing joy. He feels things might become worse if he exposes himself to even greater pressure as CEO.

Jeff is right on the threshold between “obsessed” and “ready for success”. This stage of his career is not characterized by joy, fun and pleasure but it is a necessary part of his journey to sustainable top performance. It is absolutely normal that this stage contains very little joy, and many executives have a similar experience.

It is not only joy or fun that shows we are in the right game. In fact, willingness to grow and improve is a far more appropriate indicator. We are in the right game when we do not fear crunch time for passionately pursuing our goals. Being passionate about something does not mean enjoying your job all time. Being passionate about something means not giving up when it doesn’t come easy, because we just haven’t adapted to our flaws yet, to become ready to perform at a higher level. Being passionate about something means working hard on yourself, developing new insights and behavioral strategies, making smart use of them and executing them. This is true executive excellence.

Moving from “obsessed” to “ready for success” is a make-or-break phase. Instead of stalling in obsession, Jeff must proceed positively through the Executive Performance Transformation Stages. With this knowledge he can experience both high performance and job satisfaction differently – and better – to bring enjoyment and contentment.

I am looking forward to continuing to support Jeff in this. Maybe he will soon be the new CEO. In this role he will once again be facing all transformation stages, but because of his recent experiences he will walk through them faster, more efficiently, and with even more confidence.

Wishing you all the best on your own personal Executive Performance Transformation.